Is online classrooms for everyone or just the affordable few?

One of my friends Rathish Balakrishnan, co-founder of Sattva Media, asked for my feedback on one of the articles posted in his company website (The Alternative –

This is the article:

The article broadly covered the recent trends in education like Online Classrooms, MOOCs and Flipped Classrooms, and mentioned the various brands like Coursera, Khan Academy and edX which are pioneering in this space.

The overarching question that this article posed was:

Are online courses the next Napster movement or is it just a buzzword phase for alternative learning? Aparna Srivastava wonders whether this online movement will bridge the gap in learning in India where internet access still remains privileged. 

This was my response to this article:

“First off, this is a very good topic to write on. However, what is the actual question being asked here – will technology be accessible and affordable to all sections of people or will it be the Rolls Royce of sorts for a elite crowd? Or if technology is accessible, will online learning be helpful? Think the second question is a no-brainer.

As for the first question, great question! But the answer does not lie in what is happening in online learning, but what is happening in technology. Look at Project Loon from Google for example, or what other biggies are doing to make tech accessible in Africa. Or look at Serval Project. Look at Google Fiber. Actually blackboards and chalk were radical technology available to a select few many years back, look at them now. Cell phones are another example, a recent UN study said India has more cellphones than clean toilets! Or textbooks, if you want another example in education! So this is just a demand vs supply gap here. Is the demand there for Online Learning or anything else you want to do with technology? I assume you would say YES (It’s a separate discussion if you say NO) – Is the supply matching the demand? If not, any supplier will charge a premium as there is a market need – that is the way capitalism works! For the supply to reach demand raising from unaffordable sector, government and non-profits intervention is required. Is that happening? See Aakash for govt sector OR read about TFI (Srini Swaminathan), Deepam (Karthikeyan of Twenty19), Pratham or talk to Pragadish who uses technology to teach at orphanages or many other such orphanages!

As for the second question, online learning is definitely not a fad. It will definitely take over as the defacto standard, just as textbooks overtook scrolls or chalks overtook writing on sand! Talk to people like Devavrat RavetkarSaurabh MukhekarAditi ParekhShah Yasser Aziz – these are some self-learners or MOOCers or lifelong learners who can give you a great deal of input on online learning! Or better yet, talk to Prof. Sugata Mitra about online learning! :)”

So what do you think? Is online learning a Rolls Royce for a select few or will it be the “cyber-air” for the common man?

A background on The Alternative (, it is “a new media platform for sustainable living that strives to make social good an everyday conversation by highlighting choices we can make to positively impact the world around us.”
And you can read about the parent company to The Alternative, Sattva Media here:

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