As the country prepares for the third wave of Covid 19, it is critical that the country's use of education technology, which has grown in popularity over the past year, be expanded. As a result of the pandemic's impact on pupils' achievements, there has been a disruption in learning. In our country, the shift to online learning could not be a panacea for remote learning. Our educational technology suppliers face a difficulty in creating solutions that are accessible to all students. We will be better able to give education if we are inclusive both within and outside of the classroom.

While full-time virtual learning has come with big challenges, it has been proven that education can take place anywhere, anytime if students have access to laptops and Wi-Fi. The State can push further by replacing seat-time requirements with competence-based requirements that allow students the freedom to work at their own place.

The prolonged periods of educational institutions may compel us to think of more extensive use of technology to grant our students some justice by introducing blended learning for them ~ a hybrid of in-person lessons and distance learning. It will reduce their physical presence in favour of video conferencing and create smaller groups that allow appropriate social distancing. In a blended learning model, in-person and online components can be synthesised in any proportion to suit a student’s personal learning style and adapt to family situations and levels of access to the technology.

With blended learning, the content of education changes as much as the mode of communication. The teacher is there to provide guidance and act as discussion moderator. He can give direction and feedback to students’ projects, but not as the only source of knowledge. Also, the institution is not the only place where students can learn. Educating themselves is a continuous process that follows them everywhere.

The use of relevant pedagogy for online education in the blended learning mode will depend on the exposure to information and communication technology (ICT) for both learners and educators. Online platforms like Microsoft Team, Google Classroom, Canvas and Blackboard allow teachers to create educational courses, training, and skill development programmes. They support the sharing of a variety of contents – Word, PDF, Excel, audio, video etc. Virtual classroom platforms may be used increasingly.

In the past few months, despite the efforts made by our educators, students in general did not take full advantage of technical tools in learning. The tools were, in fact, not used effectively by teachers as well for they had not been properly trained to integrate themselves in 21st century pedagogy. In the new normal, teachers would change how they teach online, especially since online tools and resources present opportunities they and students can take advantage of.

In many developed countries, blended learning has already become an established educational mode to cope with the impact of the pandemic. Blended learning requires an amount of classroom modality. Considering the social distance group work approach, peer instructions might be modified or reduced. There can be the use of methods that require less movement and physical contact.

Through machine learning or artificial intelligence (AI), adaptive programmes have been developed that care of a student’s needs. AI tutors can be used for subjects like Mathematics and can be applied in all levels of technology. They can be used to enhance personalised learning among students, especially those with special needs.

Educational resources can be accessed from any part of the world thanks to cloud computing. Virtual resources such as texts, audio lessons, video assignments etc. can be stored on an institution’s cloud terminal. Students can access the resources from the comforts of their homes and submit their assignments. Textbook contents can be expressed through 3D models. In higher education, 3D printing is used by system designers to develop prototypes to be used in the development of final systems. The implementation of technical innovation in the education sector has been accentuated by widespread access to the Internet. Self-Learning Modules (SLM) with alternative learning delivery modalities may also be provided.

A rise in Open Education Resources (OER) as an inexpensive alternative to traditional textbooks may be useful in the new normal. A wide range of content and tools to help implement OER Commons, Lumen Learning, Merlot II, Open Slax CNX may be offered by many sites. Institutions may start combining blended learning with a flipped classroom approach, in which the typical classroom lecture and homework elements are reversed.

The role of AI is significant in creating adaptive teaching-learning techniques. With its advanced applications, educators can set contents as per the local requirements of learners in different parts of the country. Education can be offered through virtual contact like lectures, video conferencing etc. Teachers would not exactly be replaced; they would be able to perform much better by offering personalised recommendations to students. They may be able to condense lessons into smart study guides and flashboards.

Through machine learning, adaptive programmes may be developed that can cater to individual needs of students. Various AI-powered applications can help students in assessing customised responses in getting their doubts cleared from teachers.

AI can change the role of the teacher. AI systems may be programmed to provide expertise for the students to ask questions and get information or could even take the place of teachers for providing basic course materials. It could offer students a way to experiment and learn in a relatively judgement-free environment, especially when AI tutors can offer solutions for improvement.

AI powered education may equip students with fundamental IT skills. A wide range of courses may be made available online and students might be enabled to learn from wherever they are. AI technology will improve IT processes and impart in them new proficiencies. Educational applications like Thinkster Math, Brainly, Content Technologies, MaTHiaU and Netix Learning may be applied to improve learning and skill management of students.

In January 2019, the Wall Street Journal carried an article highlighting how some higher education institutions can use machine learning to infer prospective students’ level of interest in attending classes. Institutions can utilise machine learning in students’ guidance. They may help them schedule their course loads and recommend courses and career paths.

An intelligent tutoring system may be able to understand, in the same way as human tutors, the style of learning preferred by students. Even immersive experiences can be created which is required to get students hooked to their courses. In this regard, game techniques and simulation can play a major role. AI technology can make it easy for educators to keep track of how well or poorly the students are performing with the help of data that can be handled by a machine. AI can provide opportunities for students who speak different languages or have visual or hearing problems. Presentation Translator is an AI based solution that can create subtitles in real time to make students learn in their native language.

Affective Robot Tutor Integrated Environment (ARTIE) in Spain is playing a role in identifying the emotional state of a student through keyboard stroke and mouse action, and by running an algorithm that chooses the proper intervention required to give personalized education support to a student. There is also potential for AI to improve the enrolment and admission process. Comprehensive information to teachers can be provided which can help them improve their learning of complex programming techniques. When combined with curriculum and programs, AI can become a purposeful tool.

It is now imperative that blended learning opportunities should incorporate both face-to-face and online learning opportunities. The degree to which online learning takes place, and the way it is integrated into the curriculum may vary across educational institutions. The strategy of blending online learning with school-based institutions may be utilised to accommodate the students’ diverse learning styles and to enable them to work before or after institutional hours in ways that are not possible with conventional classrooms. Online learning has the potential to improve educational productivity by accelerating the rate of learning, taking advantage of learning time outside class hours, reducing the cost of instructional materials, and better utilisation of a teacher’s time.

(This is a slightly modified version of an article originally published in The Statesman. The original article can be found at https://www.thestatesman.com/opinion/blended-learning-1503000826.html)