Spoken Tutorials (ST) is an amazing innovation coming out of years of pioneering research led by Professor Kannan Moudgalya nearly a decade ago at one of India’s premier engineering institutions – the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay (IIT-B). With initial funding from the Government of India, Dr. Kannan took on the challenge of making it possible to learn & master computer & software skills for masses living in remote parts of the country at a price of a few pennies! Like many countries of the world, whether a developing or developed economy, India faces the urgent need to enable millions of youth to enter the workforce ready for the skills needed for the new digital world. Every industry in the world is rapidly transitioning from old structures to the one underpinned by information technology at its core. The speed of this transition has created millions of unfilled jobs due to a lack of workers with needed IT skills. Current options of acquiring these skills in either technology-oriented higher-degree educational institutions or in private training centers limit their availability to mostly urban population centers and for those with much higher income levels. In most developing economies, including India, this results in a very large portion of the eligible workforce being left out of the digital transition. Even in developing countries like USA, accessibility & affordability barriers risk further widening education and economic inequity in the society. Further, the lack of enough numbers of quality instructors results in sub-standard teaching at many existing learning centers. Lastly, the learners from non-English native language geographies face huge language hurdles in this skills domain that has nothing inherent to English. Spoken Tutorials are designed to eliminate all these barriers and enable the world-at-large ready for the new digitized world. Dr. Kannan graduated in 1985 with a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Rice University, Houston, and began his career as a Research Associate at the Chemical Process Modelling and Control Research Center at Lehigh University in the USA. In 1988 he became Assistant Professor at IIT-B and has since worked his way up to the position of Each and Meheroo Mehta Advanced Education Technology Chair Professor. He has written several books including the recently published “Digital Control” and another one (“Optimization: Theory and Practice”) with M. C. Joshi. ST innovation has won numerous awards & recognitions such as Google MOOCs Research Award, Reimagine Education Award 2015 by QT and Wharton School, and Re-Engineering India Award, and has been featured on the TEDx platform.
At the core of it, a spoken tutorial is an audio-video tutorial that explains an activity, on the computer screen (where it is typically viewed). An expert explains the working of the topic (e.g., a software language such as C++), by demonstrating it on the screen, along with a running commentary. A screencast software makes a movie of the entire activity, both the screen and the spoken part. This movie is a spoken tutorial. The running commentary can be in English or in any other language. The spoken tutorial is a recording of an actual session. As a result, it can capture every step that is required to explain an activity. While simple in concept, the final product (a series of 10-minute tutorials – which could be as few as half-a-dozen to as many as several hundred, depending upon the breadth & complexity of the topic) requires proper integration of the right instructor, content structure & sequencing, well-choreographed content script, user-interface, and transposition into A/V modules suitable for the average learner. These ST modules are purposely created for consumption flexibility with or without access to an Internet connection. Hence, the size of the video created is of the order of 1MB per minute, for an 800×600 screen size in normal resolution. The resulting file size is small enough for transmission through low bandwidth and also to pack a large number of tutorials on a single inexpensive storage device (e.g., USB stick or CD, or DVD), enabling distribution to remote rural locations.
Further, the overall design & packaging has been done to enable easy dubbing of audio portion in any language that a remote/rural learner feels comfortable with. Many of the existing STs have been dubbed in more than 22 languages spoken within & outside India. Since many proprietary IT software are owned by large multinationals, their licensing costs make them unaffordable for large-scale usage in many emerging countries. This has resulted in the huge development of open-source software technology options across the IT spectrum. To support this, a current library of STs covers most of the popular open-source software families, such as LaTeX, Scilab, GNU/Linux, and Python. While only a small topic can be covered in the standard ten-minute long single ST, by stringing them together, one can easily create study plans that are capable of teaching advanced topics.
Two other critical features of the ST approach are emphasis on the application of learning, and linkages to current market needs and challenges. While playing the ST, the learner applies the course elements right away by practicing on the computer side-by-side. A combination of the flexibility (to learn at one’s choice of location, timing, duration, and pace) and real-time application makes it a very powerful learning innovation tool. After finishing all the STs for a course, learners can take the examination to test their competency and can compare their scores pre and post-learning. Score and associated details of the course outline are covered in the completion Certificate making it easy for a prospective employer to feel confident in the learner’s fit & employability.