ArdorComm Media Group

Reimagining higher education through the ‘PHYGITAL’ mode of learning: Enhancing student employability

-By ArdorComm Media Bureau

It was almost unimaginable until recently that practical training for skill-based vocational courses could be given so efficiently online! The desire to utilize digital technology in combination with traditional training techniques has enabled us re-imagine skilling in higher education in many new ways, thanks to the push from COVID-19.

“Not only did the pandemic force us to reconsider how we delivered skill training; the new National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 also asks for speeding up skill-based training through “Blended learning” or in a “Phygital mode.” In simple terms, phygital learning is the combination of physical and digital learning environments or platforms. Learning in a phygital paradigm aids in the development of domain skills as well as the development of digital abilities. As a result, a phygital model that includes workplace experience, vocational competence, and crucial employability skills has a favourable impact on the learners’ professional career preparedness,” said Chandan Anand, Founder, CEO & Group Editor of ArdorComm Media Group while moderating the panel session at ArdorComm- Higher Education and EdTech Conclave & Awards 2022, Pune on 6th May 2022.

In what ways phygital education helps in making teaching learning easier and stay motivated? To propel discussion on this, the eminent higher education leaders and industry experts emphasized on the same.

Sanjay Padode, Founding President and Chancellor, Vijaybhoomi University; Chairman, JAGSOM said, it is important for us to understand that there are three aspects in this context. First is physical, second is digital and the third is employability. We are trying to figure out how the phygital world is actually going to impact employability. So, let’s look at the physical world and the digital world, they have been existing for the last 20 years, its just that during COVID 19 it has impacted us and digital has emerged because that was the only option over the last two years, so digital just emerged off. Fortunately, it is good to know that earlier we were completely physical so it’s completely polarized and in the last two years it has been completely digital. The phygital is going to happen now, where we have understood the limitations of digital right now and we know the powers of physical. So, there’s a big debate going around amongst all the educators. I know a lot of faculties who are very comfortable in class, and talk with people. Many students are not coming to the classes, these are some of the sub-challenge of the phygital world. What’s really happening is that its not really about physical teaching or digital teaching, it’s a broader impact. It is the impact on the physical and digital all over. For example, let’s say I’m in Harvard in the physical time and I have a five-year experience, and gave up a cozy job, obviously if I’ve got into Harvard I must be a top performing student, so I must be having a cozy job, I give that up to go into a two-year program so I’m losing some money and I’m shelling out a huge amount of 100-200 thousand dollars from my pocket to go through the program. Now I go to Harvard, lockdown happens, one month I’m learning from home and then I realize ok now that I’m learning from home why don’t I go back to my job guy and tell can I work from home. So, the job guy says that’s good you start working, so I start working, and at some point, of time I realize this arrangement is working well. And then COVID disappears and Harvard says please come back to classroom, students say why the hell did I lose my job. Now that I have tested the fact that I can learn from home and work from home, why the hell should I give it away. See the mixing of physical and digital is happening in the student’s mind. Now how do we leverage learning, we take cognizance of the fact that this possibility exist, now here is an opportunity where we have a learner who is in the work place. So, I don’t have to arrange for internships, how we can bring that in a class and merge is going to determine how you are going to enhance employability. We have to understand how we can leverage both of these facets to do that.

