From ordering vegetables online to ordering classes online, we have travelled a long way! The Internet of Things and digital transformations have given us shocks as well as pleasant surprises. Like any other industry, the wave of digital technology and improving bandwidths has affected the education sector as well. Both the demand and the supply side are witnessing an impact. Online education in India has seen active growth over the last decade. The factors that have led to this growth are better telecom and internet bandwidths across India leading to growth in the usage of smartphones and hand-held devices, advancement in video conferencing technologies, advent of technology platforms for seamless transfers, and an ever-increasing need for skill certification remotely and at the convenience of the student.
The consumer centricity that we have observed in conventional product/service marketing is now being seen in education through online programmes offered by reputed institutes in India. Online programmes can be paid or free (famously known as MOOC, as in massive open online courses). Online programmes can be live mode where faculty and students are online at the same time. There are also recorded versions where the participants can watch the class on the go at their convenience. Both these types have their merits and demerits. The biggest factors contributing to the growth of online programmes are its deep penetration, convenience of learning infrastructure, skill upgradation need, and career break gaps.
The government is encouraging colleges to offer online courses in rural India to ensure that education reaches all. Online programmes give an opportunity to all to learn from institutes of repute. For autonomous institutes, the deep penetration and reach of online programmes is a step towards democratization of education and equal opportunities for all, irrespective of their geographical location. The other factor contributing to the growth is the convenience that online courses offer to the participants where they can learn from any hand-held device at their time and without leaving their jobs. This is only getting easier with the improvement in bandwidths and penetration of smartphones and mobile services. The third factor that has led to the growth of online programmes is the element of constant change. Working professionals enrol in niche and domain-specific online programmes to upgrade their skills, learn new skills, or relearn conceptual areas of work. The most interesting segment that has emerged over the last few years is the segment of mostly women and some men who have taken career breaks. These are women who have taken a maternity break and after a few years want to get back to their professional life. For these people, online programmes are a blessing and help them fill the gap created and help them prepare for second term of their careers.
One more emerging segment is that of startups. Many startup owners’ sign up for online programmes as they lack certain skill sets and these courses are an easy and effective way to learn and get certification.
As we grow in this space, institutes are reinventing and upgrading online programmes in course content, delivery platforms, pedagogies, and innovation. In programmes that I offer, there is a lot of usage of videos, TED talks, in-class group exercise, and live discussions.
Online programmes are set to grow and we will see lots of innovation in the coming years. The biggest factor pushing the growth is technology infrastructure, cost, flexibility, and convenience. The advantage of this growth will be in reach of education and specialized skills reaching everywhere. Online programmes are here to stay!
Falguni Vasavada-Oza is a professor at MICA, Ahmedabad.