It is well known that online education brings many things to the table, giving it a significant advantage over offline modes or traditional campus learning. However, most of us still have to cross many perception-related hurdles before we can be completely comfortable with the idea of online education.
Access and flexibility are major positives in favour of the concept. Those who do not have the means to travel across national or international borders to acquire degrees from reputed institutions require only a workable internet connection, even in remote parts, to avail of some of the best learning experiences. This gives the medium an advantage of scale too. Taking into account where India stands today and our goals for GDP growth, we need an investment of more than $100 billion to create the additional offline higher education capacity necessary to train our future workforce. That target is impossible for a country like India to afford. And in that context, online education will play a very important role in capacity building for the future of India.
However, like for any new technology or concept, online education faces many obstacles. In the space, there are some key challenges that edtech companies are up against: (a) online lacks the gravitas of offline, walking into a campus or class room; (b) it’s very anonymous – no one will know when I join or when I drop out; (c) online education is monotonous; (d) logging on to a platform that has an array of aggregated lectures and courses that do not for deep learning is its “out there”; (e) the notion that if it’s online, it’s free; (f) how does a potential customer get his employer and family to respect and recognise online learning as the future, given its ability to make him more productive without the need of time being taken out for an offline study break?
One of the most important challenges to contend with is the perception that online education is nothing more than a content library. Thanks to the rise of MOOCs (with a question mark on their impact), this is where the merits of online education seem to end in the eyes of most, doing a huge disservice to the disruptions this phenomenon is capable of.
We have all been to a university/institution, and we did not go there to visit only the library, but for a full university experience. In most cases, the primary problem facing online education has been thought to be that of access or affordability. Experience cannot be addressed simply through content; a holistic, end-to-end approach has to be adopted. Following a full stack approach of developing quality and relevant content through the syncing of industry and academia, encouraging more innovative pedagogical models, and servicing each individual consumer in a manner that ensures value creation, could help one achieve a high completion rate of more than 90 percent, as opposed to the low rate seen by MOOCs today (below 10 percent).
Forming a community is critical to the success of online education. While we could build a rapidly growing business by just providing content, we would miss out on building a sustainable differentiation. Part of building the community is to remove the anonymity from online education. When you are taking an online programme, it is unlikely that your friends and family would know about it. Compare that to enrolling for an offline programme, where everyone from your friends to your distant relatives would be in the know. Therefore, when it comes to online, it is very easy for people to enroll and equally easy for them to drop out. Ideas like taking anonymity out of online education are small steps towards building a holistic experience.
The perception of online education has to move beyond that of a content library, and the focus needs to shift towards building a great learning experience and a strong community. And for that, there is a need for a lot of innovation and out of the box ideas. Each and every edtech provider needs to contribute towards building a great experience, and thereby building up the credibility of online education!
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