Posted in Feature Article

Educational institutions are changing rapidly in response to the ability of individuals and universities to access digital content in ways that was unthinkable just five years ago. Students and colleges no longerhave to rely on the traditional methods of information access and content delivery that formed the foundation of educational content in the past. Thanks to the Internet and associated technology, there have been rapid advances in the way we access and assimilate information. What was earlier available only at a premium cost is now open to all at no cost at all, what was earlier limited to the heavy, printed and bound version is now digitized and easier to access. In spite of these and other advantages that digital content offers, there are certain drawbacks that make this form of information delivery a little dicey, especially when it’s related to data where authenticity is of prime importance.

  1. Data in the digital format requires the use of additional technology to access, read and modify. This technology may not be universally available due to constraints like cost, and even if available, may not be used by everyone because of training gaps and lack of accessibility.
  2. The authenticity of such information will always be questioned unless there is a foolproof way to identify the sources and establish their genuineness. Information is only as valuable as its source, and when the origin of the source is doubtful, the information is almost worthless. So unless the data can be proved to have originated from validated sources, digital content does not assume any meaning.
  3. The information must be protected by copyrights that prevent it from being plagiarized for other purposes. It’s harder to enforce copyright issues when it comes to digitized data such as that is freely available on the Internet and distributed through CDs and DVDs that can be easily copied.
  4. The content providers must be fairly compensated for their contribution. This is a fairly easy concept for the written and printed format of information – each book sold garners the author royalties, but it’s almost impossible to allocate revenue based on the number of page views or the number of digital copies sold unless these are protected by one-time licenses.
  5. The problem with licenses is that they tend to restrict access to only those who can afford to pay for the product. And in today’s scenario where information is freely available, not many people are willing to pay premium prices for the same content.
  6. And then there are the hackers who somehow find means to break license codes and access information that is protected to sell on the grey and black markets.
  7. Publishers must also cater to the demand from consumers to produce content in various formats rather than just one.
  8. Lack of publishing format standards hinder the process of aggregating content from various sources, collating it and re-publishing only what you need.
  9. As newer technologies are developed, it’s not going to be easy to gain universal approval for these technologies as human nature tends to resist change and fight it before being forced to accept it.
  10. The challenge lies in identifying people who will accept and embrace the changes immediately with open arms and then cajole the rest of the population into trying it out as well.
  11. Students, with the advantage of youth and the capacity to embrace new technology on their side, are likely to adapt to innovations with an ease that their professors and teachers, who are steeped in tradition, cannot manage. This throws up an irony of sorts, as those who are meant to be taught end up grasping the medium of education (if not the content that must be taught) at a faster rate than those who are meant to teach.
  12. There must be a consensus among educational institutions as a whole on the methods that will be adopted to train staff adequately so that they are comfortable with using the technology to impart a valuable education to their students.
  13. Institutes must be prepared to handle the change as well – both mentally and financially. The fact that learning and educational content is now digital means that educational institutes must invest a whole lot of money in related hardware and software costs besides shelling out money to train both staff and students to use the new system.
  14. They must also be made to accept the fact that change is inevitable, and that what’s in today may as well be out tomorrow, and the sooner we realize this truth and accept it, the faster we will adapt to the change.
  15. Digital publishers must cope with opposition and resentment from the print industry which will certainly not relish the prospect of being driven out of business.

In spite of all these constraints, there are various advantages that digital content offers over traditional printed material. They include:

  1. The ability to modify content or just a part of it easily and at a considerably low cost. The same exercise with traditional books is a time consuming and costly affair.
  2. Easy and cost-effective updating options allow access to the latest information as and when it’s available rather than having to wait for the next edition of the book to be printed and made available at stores.
  3. Searching for the exact subject you’re interested in is a breeze with digital content when compared with leafing through a book and reading every word before you’re able to find what you’re looking for.
  4. Teachers can put together customized lessons depending on what they think their students are interested in rather than being forced to rely on one or two books alone.
  5. Digital content takes up a fraction of the storage space that printed matter does, thus freeing up shelves and shelves of space.
  6. There’s also the fact that the less paper we use, the more we’re doing to play our part in saving the rain forests and the environment as a whole.
  7. There’s no need to carry around books when you’re travelling from place to place. If it’s online, all you need is access to a computer and a fast Internet connection.

There is no certain indicator that can predict when the complete changeover of educational information from printed form to digital content will take place, or even if it will ever take place. There are signs of the shift, but it is slow and acceptance is even slower. But with the kind of revolution that we’ve seen over the past two decades in the field of information technology, there won’t be any surprises when the change does come, sooner than we think and believe possible. While the move will have its detractors, with time there will be general acceptance. After all, the raging success and omnipresence of the Internet is proof enough that rapid change is certainly possible in a very short span of time!