27-09-2017 Manak Gulati
Many students, both current and previous, will agree that understanding a concept becomes easier when it is explained by a friend than when it explained by the teacher in a classroom. Have you ever wondered why that actually happens?
There’s a bit of science at play over here. Your friend, also a student, would have similar conceptual shortcomings as you do to an extent. Learning something new would require him or her to devise an approach that would break the concept down into smaller, more consumable bits that are connected to each other. When the same concept is explained to you using this approach, you are able to grasp it better. On the other hand, a teacher – with greater knowledge of the subject in question – considers certain aspects to be universally understood, whether they are or not, and might not be able to recognize your particular knowledge gap while explaining the same concept.
This is precisely why peer learning, or peer-to-peer (P2P) learning, has time and again been proven to be a very effective practice. Students in a group develop their individual learning mechanisms and assist each other to amplify their collective learning. This builds an active and cooperative learning environment which a student can leverage to achieve his or her academic goal. It also increases student participation, engagement, motivation, communication skills, as well as productivity. Above all, it is known to increase self-discipline and foster self organization within the student, an attribute which is clearly difficult to inculcate using the traditional classroom setup.
The Traditional Classroom Challenge
Every student has different academic requirements, with learning speeds varying significantly across various student buckets; top-performing student soften have a quicker and more intuitive grasp of concepts than low-performing students. With most of the other students in the classroom falling somewhere in between, educators often choose to strike a balance between these two extremes and teach at an average learning speed. This one-size-fit all approach, however, is detrimental. While top students have to slow down the pace of their learning, dramatically reducing their ability to swiftly cover the syllabus and have multiple focussed revisions, it also hampers the learning experience of low-performing students who require more time and indepth explanations, especially for difficult topics.
But the collective classroom problem is beyond this very basic difficulty. Some students are more analytical and face challenges in the theory-intensive portions, whereas some students find conceptual topics easier to comprehend and need extensive practice for the analytical segments. These factors pose a major challenge for educators and limit their ability to offer higher degree of personalization to every student.
There is also considerable disparity within the quality of education in urban, tier-II, and tier-III cities. This problem intensifies further as we move towards more remote locations and rural areas, which have limited resources and relatively lower teacher deployment. As a consequence, students hailing from these regions have to invest a substantial amount of time and money in their daily commutes if they want to acquire a better quality of education.
Tech-Enabled P2P Learning – The Game Changer in Education
The advent of technology is actively extending the benefits of peer learning and channeling it directly to the students. One Indian startup, Notesgen, is at the forefront of promoting peer-2-peer learning thru its notes exchange platform. Using Notesgen app, students can connect with other students irrespective of where they are based, and leverage their smartphones, tablet and laptops to acquire high-quality educational content for enhanced learning. This is leading to a proactive exchange of information as well as evolved learning techniques to enable students to circumvent the prevalent infrastructural challenges. Both parties benefit as some notes are free and some are available for small fees.
The next frontier is to connect students directly using digital infrastructure for one-to-one consultations, group discussions and collaboration using video and audio calling. This ability to connect weak students to the best students from around the world makes peer-2-peer education an unmatched offering at very high scale.
Using machine learning, the peer-2- peer platforms can facilitate more effective data modelling, which can enable the system to identify more efficient methods and teaching frameworks through historic student data as well as eventual outcomes. Once assessed, a student’s progress can be tracked and the academic training can be dynamically altered to impart evolved knowledge according to the progress made by the student.
Primarily, tech-based P2P learning extends quality education to a person across geographical barrier. This not merely enables a student to acquire superlative knowledge, but also eliminates the need to spend crucial time in long daily commutes. Apart from this, it increases the students’ exposure to the digital realm, which further widens the scope of opportunities available to them. It also provides the desired academic atmosphere to the student with unmatched personalization, something which is clearly not possible in an average classroom.
There are certain challenges that also need to be addressed by such technologies. The digital infrastructure, though rapidly evolving, is still to an extent in an embryonic state in the country, especially when compared to its more developed counterparts. In order to enable such services, efforts should be focussed towards making essential digital infrastructure available within the target geography. Also, online P2P learning by and large mandates that the involved individuals must be online at the same time and display favorable self-organizational skills. This can be inculcated through gamification as well as incentivization of the educational resources.
The advent of online P2P learning, along with digital technology and smartphones in India, has led to the dawn of a new era in the country. It is bringing about a sizeable transformation in the field of education and is imparting superior knowledge to students. It is ensuring that student leverage state-of the- art learning methodologies to achieve academic excellence, without being encumbered by geographical boundaries or learning challenges. We hope that many EdTech startups will embrace peer-2-peer technologies like Notes gen is doing.