Prof. (Dr.) G.K.Shirude, Vice-Chancellor, Sri Balaji University, Pune said, afterall learning never ends, never stops. Even pandemic has not, rather given us a different opportunity and opened up the creative eyes of the society as well as the digital platform. Phygital from decades together have no issues, we are accustomed with that habituated with that and therefore vigilance up to some extent. But the credit goes to the pandemic because it has given a big push as far as the transformation process is concerned. Whenever I say digitalization is concerned I will always prefer that unless the youngsters, our learners, they are not habituated by using these tools they are not going to be accepted in the industry. So, whenever we talk about employment and phygital, now there is no question as far as physical or digital. Physical is going on society has accepted it, and students have accepted it. Again, there are two things, I’m talking about ‘India’ and not talking about ‘Bharat’, where the infrastructure is quite well and particularly Digi-education is always focused, target oriented and employment is the target. What is the outcome that is expected from the students? It is where they are going to be placed. So now there are three questions whenever we talk about the phygital and employment. What are the expectations of the students from us now? What are the expectations of the parents from us? And what are the expectations of the industries from the institutes and universities? If we have these three questions in our mind, particularly whether the universities or whether the PG programs or standalone institutes are concerned. The question is very simple K+S which creates the W. That is Knowledge along with skill sets keeping balance indirectly impacts as far as wisdom is concerned. And what is going to be lifelong is only your skill sets. If we produce gold it will be sold. We get the input from the societies that are the learners, it is in our hands how we are going to process them, and what type of skill sets we are giving them along with our texts and curriculum. If we have a best of the best combination of it, certainly the output will be as per our expectations. Therefore, employability is nothing, if we put it in a simple triangle, on one hand we are having a traditional mode i.e. the physical, on the other hand, we’ll have a transformational mode and the combination of both will be developmental. And developmental is related to the type of organisation which is accepting the phygital learners. Therefore, my most important submission is that we should have the up to date skills and there are certain skills that we can’t give in the form of physical mode. But there are certain digital skills, transformational skills which we can give it in the digital mode. There are different types of digital tools and devices, and learners should get accustomed with all these types of skills because even in industries they are not expecting theory engineers or MBA with domain knowledge, it is there but something much more advanced is what the industry requires. What we have experienced at Balaji is that our students are doing quite well as far as the Coursera courses are concerned, initially, some difficulties were there but we have crossed all these particular difficulties. Now the learners are gaining and this gain is in the form of their superiority. So now the question is it is not the ‘survival of the fittest’, it is the ‘survival of the fastest’. How fast a learner or student is going to absorb. So, challenges are there and when challenges are there we are prepared for the opportunities.

Dr. Sandeep Pachpande, Chairman, ASM Group of Institutes, Pune said, I think what the COVID has done is also tell the importance of face to face communication. I think it is very important to have the physical element for developing the leadership skills and also the life skills. So if we talk about universities I think the role of education is to prepare our students for the careers of the futures. For that we have to teach 21st century skills. I think what we can do is look at how we can blend them together. Currently what the ed-tech companies are doing is that they are trying to digitize the skills. What should be done is totally reimagine education, reimagine how it is delivered or the curriculum is made. A lot of help are coming from the ed-tech companies and how its going to be in the future is that part of the education will be online and part of the education will be done in physical face to face format. In fact, other things which all of us have been experimenting is to see how some students can be in the physical mode of the classroom and others can be digital. I was a part of an experiment which is being done at Harvard where we had that phygital mode of education. We are getting major benefits there, we are more attentive than the physical classrooms because of the tools and technologies. Because of the way they are projected. In a classroom you are facing the teacher but in this everyone can see everyone, so its more interactive and I am sure Harvard has different teams in the background monitoring your eye movements, monitoring whether you are losing interest. I think that’s where the future is, how we can blend the two. I won’t say one is better than the other but a mix of both, if we say about executive education whenever we speak to other peers at Harvard, the bonding happens only in physical. Lot of skills are learnt only in physical. So blend of the two is the future.

