Digitally Forward: The Burgeoning Era of Online Education
The Indian economy and the IT industry in particular, have seen tremendous growth in the past few years. With a contribution of nearly 7% towards the GDP, the tech sector is a vital cog in the Indian professional and economic sphere. And this is just the beginning. The Indian IT-BPM industry is expected to be valued at $200 billion by 2021. Also, the sector has increased in size by a massive 35% in the last ten years, and automation and digitization are adding new growth opportunities not only for the IT but even for the non-IT professionals.
Newer applications of digital technologies such as big data, analytics, digital marketing, and product development are changing expectations and operations even across sectors such as healthcare, manufacturing, automobiles, banking, insurance and other traditional verticals. It has resulted in an immense growth in India’s online education market, which is expected to expand to a user base of close to 9.6 million by 2021.
An interesting observation is the increase in the demand for niche courses which is surprisingly high in tier-two cities. What does it imply? That Indian learners have only been waiting for a viable learning option and have clearly found it in online education. There is no denying that online education is a growing trend and is creating opportunities never explored before.
While new technologies have enabled a boom in various sectors, they have also reduced the need for traditional labour, performing routine tasks. Increasing automation and cost pressures especially in manufacturing, trading and financial services sectors are breeding a new generation of labour force who are skilled in digital technologies. In the IT sector, close to 1.5 million professionals need to reskill in emerging technologies in the next three years to stay relevant to their expanding job roles. In fact, upskilling is especially important for mid-level professionals stuck in de-growing roles and feeling threatened by younger, smarter and eager-to-learn talent joining the workforce each year.
Options to Upskill…it’s not an option any more it’s a mandate.
There is a clear movement towards higher skilled talent in India. The job market is fierce and does not hesitate in giving lesser challenging projects to experienced professionals reluctant to keep pace with the growing momentum towards upskilling. Automation is expected to take over almost 69% of the current jobs. So, the only way to stand the test is to upskill.
Upskilling can happen in three ways: on the job learning, campus education and online executive education. When you are considering which of these three ways is most suitable for you, keep in mind some of the key features of each.
On the Job learning requires the opportunities to work on projects where you can learn new skills. Further, it is critical that if you rely on this, you must have colleagues or mentors who are already skilled in the skill areas for you to create a steep learning curve. Lastly, the skill level required may overwhelm you as there are project delivery timelines to also be considered. The other option, Campus-based education can prove to be a good option to learn evolving technologies and enhance employability, especially for evolved professionals with the dedication and motivation to take a full time or Part Time programme. In case of full-time campus program, you need to take a break from the job and invest a year or two to hone your skills. In a Part Time program, you will be using up your family time over weekends and evenings. So, be prepared to invest deeply and sustain the energy for the duration of the program. This is a worthwhile pursuit and the benefit of group learning and the pleasure of social interactions will bring you back to your university days but with a deeper intensive focus. However, the model clearly lacks flexibility and is not ideal for mid-level professionals with family and financial responsibilities. Another point to note is that professionals look for more than just training; they also expect better networking opportunities and bringing their learnings to their workplace almost immediately.
And therein lies the secret of the fast-growing era of online learning.
As the Indian economic landscape is undergoing rapid changes, professionals are turning towards online certifications. As per a 2017 study conducted by Google and KPMG, online education valued at $93 million, has evolved to become the largest category in India’s online education system and is set to grow to $463 million by 2021. (Source – Economic Times)
The demand for professionals with 6-12 years of experience remains as strong as ever, but employees with such experience consistently need to add to their skill-sets to stay up with the changing times. This has resulted in professionals looking for an upskilling option that does not let their job take a backseat, making an online course the ideal solution with benefits like:
• Flexibility of continuing to work while learning.
• The ability to connect with industry experts from across the globe.
• A cost-effective alternative, as online skill enhancement courses are 53% less expensive than offline courses.
• Short and flexible duration of courses adding to the convenience.
• Modular programs enabling you to select different skill levels
• Value-added services such as tech-support and recruitment assistance.
Having said that, before choosing an online course, it is essential to look for these three pillars that build a trustworthy brand:
1. Curriculum Design: A comprehensive curriculum designed in collaboration with industry experts and veteran academicians is critical. So, look for a combination of University and Industry associations. Remember online platforms are a lot about technology and features but knowing how to marry a good user experience with an understanding of how people learn and what experienced professionals need, is what makes a good online programme. So, do not go for just a technology platform but look for design of curriculum, use cases and industry practitioners teaching the program.
