The last few years have seen the growth of several online education platforms that have sought to supplement traditional education.
Is it possible that they can emerge as viable substitutes? Mint takes a look.
What are massive open online courses?
Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are learning programmes on the Internet that aggregate courses from various universities or professors. The most prominent MOOC platforms are Coursera, edX, Khan Academy, Udacity, Udemy and the government’s SWAYAM. While some have free content, others have a freemium model—advanced content or certification is available only for paid users. With a massive range of learning topics, MOOCs are like open universities, where anyone can learn almost any topic, at one’s convenience and, in certain cases, for free. They have the power to democratize access to education.
Online learning is not restricted to MOOCs. Several universities and their partners offer digital versions of traditional college programmes. Such programmes are often as expensive as their classroom versions. There are other service providers who offer digital learning supplements, say for preparations for school exams or college tests, or certification programmes for professionals wishing to enhance their qualifications. Such digital learning does not come free, but by freeing up the limitation of space, the size of a classroom can expand infinitely, thus enabling access to more at a lower unit cost.
Are such courses disrupting the eduction system?
Though high-quality learning is available online, the demand for admissions to schools and colleges has not reduced. Educational institutions, particularly colleges, provide not only learning but also a recognition of “having learnt". It is the degree-granting capability of a college and its reputation that provides a competitive advantage.
Online learning can either be self-paced, at one’s convenience, or assisted, in real-time with a facilitator. With an appropriate blend of these two modes, online learning can be an effective replacement to the classroom. Learning programmes can be personalized and the progress of each individual can be tracked better. But education also requires social engagement and peer learning. This is possible through digital platforms, but is not yet the same as a classroom experience.
Can online certificates replace degrees?
Given the huge demand for high-quality, affordable education that is not being met by traditional universities, it may now be time to treat online courses as reasonable substitutes. However, a college degree still enjoys social acceptance. Since employers are the biggest ‘customers’ for the education system, it is up to the recruiters to recognize those who have ‘graduated’ from the online programmes.
Srinivasa Addepalli is the founder and CEO of ed-tech startup GlobalGyan.
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