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Adoption of technology in online education

By: Arjun Nair, Director, Operations and Learning Experience, Great Learning

This article explores a series of interconnected developments that has led to the adoption of technology in higher education, which in turn is generating more interest towards online education.

I. Current Forces at Play

Success of new business models and fast paced innovation has created the need for upskilling/reskilling

The world’s largest taxi company (Uber) owns no cars and the largest retailer (Alibaba) owns no inventory. Airbnb is now competing with top of the line hotels that have been in business for decades. Traditional business models across industries are being disrupted so swiftly that incumbents are forced to innovate and develop work force capabilities or become irrelevant.

As a result of the furious pace of innovation and automation, getting equipped for new jobs requiring new skills sets is imperative in order to increase employability and a chance to succeed. In order to transition into these new roles, professionals are now required to become life-long learners and continuously upskill themselves.

Greater flexibility and feasibility

While the demand for a highly trained work force with new skill sets in business analytics, product management, digital marketing (just to name a few) has ballooned, the supply has not been able to keep pace. Traditional institutes of higher education have been largely unable to cater to these vast numbers of executives who require these “new economy” skill sets due to bureaucratic slowness in updating their curricula and resource constraints – availability of faculties who have expertise in these new areas.

Moreover, full-time courses are not an option for a majority of working professionals as they are unable to take time off work due to financial and personal reasons. Part-time courses have location constraints and like majority of distance education courses are generally poor in quality. These forces have driven learners who need to acquire new skill sets to consider online and blended mode options.

Availability of Industry relevant content of high quality

Online and blended mode courses promise to provide access to the best content from the best faculty without location constraints. Various developments in technology and the widespread adoption of it in higher education has enabled this giant leap.

Availability of easy to use content recording infrastructure, inexpensive online platforms for hosting and distributing courses and a large numbers of users who are accustomed to consuming services online led to plenty of online courses that have millions of users taking these courses from all around the world.

Recorded lectures with the option to attend live virtual classes (webinars) have made it very convenient for professionals to access almost anything they want to learn. Students can not only consume content online, but also submit assignments and quizzes, interact with peers and faculty and receive feedback, all online. In addition, many online courses are self-paced, allowing motivated learners unparalleled flexibility in choosing what they want to learn when they need it.

II. Addressing limitations within current context

Lack of motivation due to the lack of an engaging experience

While short online courses are useful for certifications, longer duration courses that result in deep learning and meaningful career transitions are very difficult to complete for the average person. Just as joining a gym doesn’t guarantee losing weight, enrolling in an online course does not guarantee sufficient learning that can result in a successful outcome.

In online education, it is difficult to get consistent academic and non-academic support; meaningful feedback is not always available and peer pressure is non-existent. As a result, while the content may be of good quality, it is not very engaging and learners loose motivation over a period of time leading to low completion rates. In addition to low completion rates, due to lack of meaningful peer and industry interaction, real career outcomes happen only for a select few learners.

New innovations that lead to higher completion rates and great career outcomes

In addition to the innovations around content creation and dissemination, various other technology innovations have been adopted in online education that are now addressing the limitations and making it possible for learners to have high completion rates and have good career outcomes. To illustrate a few initiatives:

  • Personalization – As most interactions happen online, it is now possible to track all the learning activities a student performs and give meaningful and personalized feedback. This puts students’ needs at the center of the learning process and they are empowered to take decisions on specific areas of improvement. Based on their performance, the learning experience can be personalized and interventions undertaken to prevent students from falling behind. This addresses the problem of providing support and feedback and keeps learners engaged.
  • Gamification – By incentivizing good learner behavior, good habits are formed early on, which in turn sustains motivation throughout the duration of the course. In addition students can also see how their peers are progressing and the effort they are putting, which invokes competitive dynamics and simulates peer pressure. This further motivates students to progress along the course
  • Mentored Learning – Adopting advancements in communication technology, it is possible now to connect students with relevant mentors based on interests who can assist in providing key insights and support the learning process. This further enables a richer learning experience.
  • Learning Analytics – Technology also enables data driven insights on the student experience. This enables quick resolution of student concerns and faster turn-around time. Furthermore by employing predictive analytics techniques, it is even possible to identify students who may have trouble coping and provide additional resources and support.

Due to the adoption of technology in higher education, it is now possible for working executives to have good learning outcomes and successful career transitions without having to enroll in a traditional full-time course. At Great Learning, we have been an early adopter of these technology advances in our online and blended mode programs and have seen our enrolments grow 20 times in a span of 2 years, to become one of the largest providers of online and blended executive education in India. Along with the growth in enrolments, by leveraging technology and designing timely interventions, we have also been able to maintain completion rates north of 90% without reducing the quality of our offerings. As a result, over 66% of our students have had a successful career transition within 6 months of completing the program.

Great Learning offers blended mode and online programs for working professionals in partnership with Great Lakes Institute of Management. Its offerings include Business Analytics (PGBABI), Management (PGPM-Ex) with competencies in Product Management, Digital Marketing and Operations among others, Financial & Risk Analytics (CFRA). These offerings are targeted towards working professionals who are looking to develop new skill sets and transition into in-demand lucrative careers. Over the last 3 years, Great Learning has delivered over 450,000 learning hours and has established its presence in Gurgaon, Chennai, Bangalore, Pune and Hyderabad.

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