Chetan S Wakalkar, Managing Trustee & Group Director, Indira Group of Institutes, Pune said, I have been in the education sector for 27 years. Today’s environment has taught us that a consumer will consume content whatever you provide, product or service, when there is a huge value in that, a value proposition, when there’s a takeaway for the consumer and of course there’s a problem to be solved. So, if I’m looking at a new mode of education which is Phygital, it’s a new delivery system, a pedagogy you can say for educators. I’m gonna ask myself what is the problem that it is solving to the consumer which brings me to further research in the Indian education system. The last All India survey for higher education which took place a couple of years back administered by the Ministry of Education HRD, came up with the figure of around GER in India is around 27% which translates to roughly 4 crores of the population. When we say GER and we talk about 4 crores of population, what is the demographics? So little bit further into that, I found out that 18 to 23 years is the demographics for higher education, the students who enrolled in higher education in India. So that translates to the 4 crores but what about the remaining 73% which comes to around 12 or 12.5 crores. The fact is that lot of these students, majority of them drop out of education after 12th standard itself. So, they are not looking at higher education, so would phygital really attract this 70% of the population to pursue a higher education degree. When I say phygital what I want to understand that who’s gonna decide what percent of student attend online and what percentage will attend in a classroom. Is there a compulsory component of what he needs to attend in a physical space or is there complete flexibility with reference to that? Specially if you are doing a technical program like engineering or pharmacy or science related things where laboratories and experiments fall under a large part of syllabus and learning process. My take on the phygital is that we have largely been in the physical space of education, I think that provides a solution to the education needs of India as youth. So phygital solution I think is not going to solve that problem of educating 18 to 23 olds in higher education if we go through phygital space. Unless we are able to get good institutions developed in the rural parts where a student cannot really continue work. Our graduation system in India is itself not enough to get 100% jobs to our students. There is a better success factor available to succeed in the phygital space because there would be large number of students who get jobs after graduation and then they have the option of combining the phygital aspects and pursuing higher education. Right now, digital university, NEP all are in a very nascent stage, so I think we need to wait and watch to how the central government and the state government put up the guidelines for regulating phygital.

Dr. Siddharth Jabade, Vice-Chancellor, Vishwakarma University, Pune said, the statistics in terms of phygital teaching-learning, 40 million is the higher education learners that are 27% of GER, by 2035 the national aim is 50% that comes to 90 million. Today if you look at the global higher learning community it is approx. 220 million. What is the kind of fractured digital contours in the country because there is a digital divide and digital gap? If you look at the 75th National sample survey, 40% plus households in urban areas have internet and 85% is the digital devices. If you look at the rural sector only 15% have internet access and 4.5% is the digital devices. Let us look at it from students’ point of view, we talk about students not of Gen-Z, we talk about Gen-alpha. Gen-alpha means those who are born after 2010, when the apps and handheld devices were predominant and these students are called ‘screenagers’. Whether we like it or not their convenience is with handheld devices with the screen. There is a difference between education and training. Education prepares mind for future but training creates hand for today. When we talk about education part we have responsibility to provide knowledge to the students in terms of concept, in terms of his ability to apply those contexts in the authentic situations and make them individual thinkers. We have to ask ourselves how can we achieve this, how can we develop curious minds with understanding, ability to apply concepts in the situations that they would not know in the entire process that we call education. It’s out community that we have to understand and bring out some model which is appropriate for India. Digitalization has created ability to harness data, curate data and leverage data. Let us not forget our teachers, they are the ones who will decide the fate of the students, they are the last mile of connectivity. They are the ones who are going to be in the classroom and talking to students and understanding them. We keep listening to the industry and their requirement but we also need to listen to the students and know what do they want in terms of their pedagogy.

Dulles Krishnan, Managing Director Enterprise – India and ANZ, Coursera said, who do you think is the biggest population community today? Its not any country, its Facebook close to 1.5 billion people. Second community, which is YouTube. The point is that’s where the people are, that’s where the community is, its how the societies work. In our interactions, its wonderful to meet, shake hands to know each other but at the same time 51% of our interactions are online, message, people engage either in a zoom call that’s how we are all communicating. I have spent 11 years driving education in the e-commerce world. I was advising companies on how to take their business online. When Amazon first came in physical stores started to close down. The word phygital has emerged from retail, the largest retailer in terms of online is Amazon, which has been acquiring physical assets. Look at where your learner is. The context of phygital in education will evolve itself. The physical part of the world is transforming, it did its big shift in the last two years. The evolution has happened and what will drive the change is the learner. If the learner is going to spend the bulk of its time online, for example Berkley, probably one of the best computer science colleges in the world, the 1st year is fully online, and there’s no classroom teaching. Everyone is given virtual tools, and virtual classrooms and everybody studies there. But that is combined with a lot of the other aspects that come with the physical. What did the online do, it allowed them to scale the enrolment and in revenue aspects, it gave them growth. There will be tons of innovation that will come in. The technology players in India will see the opportunities and will contribute to it. This journey of transformation and reimagining of education is absolutely going to happen.

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