“You know, I dropped out of Reed College and had nothing to do so I took a course in calligraphy. And it all went into the Mac keyboard!”
-Steve Jobs at Stanford’s Graduation
What do MIT, Yale and UC Berkely have in common? Apart from being your dream college, they also have their entire course material along with classroom videos are available for the entire world to watch and learn. As the world is getting flatter by virtue of the information highway created by the internet, the need of the hour is a systematic dissemination of education. Information to education is a major jump, and we need to take it. Reliable and simplified domain area knowledge is hard to acquire unless you are ready to pay for a LLB/MBA degree at a top University – and sometimes not even then. If you add to that the opportunity cost of leaving your current job, relocation, travelling to college etc. – online education starts to look very appealing.
This is why distance learning is becoming very relevant in India. Much of the workforce need and want skill upgradation – but how can it be delivered to them efficiently? Indian students are hungry for better quality education – how can high quality education be provided to them at an affordable cost? The solution has to be found in online education.
Then comes the tough questions. Can online education provide any meaningful value in the first place? Indian has a bad experience with distance learning – in the form of correspondence courses which very often turned out to be useless and sometimes even scammy. Correspondence courses meant books shipped by courier and online courses – or downloadable ebooks – and the value delivered by them was often not much. Many correspondence courses are run by degree and diploma mills – and people took them up only because they wanted some sort of degree and diploma on their resume. Employers did not value these courses and the general feeling was that distance courses are a very poor substitute of classroom education.
The stigma once attached to those correspondence courses now often spill over to online courses. The apprehension is that the nature and content of these courses have remained the same – it is just that they moved online.
The reality is very different though. While there are courses which just deliver some ebooks in name of education, courses are being build to teach things that cannot yet be learnt in the classroom. However, for these to succeed, there is a definite need to deal with the stigma associated with distance learning.
There are strong indications that a new breed of online courses will strive to achieve what traditional education could not achieve in centuries – a more democratized world of education.
Why? Lets talk about it.
Why is there a need to supplement University education with distance learning programs?
REASON 1: Need for Simplification and Gamification:
“College for most people is just high school, but with more
binge drinking and debt. What you pay for now, at a four-year
institution, is not the courses — because you can get the courses for free.
What you pay for is proof that you finished.”
-Seth Godin, Best Selling Author and Former Vice President Yahoo.
A recent survey conducted by a law student from India’s top law Universities revealed that only 20% of the 150 legal practitioners who took the survey, credited their practical knowledge to classroom learning. A staggering 53% of the respondents claimed to have received the same via internships and self-learning.
The reason why University education, which includes tons of tests, vivas, quizzes, projects fails to inspire learning is because it does not capture the next generation’s short attention span. It may have worked for our mothers and fathers but we have been brought up without this beautiful invention called the internet and the personal computer. The current generation has been drowned in an information overload. What this implied is that the delivery matters as much as the content of the information.
A lot of us still love books and pleasure of thumbing through a paperback. But when it comes to understanding something that we may not necessarily like, we would like it in a medium which is more engaging, perhaps even entertaining. There is a huge need for a mode of education which delivers practical skills in a more engaging format. Throughout our school and university education rote-learning has dulled our sense and made us wary of education. A fresh perspective in the mode of delivery is exactly what is need. Unfortunately, a majority of distance learning programs either online or otherwise have substitute boring classroom learning with books mailed by courier and bulky downloadable PDFs. This hardly works. We are inexorably moving towards an era where gamification of education is a must to stay relevant and educate the masses.
REASON 2: Low return on Investment:
“Over 75 per cent of technical graduates are not ready for jobs. India’s $60 billion outsourcing industry is spending almost $1 billion a year training these graduates for jobs.”
-NASSCOM Survey 2011
In today’s slow economy and increasing no. of college graduates everyone is looking to cut costs, be it your average recruiter or you as a student. A recruiter does not want to waste money on a student who spent lakhs and still isn’t ready for a job. Will he rather hire someone with relevant skills or someone with a degree from a big college but no skills? The answer is clear. On the other hand as a student, would you invest upto 20-30 lakhs in an MBA degree as well as sacrifice two years of a salary or would you rather take up a course which requires you to pay a fraction of that amount and yet gives you relevant skills? The answer should again be obvious. This is the space online education has to explore.
The idea in this space is not to substitute the traditional University model, which has its own benefits. Instead the idea is to supplement it and provide a mode of hands-on learning and impart practical knowledge and skills. A survey of legal practitioners revealed that those who got recruited by top law firms 23% agreed that additional courses helped them, while 34% believed that it could have been a factor.
Why have existing distance learning program and Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) have failed to capitalize the market?
REASON 1: HIGH ATTRITION RATES
“On average, students in online learning conditions
performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.”
-A study conducted by the US Department of Education, The New York Times, August 9th, 2009
One of the biggest problems with distance learning programs worldwide is the abysmally low percentage of people who go on to complete the courses. From free online courses to University accredited courses such as the MBL (Master of Business Laws) offered by NLS, Bangalore – all suffer from this problem. For instance, the ratio of students who pass the MBL course after enrolling into it is really low. This is because there is either little or no incentive to complete because of low initial investment (the dubious free online courses) or there is an obvious lack of motivation. The latter can be caused either by the failure to engage the student or lack of recognition to the final certificate or diploma.
This problem can be cured very easily via the internet which has the all the benefits of the distance learning programme but also provides an engaging medium like interactive games, discussion forums, webinars etc. All the learning activity by the students can be recorded and reviewed, and the platform and activities can be accordingly modified to increase engagement. The need of the hour is to supplement the classroom and university environment by providing an engaging medium on an user friendly platform.
REASON 2: Lack of Relevance and Recognition:
“What we learn today in school will be outdated by
tomorrow, and therefore, the most successful
people in the ‘flat world’ will be those
who can adapt and learn quickly”
-Thomas Friedman, The World is Flat.
What do graduates of IITs, IIMs and top law schools agree on? Apart from having spent the best year of their lives slogging for the top grade, they all agree that what you study in college in almost never relevant to the requirements of their job. They are not alone since most recruiters often complain about the same and end up investing huge sums of money in training freshers. This is a major reason for reduction in hiring of freshers during economic slowdown. There is a paralysis in the current University infrastructure which refuses to adapt to the needs of the industry. We are facing an entrenched model of education which believes in push teaching as opposed to pull learning. While students cannot sit and wait for education reforms, they can however, make themselves more employable through suitable online courses.
However, it makes no sense to do away with the University structure, just like it makes no sense to continue mugging up theoretical information with no relevance to employment when employment is the goal of the students. What the industry needs today is for Universities to recognize the shortcoming, and allow industry experts to bridge this gap in form of online courses and in turn give recognition to it. This will make their students more employable, thereby benefitting them immensely.
Disclaimer: Aayush Srivastava currently works as a consultant for iPleaders, a start-up involved in leveraging technology and domain area expertise to provide an online distance learning programme. iPleaders currently teach hundreds of students, ranging from engineering students, law students, lawyers and bureaucrats to CXOs, enrolled in their online Diploma in Entrepreneurship Administration and Business Laws. The Diploma is given by one of India’s top law schools NUJS, Kolkata. [www.startup.nujs.edu]