Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government released an interesting report in October 2016, which had a significant finding.
According to a research study, online education is increasing access to high quality higher education, at least among those pursuing postgraduate degree. It found that students who enrolled in Georgia Tech’s $ 7,000 Master’s online programme in Computer Science would not have thought of entering any other programme, if they did not have this programme. “By satisfying large, previously unmet demand for mid-career training, this single programme will boost American Computer Science master’s degrees by 8 per cent,” the researchers concluded.
This study is significant for countries like India whose IT and other services capability have been on a steady upward curve in the last few years, but with very few quality institutions to offer continuing education for career professionals.
NEW AGE SERVICES
In the last 20 years, India has grown as an “inexpensive sourcing destination” for back-office services for global corporations, especially in the US and Europe.
However, in the last 3 – 4 years, the prowess of Indian and India-based MNCs to offer state-of-the-art, technology based and technology enabled services to global audiences has grown steadily and perceptibly. Today, as digital technologies spawn new capabilities, Indian companies are growing their solutioning competencies for global banks, financial services, insurance and health care corporations, education companies, universities, manufacturers, and other domains.
From a low cost back office provider, India-based companies are seen as providers of platforms, products and new age services for global customers.
However, India is a laggard in one way – very little ability to create and craft courses that can improve the digital competencies of India’s workforce. Today, it is their digital architecture that power the competencies of new age corporations: CEOs and CXOs are using Big Data and Analytics for business forecasting, predicting consumer behaviour and taking right consumer-oriented decisions. Cloud services, Internet of Things and digital twins are the new technologies which are changing the way business is done; Artificial Intelligence and Machine learning are helping companies address consumer complaints and resolve them faster than ever before. The growth of digital marketing tools and platforms is helping businesses reach the precise set of customers in diverse ways.
In the days to come, these digital channels will continue to dominate consumer interaction, decision-making activities and ensuring safety and security in financial transactions.
While Indian companies and workforce clearly understand these developments, they also feel the lack of a secure and inexpensive options for developing the right skill sets and capabilities to match the growth of Digital.
For that, the Indian higher education system is also to blame. It is dominated by the affiliation system, which just cannot respond fast to industry needs or shifting industry demands.
India’s higher education continues to hold dear 19th century, industrial age structure: expensive campuses, classrooms with cohort of 50 – 60 students, teacher-centred, semester and curriculum- based learning system. Despite the growth of internet and mobile phones, information is still transmitted primarily by paper-based textbooks. The only way to demonstrate understanding is text-based assessments to meet a particular standard of one institution and to finally get a paper degree.
But we all know that the world is changing. “Stability and structure-based, one-sizefits all type of education is no longer the way to learn,” is the expert view.
Knowledge today has to get more conceptual. To gain new age competencies, students need a strong theoretical framework to understand fundamentals of a subject or domain, real life examples to apply them and case studies to analyse. And this can be learnt in new and non-linear formats.
Today’s 21st century learners have to go beyond “know what”. They need to use existing knowledge as a resource to learn and construct new knowledge. Information transmission from a guru to a sishya in a classroom is not enough. How can students use higher-order thinking —apply, analyse, synthesise, evaluate and create new knowledge— is the question.
This new learning paradigm is not available easily for India’s students and working professionals to new knowledge creators, problem solvers and solution architects. Career professionals really need an ecosystem to acquire new competencies of the digital age; and demonstrate the same at work in an easily understandable manner for consumers and organisations. Here’s where online education is making a big difference.
Lakhs of Indian professionals who seek to gain new competencies, would also like to keep their day job. Their aspiration is to grow their career, contribute better to their organisations or teams; move up the value chain of servicing and improve their insights and understanding of new problems and create new innovative solutions for their customers or organisations. And do all this while they work and earn.
Online learning can address this complex issue better. Of course, online education is not about putting up some video lectures on the internet. Nor is it limited to offering e-books from a portal. It is about mixing different media, to ensure that the curriculum and its delivery-transaction are both of a high quality. The solution has to effectively meet the aspirations of the learner. The learning science has to be backed by powerful algorithms that can track the learner’s journey, customise and personalise the learning experience. The learners find personalised pathways to achieve their aspirations, even while acquiring demonstrable competencies. Assessing their learning is possible in a variety of linear and non-linear ways. E-mentors and e-coaching can guide the learner to achieve optimal learning milestones. An online learner also needs to get their crucial element of higher education — interaction with the instructor and his/her peers.
Slowly, a few online education companies are building powerful alliances with content and knowledge providers – like globally ranked universities, colleges and research organisations to create engaging curriculum in emerging areas – Big Data, technology, strategy, management, digital marketing, etc.
However, online education companies do not compete with universities or brick and mortar providers. They want to offer robust, interactive and highly effective learning solutions to offer new- age skills and competencies, in an online ecosystem, at highly differentiated costs affordable for leaners is real.
It is this new aspiring class of learners – those seeking applied knowledge to enhance careers, who are looking keenly at online learning models. Because this helps them acquire the required skills of the digital era, but without attending full time college courses. Online continuing and executive education courses help them “learn which they earn”.
It will be interesting to watch the growth of online learning and how it caters to this new audience set.
— The writers are part of the founding team of www.361dm.com