December 1, 2015

Important developments in online learning in India in 2012

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Aakash users © Datawind Inc

In my e-Learning Outlook for 2012 published on January 2 in 2012 I wrote:

Watch India

…..there are several reasons behind this prediction:

  • the Indian government’s decision to subsidize 12 million Aakash tablets at US$35 per tablet will open up online learning to a vast number of Indians (800 million) who currently have no Internet access, but who do have mobile phones
  • the Aakash deal will also put great pressure on Indian higher education institutions, who in general have been highly resistant to e-learning, to move more quickly, if they are to access additional government funding for tablets.
  • this will also stimulate India’s already burgeoning e-learning industry to produce content, programs, degrees and learner support for such students. In 2009 Researchandmarkets estimated the market size to touch $603 million by the end of calendar year 2012. The Aakash deal is likely to inflate this figure by an order of magnitude.
  • up to now, most e-learning companies in India have been marketing externally, and have focused on corporate training and informal learning, but there are signs that in 2012, the focus will be on providing e-learning products, services and programs for Indian students.
  • English is widely used in Indian post-secondary education, and the move to OERs will enable Indian institutions to move quickly into online learning with what will be perceived as quality learning materials from reputable organizations (such as MIT).

Likely barriers:

  • institutional resistance to online learning
  • costs of Internet access
  • lack of bandwidth in many rural areas
  • lack of attention paid to instructional design and learner support leading to high drop-out

Here, I want to provide a short update, as there were several interesting developments during the year. This needs to be contextualized by recognizing that India is a huge sub-continent, with a great deal of online learning development, and I did not visit the country during 2012, so this is just a tiny glimpse of what is going on.

Very low cost tablets

Khedekar, N. (2012) All you need to know about Aakash 2, tech2, 12 December, 2012

First despite a great deal of controversy, a false start, and technical criticism, Datawind Inc. did finally win the bid to supply the Indian government with 100,000 (1 lakh) Aakash 2 tablets (officially known as the Ubislate 7Ci). This was really the second round of development, as the Aakash 1 was found to be lacking on a number of functions. The Aakash 2, with its 7″ touch screen, is, according to Naina Khedekar, a big improvement. The Aakash 2 tablets are designed and developed, and the touchscreen manufactured, in Canada, the components are sourced globally, and the tablet is conceived, assembled and programmed in India.

The Indian government will make the Aakash 2 available to schools and colleges at a subsidized price of CS$20 (1,130 rupees) per tablet – yes $20! Although intended only for the school and college market, it will also retail commercially for C$78 (4,500 rupees) in India. Datawind is offering 48 hour delivery times in India.

There is a great demonstration of the Aakash 2 that can be seen here from fone arena (click on the graphic above).


Mishra, A. (2012) Virtual laboratories to reach 500,000 students University World News, 1 March, 2012

It will now be up to the Indian e-learning content developers to ensure that there is sufficient high quality learning material for the tablet.

One major step towards the goal of providing high quality, free Indian-designed content is the establishment of the Indian Virtual Labs Project, funded by India’s federal government, and developed in partnership with many of the Indian Institutes of Technology. The objectives of this project are as follows:

  • To provide remote-access to Labs in various disciplines of Science and Engineering. These Virtual Labs would cater to students at the undergraduate level, post graduate level as well as to research scholars
  • To provide a complete Learning Management System around the Virtual Labs where the students can avail the various tools for learning, including additional web-resources, video-lectures, animated demonstrations and self evaluation.
  • To share costly equipment and resources, which are otherwise available to limited number of users due to constraints on time and geographical distances.

There are already over 100 detailed labs available, with lecture notes, simulations, experiments, theory and feedback, and hundreds more currently under development. This site is well worth visiting by anybody in any English-speaking country interested in teaching science or engineering online.

The government hopes to provide 500,000 students access to virtual laboratories and to thus bridge the digital divide between urban and rural teachers and learners, and empower those who have remained untouched by the digital revolution. With virtual labs, students across Indian institutions will be able to access physical laboratories hundreds of kilometres away. They will be able to visit the lab of their choice and study at any time convenient to them. Students will be able to book slots for remote-triggered labs. While theory can be prepared offline, students will conduct the experiment online.

