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The impact of COVID-19 crisis on online learning: Daisy Chittilapilly, Cisco

On account of COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdowns, schools, universities and other educational institutions had to adopt online learning to avoid disruptions in education. Owing to the benefits offered by online education, this trend is expected to continue even in the post-pandemic scenario. In a conversation with DataQuest, Daisy Chittilapilly, managing director, digital transformation office, Cisco India and SAARC provides astute thoughts on how the COVID-19 crisis has affected online education, and trends pertaining to the field that will be witnessed in future.

DQ: What impact has the COVID-19 crisis had on online learning?

Daisy: The current crisis has accelerated the growth and adoption of digital education manifold at all levels. At the onset of the pandemic, 1.4 billion students globally were locked out of school, and institutions were faced with the challenge of finding new ways to continue educating these students. As a result, many traditional schools and colleges across the country transitioned to an entirely online format of teaching almost overnight, and are now focusing on building a robust cloud-based infrastructure that can be leveraged even post-crisis.

The rise of distance learning enabled by technology could help address the massive shortage of teachers in India, allowing more democratic access to education. It could also catalyze the growth of the gig economy, permitting freelancers and gig workers to impart skills remotely to a much broader student base.

So, while schools and in-person training in complicated fields like surgical medicine, for example, cannot be entirely replaced by digital platforms, I do believe that cloud-based learning services will enhance the classroom experience, and make it more accessible to everyone.

DQ: What are some of the skills that technology professionals are looking to gain during this time?

Daisy: Fast-tracked by the current crisis, technology has become core to the new normal. With more and more people embracing digital platforms for everyday activities, the demand for cloud-delivered, scalable, secure, and simplified technology is rising. In this evolving landscape, there is a growing need to assess, and then reskill, upskill and train existing workforces in emerging technologies like AI, ML, robotics, data analytics, IoT, etc. As the threat landscape widens to the home and agile work and learning practices continue, cybersecurity skills are seeing demand, too.

Additionally, as the preference for low-touch services and experiences increases, the craving for “real” will also build gradually, which means that demonstrable, “soft” skills like adaptability, resilience, teamwork, and the ability to communicate effectively in virtual, as well as physical environments will be paramount in the distance economy.

Lastly, as remote working becomes a norm, workplaces are becoming borderless. Professionals are, therefore, preparing for remote hiring, online networking alternatives and cross-cultural workspaces.

DQ: What are some of the trends in this space you expect will continue even after the crisis ends?

While this is a rapidly and continuously evolving situation, there are certain emerging trends that will determine the course of learning post-COVID-19.

The first is the adoption of blended learning at every level of education as well as skilling. With video becoming a pervasive force, and new-age technologies like AI and ML set to enhance online education, we can expect to see the emergence of hybrid learning models. These models will leverage digital platforms to reach a much wider base of students and augment the traditional classroom experience, allowing for more personalized and adaptive learning.

Next, as organizations embrace technology to enhance every touchpoint in the supply chain, the need and demand for a technologically-savvy, digital native workforce will increase tremendously. To create the workforces of the future, existing training modules will have to be reassessed and updated to include skills focused on IoT, AI, ML, cybersecurity, data analytics, robotics, etc. For instance, industries like healthcare are already looking at developing remote training programs for healthcare providers that can be made available and implemented at scale.

Lastly, to enable all this, infrastructure development will be critical. Institutions will turn their attention to such technology solutions as remote collaboration, high-speed networks, and data security to ensure seamless delivery of knowledge to dispersed and diverse students across the country.

DQ: How is Cisco bridging the gap between learners and institutions during this crisis, and what does Cisco have to offer to technology professionals who are looking to reskill at present?

In the wake of the Covid-19 crisis, many educational institutions had to switch to digital learning almost overnight. Additionally, healthcare institutions had to scale their training programs to prepare frontline workers to manage the pandemic while keeping communications intact. Aiding in these efforts, we enabled free access to cloud-based offerings across our collaboration and security portfolios to allow distance learning and training at scale securely and seamlessly.

To avoid gaps in students’ education in India due to the current crisis, we partnered with the government to enable access to our Network Academy programs online through a government-run portal. Over 15,000 classes have been registered on the portal, and over 100 faculty members have been trained in India’s first-ever training program through Webex. Through our solutions, over 5,000 hours of lectures have been delivered to more than 40 top institutes in India, in addition to several schools and colleges across the country. At present, over 20,000 students and faculty have benefitted from our key programs, such as cybersecurity awareness, Python, and IoT.

Also, more than 80 hospitals in Gujarat are using Webex to stay connected and train 4000 doctors and paramedics. Over 25,000 health workers have been trained in critical pandemic management skills over video in Karnataka.

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