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E-learning and its incalculable consequences for the Hungarian society: Interview with Dr. Árpád Rab

An original KÖZGAZDÁSZ ONLINE post.

During the past couple of years we kept hearing about information society. The effects the current pandemic will have on this can only be a subject to speculations. We have talked to information society researcher, associate professor of CUB Dr. Árpád Rab about how the coronavirus pandemic may change education and the labor market, and how teleworking can affect our everyday life. This is the first part of a two-part series.

What does it mean to be an information society researcher?

In today’s societies information and data are very important, and even though it is true that they have always been significant, this is especially true these days. For me, researching information society means a social science that studies info-communication tools, the relationship between data and humans. The concept information society has been around for at least thirty years, in 1998 a research institute named Information Society was founded at the Budapest Technical University, so we used this phrase and not something else, like network society, to name the phenomenon.

How do new technologies change the information society as we know it?

I devoted my life to finding out how people’s lives can be made better with info-communication tools. Humanity is trying to solve its problems using these, among other things. To maintain such a high quality of life for so many people would be impossible without these tools. Their spread is not a simple process though, there are ones that become popular very quickly. The merits of smart phones for example were soon recognized by everyone.

Today’s changes force people to jump knowledge levels, they have to learn to change their way of thinking, and to keep improving throughout their whole lives.

Now we are learning that information does not need to be stored in our heads, we can deposit it on the internet. The most important questions nowadays are what to do with this, what is good information and how we can use it.

What was digitalization like in education so far?

Info-communication tools make teaching more spectacular. Education itself remains the same, only the tools are more and better. But now the main thing is not content anymore, but connect, that is, what you want and when you want it. As a teacher I may find it hard to adhere to this completely, as many students want only the certificate but not the knowledge.

In this sense, formal education will always be lagging behind individual learning, when there is strong motivation by knowing what I want to know. In formal circumstances the teachers say “ I think you still have time to learn this”.

Sometimes they are right, but at other times the hard drive of the brain gets full and some things need to be deleted. But e-learning makes it possible for us to teach things better, in a more interesting and efficient way. The weaknesses of a teacher can be successfully offset by these tools, nevertheless, the e-learning solutions, available for about 15 years, have not been very popular so far. What we see is that it crosses the threshold only when it becomes mandatory. If Moodle was not mandatory at Corvinus, we would hardly have any online materials.

How has the virus affected teaching?

We are in the middle of a real-life testing period as far as social sciences and innovation is concerned, and even though we have witnessed a lot of chaos in the past couple of weeks, the hurdles are being jumped over successfully. People have come up with a lot of creative solutions. I am sure that after social distancing is over there will be a lot more e-learning processes because people have learnt how to do it. Humans are lazy, the majority would never start such a learning process by themselves. It is certainly a problem that the transition has been abrupt and panic-stricken, but this is only temporary. We need to believe that the knowledge that we are gaining right now is worth a lot. People only learn from slaps on the face. The adoption of e-learning on such a scale will have incalculable consequences for Hungarian society.

Many teachers have a hard time shifting to distance education. What will happen to them?

Education is in trouble, there are very few motivated teachers. Those who are not open will probably find it more and more difficult to get by in this environment, so in this sense I think a certain level of replacement may take place. If someone uses obsolete teaching tools, they will notice it from the reactions of the audience. These days it is not enough for a teacher just to lecture, they need to use more efficient tools. The teachers must communicate who they are, what their role is, what their mission is and what steps need to be taken to accomplish it. If that is done, the monitoring tools will come without effort, and the e-learning materials are also easier to compile.

A university environment facilitates the teachers wonderfully. Even if they have no clue about digitalization, they can walk in, ask someone to prepare Moodle for them, and just upload everything, there are no technological constraints. The decisive factor is rather openness.

There will be a major change in approach in education because we have to maintain top quality, and general knowledge delivery is not enough anymore.

Teachers who cannot adapt to this will get in trouble as students will pick them out. At least, this would be the ideal case. Although, life is more complicated that this.

Written by: Viktor Bera

Images: Pexels

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