The challenge

Nolen, S. (2012) India flush with cellphones, but few options when nature calls Globe and Mail, May 24

This article on the recent household census in India provides some interesting stats (figures refer to households, not people):

  • 67% have access to electricity
  • 63% now have a telephone connection (mainly cellphones, although no figures are given in this article)
  • 59% have access to banking services
  • 53% have access to a toilet in the home or in a shared toilet block: only 10% have a flush toilet in the home
  • 50% have television
  • 20% have radios
  • 9% have a computer (20% of urban dwellers and 5% of rural households)
  • less than 1% of households have computers and Internet access: but that’s still nearly seven million households.

However it should be remembered that 10 years ago less than 50% of Indians had any modes of communication – other than speech. While there is still a long way to go, thing are improving rapidly in India. The stats show why the Aakash 2 project is so significant as it enables wireless connectivity.

Nevertheless, lack of reliable internet access still poses a major challenge. However, the government plans to to provide high-speed internet and data transfer connectivity to 572 universities, 25,000 colleges and 2,000 polytechnics, benefiting almost 15 million college students.

Are MOOCs and OERs the answer?

There will certainly be opportunities to use open educational resources, but of course, the majority of OERs are also currently in English, a language spoken by a total of 125 million Indians (including those for whom English is a second or third language), or about 10% of the Indian population. OERs in other Indian languages such as Hindi will also be necessary.

It is hard to see how MOOCs developed from North American institutions are going to have a major impact in India. They are likely to be of value mainly to those already with a high level of education.

In the end, it will be Indian ingenuity, Indian solutions that will transform education for the majority of Indians, not imported material from other countries, as useful as that may be for a small minority.


As I said earlier, I have just touched on what is happening in India. I would really welcome comments, news and updates from the many readers I have in India (over 800 at the last count).


Call for papers on blended and online learning: Canadian Journal of Higher Education

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A chance to move your research from the ghetto of online learning specialists into a wider audience. This journal is planning a special issue on blended and online higher education: teaching and learning in a wired world.

This special issue will present ‘research on education access and quality learning experiences afforded by online education delivery, in addition to research on use of the Internet for interaction and collaborative engagement previously unavailable to teachers and students.’

Guest editors: Martha Cleveland-Innes, Athabasca University (; Heather Kanuka, University of Alberta (

Submission: deadline January 31, 203. Submit article to either editor by e-mail

Further information

No digital strategy for Canada

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Just clearing my desk and came across a few items that are worth a mention that I didn’t get round to before. I’m doing a short post on each one.

Wolchak, P. (2012) Canadians are not getting a digital economy strategy, November/December

Peter Wolchak is the editor of Backbone Magazine published by the Globe and Mail. In his editorial, he berates the Conservative government’s failure to develop a national digital economy strategy. Basically the federal Conservative government is leaving it all to the private sector.

Wolchak states:

This is a mistake….Canada has dropped in every international study ranking competitiveness and ICT excellence. In other words, what we are doing isn’t working’.

He compares Canada to Nigeria, Malaysia and the European Union, which all have clear national or regional goals, targets and strategies for ICT development. This of course is critical for online learning in Canada. Without a strong and fast developing infrastructure and policies for ensuring equitable access to the Internet, online learning will continue to be restricted to those who already have economic and social advantages. Online learning needs to be a part of any national digital strategy. This way, we might even get to know how many online students there are in Canada, which we don’t at the moment.

Full report on the Open University of Catalonia now available

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The Tibidabo headquarters of the Open University of Catalonia

Contact North (2012) The Open University of Catalonia: Fully Online Multi-lingual Innovation-focused Accredited Sudbury ON: Contact North

In an earlier post I wrote about current research and innovation at the Open University of Catalonia (UOC). Contact North now has produced a full report on UOC in its ‘game-changers’ series that looks at the seven key enabling factors that make this institution a game-changer.

Contact North will publish its next report in this series, on the U.K. Open University, some time in January.

Distance Education journal: November 2012 edition

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Volume 33, No. 3 of Distance Education does not have a particular theme. But all the articles in one way or another discuss critical factors for student success in online or distance learning:

  • the design of the student learning experience
  • the role of tutors (student learning facilitators)
  • students perception of their inter-connectedness with other students and their teachers
  • the organization of learning.

I am not covering all the papers here but just the ones that were of interest to me (e.g. focused on post-secondary education) and seemed to have significant results, roughly in my order of interest, with the most interesting first.

Halverson, L. et al. (2012) An analysis of high impact scholarship and publication trends in blended learning Distance Education, Vol. 33, No. 3, pp. 381-413

This was by far the most significant article for me in this edition, because the authors recognize that while blended learning is ‘likely to emerge as the pre-dominant model of the future‘, ‘the research on blended learning lacks a centre point.’ This is basically another meta-study, looking at where the conversations about blended learning are occurring. What this article does is to identify the 10 most cited research articles, book chapters, books and authors on blended learning. (No, I’m not on the list).