2. Andragogy: Customized learning solutions aimed at inculcating both theoretical and practical skills in adult learners. A working professional needs “Instance Based Learning” … that at the time that I have a problem do I have a resource that can assist me!! Andragogy in design of the curriculum, an easy search capability and a resource / group discussion board are critical elements of the program that you select. Content in short form, quick and easy to learn Videos interlaced with expert live webinars, quick but deep thinking quizzes are all part of the learning methodology which can integrate well to provide you a great learning experience.
3. Corporate network: The strength of the corporate tie-ups of the brand is important to assess two areas a) Is there a possibility of my getting a connection to open up new opportunities and b) does the program have use cases or practitioners who can combine the concepts and bring them to life in practice.
What makes online programs a favorite?
A rising number of intelligent professionals are finding value in online skill development programs. Activities like group projects, discussion boards, and learning cohorts have allowed them to indulge in group activities, discuss problems and provide viable business solutions. Online programs also provide an active, interactive, and dynamic setting for students to grow their knowledge and skills.
At present, the job market is driven by the need for professionals to learn new skills and to become the backbone of technological advancement, and such programs have succeeded in satiating this need effectively.
Effectiveness of online programs
The value addition of online executive education can be determined by:
• the extent to which the course helps you bring a new approach to solve existing business problems.
• how it helps you upskill by honing the key areas required for your current and future roles, including technical management.
• the various ways it expands your professional network and adds a diverse range of peers to it.
• how it introduces you to newer and futuristic ideas and technology with an ability to apply them in real-life scenarios
The below survey result also shows that professionals have started favoring professional certification programs.
While new players in the market can offer a good learning environment, established names help in strengthening your career and widening your professional circle. So, research well and choose an online program that tangibly contributes to your job, post the training.
Online programs have the additional benefit of creating learning paths which you can design or choose from standard learning paths. The Digital Marketing Expert, Analytics Learning Path and Full Stack Developer, App Developer, UI/Ux Design expert and so on are some of the key learning paths in demand. The benefit of a learning path is that you can choose modules progressively depending on your starting point and it encourages you to go back and forth depending on what learning you require at various points of time….truly moving closer to instance-based learning.
Online education offers a holistic experience to the students by implementing a learning and performance-driven ecosystem with the goal to integrate learning design, technology and academic support. It delivers superlative learning solutions with the help of a four-fold model, namely ‘Learn, Interact, Assess, and Monitor’.
Enterprise expectations: The fuel for digital adoption
Online education is becoming prevalent for organizations to have a common platform for learning as well as assessments. The distributed workforce in enterprises needs to be constantly updated on product, process, and market changes. And a simple yet effective way of accomplishing it is through online education. E-learning leverages on elements like gamification, push-notifications, and offline access to deliver a seamless learning experience. E-learning helps with imparting education anytime, anywhere while staying aligned with the organizational outcomes. A simple solution that a large financial company with distributed sales force has adopted is a product learning solution through a mobile learning app. Every time a product is launched, the details of the product and training is provided on the mobile app. The employee can always refresh his learning when he requires. The company gets a dashboard which shows how many employees have successfully passed quick quizzes on the product. Further group discussions on new features and feedback from customers have proven to be a valuable tool for product development. All this plus of course significant savings to the company on new product launch conferences.
For companies, the benefit of having consolidated views of dashboards, which are built in consultation with learning and andragogy experts, is a critical asset towards promoting continuous learning. As companies adopt online learning, distances become lesser and assessments become fairer. Collectively, it leads to an increase in talent deployment and building a culture of learning and productivity.
What does the future hold for online learning?
Online education is fostering a culture of continuous learning. Age is no longer a constraint to acquiring knowledge and skills. Individuals – be it students or professionals have the choice of participating in convenient skill-building activities, thereby giving impetus to continuous learning.
All in all, you can be sure of two things: Firstly, the job market will continue to have its ups and downs. Secondly, and most importantly, you can be ready for whatever the future holds if you are willing to keep up with the changing requirements. Upskilling is undoubtedly the most important investment for professionals to survive the cut-throat competition in IT as well non-IT sectors. The solution lies in choosing learning courses, which not only give you the right knowledge related to the technologies of the future, the right engagement, the right opportunity to network with other learners and very importantly enables you to embark on a learning path journey that will last you lifelong.
(The author is the Senior Vice President at Manipal Global Education Services.)