In 2020, remote learning became a buzzword for educators, students and parents almost overnight. Nobody quite knew what remote learning had in store for everyone. Eight months later, there is an understanding of what education needs to be and where education is headed in the future.
Social learning. “Social learning is inevitable. Humans are social animals after all. With the pandemic, because we have lost physical connection with people, we are consciously seeking social connections,” said Saloni Todi, a student at Hong Kong University, in a webinar on social learning.
The webinar was organized by Upturn Learning, a socially responsible community organization working in the realm of parenting and childhood, in collaboration with Openhouse. For Openhouse, social learning has been a dream, said co-founder Yashovardhan Poddar.
“What it means is that the teacher is no longer at the center. Think of it like a cricket game. There is no one person who makes it work. A game of cricket is a team effort. That’s how I think of social learning,” he said.
Shweta Sharan, an education journalist and founder of Bangalore Schools, a collective of parents and teachers in the city, believes that when her daughter attends online classes, what she learns from her friends is far more important than the content of the class itself.
On the panel was Pashmin Kamat, who leads the employee resource group for parents at Akamai Technologies, and Saloni Todi, an Openhouse alumna now pursuing a Bachelor’s in Physics from Hong Kong University. The webinar was moderated by Ishwarya Kumar Ahmed, founder of Upturn. Everyone agreed that the best learning happens in social environments, by interacting with other people.
Making (online) learning social
The year has also thrown up questions about the role of technology in education. Online learning has meant that the role of parents and teachers has had to change. Pashmin, who joined Akamai Technologies when she was expecting her first child, was passionate about having a platform where parents could come together and learn from each other.
She pointed out that being a parent during the pandemic means living with the fear of missing out because your child is attending classes and engaging in activities unsupervised. To this end, Akamai has organized several online sessions to help parents navigate this unprecedented period.
One of the attendees, Mitankar Das Sarkar, a teacher at Samhita Academy, commented: “I feel educators today are a prime source of developing more intrinsic values like analysis, perceptions, sensitivity towards others in the context of one’s subject and beyond. Teachers are no longer the primary source of information. The internet has taken that up.”
Saloni recounted an experience when she was a student at Openhouse. She was in a physics class learning about energy sources. The teacher asked each student to pick one energy source, do their research and make a presentation. Saloni admitted that at the time she hated being given this extra work but the class had a lot of fun researching and in the end, they understood the concepts better.
Letting students learn in their own time is a challenge for teachers. It goes against what they think they’re supposed to do – make content available and hand hold students so that they learn.
When the floor opened for questions, the discussion was a rich one, with questions on the accessibility of online learning for those who can’t afford technology, to how online learning affects value systems.
An attendee said that social learning requires us all to unlearn what we did before and relearn new ways. How does one do that? Saloni had the perfect answer. She said, “That’s what social learning is all about. You share your thoughts with each other and go through the process of unlearning and relearning together.”