Furthermore the authors analyze what kind of studies they are: ‘most of the seminal work in blended learning to this point has not been empirical in nature, but rather has focused on definitions, models, and [its] potential.’

This is a really useful article, directing us to the most significant literature on the topic – and also indicating its current severe shortcomings.

Latchem, C. (2012) Reflection on the new dynamics of distance education: an interview with Sir John Daniel Distance Education, Vol. 33, No. 3, pp. 42-428

This interview is at a completely different level of analysis than most of the other articles in this edition. Sir John takes an eagle’s eye view of international developments in open and distance learning, drawing on his vast experience of working in international agencies such as the Commonwealth of Learning and UNESCO – as well as having run the odd open university.

His views on the need for more focus on open schooling in developing countries, the need for institutions to make fundamental changes to their organization and the role of faculty if they are to fully exploit online and blended learning, and the futility and frustration that comes from new practitioners ignoring all previous research on open and distance learning are just some of the themes of the interview. Well worth a read.

Borokhovski, E. et al. (2012) Are contextual and designed student-student interaction treatments equally effective in distance education? Distance Education Vol. 33, No. 3, pp.311-329.

The authors provide a concise but comprehensive overview of the literature comparing online, blended and classroom learning (overall conclusion: little difference in learning effectiveness although there is wide variation within each condition). They argue (and I agree) that it is more important to focus on ‘how different instructional interventions in DE compare to one another‘ than how DE compares to other forms of learning. The latter topic has been studied to exhaustion. In this article the authors ask: ‘Are inter-action treatments that intentionally promote collaborative and co-operative learning superior to other forms of interaction treatments in terms of student achievement outcomes?’

In more normal language, they looked at just putting students into a context where the interaction was left open to the students to those where the instructor  purposefully designed collaborative learning opportunities. This is in fact a meta-analysis of 36 studies on this topic, which found – surprise, surprise – that students had significantly better learning outcomes (as measured by grades) when collaboration and/or co-operation were organized by an instructor or course designer. Just hoping for collaboration or student discussion is not enough; it has to be organized. The paper, drawing on other research, also suggests a number of ways in which collaboration/cooperation can be facilitated. If you can wade through the technical jargon, this is a worthwhile paper to read.

Forster, A. (2012) Book Review: Burge, E. et al. (eds.) (2011) Flexible pedagogy, flexible practice: notes from the trenches of distance education, Edmonton: Athabasca University press, 348 pp.

A thorough and thoughtful review of a book written by a large collection of golden oldies of distance education. Valuable to me because the review helped me to decide whether to get the book (I won’t, but this shouldn’t discourage you, particularly if you are new to the game of online learning – at least read the review first.)

Slagter van Tryon, P. and Bishop, M. (2012) Evaluating social connectedness online: the design and development of the Social Perceptions in Learning Contexts Instrument, Distance Education, Vol. 33, No. 3, pp. 347-364

This study looks at the use of a research tool for measuring students’ perception of their social connectedness in an online course. They found that the tool was relatively reliable and valid in measuring student perceptions of social connectedness, but still needs further work (of course.) Unfortunately there was no evidence in the article as to the how this tool can help identify factors leading to social connectedness, but just the extent to which it exists – hopefully this will come from further studies.

Xiao, J. (2012) Tutors’ influence on distance language students learning motivation: voices from learners and tutors. Distance Education, Vol. 33, No. 3, pp. 365-380

This paper from China looks at the role and influence of tutors on the motivation of students learning at a distance in China. The study found that teacher competence, personal characteristics, subject matter expertise and the relationship between student and teacher all influenced the motivation of distance learners.

Kozar, O. (2012) Use of synchronous online tools in private English language teaching in Russia Distance Education, Vol. 33, No. 3, pp. 415-420

The title says it all. An interesting paper for those of you interested in one way in which the Internet is being used for teaching in Russia.


It is good that research is being conducted on these issues, because too often now people launch into online learning without any consideration of what is already known and hence continue to make unnecessary mistakes that reduce the effectiveness of the learning experience. (No, I’m NOT going to mention MOOCs).

However, despite the valuable research published in this journal, you have to either subscribe or have access to a university library to get it. And too often researchers write in a way that seems to deliberately obscure the value or the main outcomes of their research. This journal in other words has good stuff but should be much more accessible.