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As demand for online education surges, publishers get innovative

Even as ed-tech platform adoptions increase, national and international publishing houses are exploring newer ways to ride the change. Physical books and online learning will go hand in hand and the future of learning is hybrid, claims the industry.

Written by Shyna Kalra | New Delhi |
Updated: May 12, 2020 7:00:53 pm
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While the lockdown is transforming the way we learn and steering the process towards digital, the impact can last beyond the coronavirus quarantine period. One major change is the availability of educational content digitally and most of it for free, especially after several public universities granted access to their online libraries.

As per a survey by ed-tech company FairGaze, over 44.88 per cent people believe that online content will replace books. A further 46.32 per cent are of the opinion that teachers should use online resources to teach, rather than textbooks. This has prompted publication houses across the globe to adopt innovative methods to stay relevant during the COVID and post-COVID era.

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Among the major changes is that several traditional publication houses are now adapting digital modes. The lockdown has accelerated a gradual shift, which began when national-level exams started moving online, believes Vinay Sharma, business head, Digital at S Chand, a leading publishing house for academic content that has recently launched a mobile-based application.

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“With most of the national-level examinations moving to a digital platform, there is a huge trend among students, especially those preparing for competitive exams, to learn and practice online. This has led to a big shift in publishing houses as well, since many have started offering free coupons for online tests on purchasing books while others offer certain hours of e-learning content with physical books,” he informed.

S Chand, however, is not the only one to launch an application or mobile-first content. Publishing houses such as MBD Group, Oxford University Press, Pearson, etc, which traditionally were limited to physical books are now also providing mock tests, e-books, digital examination conducting platforms, mobile-based apps, teacher training content, etc. As a result, the trend is blurring the gap between a traditional publication house and an ed-tech company. However, a complete shift, most industry insiders believe is yet to come.

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The only factors curtailing the shift, believes Sharma, is the divide in infrastructure and linguistic gaps among students across India. “Access to devices is not available to all yet. Further, the Hindi belt (UP, Bihar and Jharkhand) is a huge market base for government exams and they are more comfortable in Hindi; physical books are a great help for these aspirants.”

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English aspiration accelerating the shift

The MBD group, which is offering around 1500+ e-books for free to read along with 8000 digital resources covering all subjects from classes 1 to 12 online believes that the aspiration of learning English is going to accelerate the digital push even further, for the next generation. The MBD Group, which has been in the digital space since the 1980s, envisages a bigger change for the next generation.

Monica Malhotra Kandhari, MD, said, “Even as Hindi is one of the major modes of learning for students and will remain so for quite some time, there is a rise among parents even in the rural areas who are shifting their wards to English medium schools. These children will take up exams in English and thus fill in the linguistic gap in the digital space,” she informed.

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However, this change would occur over time and the current shift is only an artificial upsurge, she believes. “When PDFs were new, everyone was harping about how e-books mean the end of physical books. And now with the increase in learning on ed-tech platforms, especially with the coronavirus pandemic, the concerns are rising again. This is an artificial upsurge. In fact, there would be an exponential increase in the purchasing of books once the lockdown is lifted. Those who have lost on their coursework will buy books,” she said.

The best of both worlds

The Oxford University Press (OUP), which is offering several offers including e-books with interactive teaching tools and offline download capabilities, training academicians in digital teachings among others believes that the future is hybrid.

Sivaramakrishnan V, MD Oxford University Press (OUP) remarked, “Our website traffic and online engagement statistics suggest there is undoubtedly greater demand for e-learning resources during the Covid-19 phase. In the short to mid-term, more educators will adopt blended or integrated learning pedagogies that seamlessly combine print and digital learning resources. This should help solve the issue of increased screen time for children, in addition to maintaining a discipline of fixed hours of screen time.”

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“Information overflow is certainly an issue. Parents need to understand the value of well-researched, curated and age-appropriate content that is mapped to a curriculum. Parents, teachers, and learning institutions must use content provided by quality education providers that are pedagogically appropriate for the learner,” he added.

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