The case for online learning 

Betty Vandenbosch, chief content officer for Coursera, shares her views on how the Internet is accelerating the era of online education

August 20, 2022 01:55 pm | Updated 03:11 pm IST

Digital learning has made people reimagine education.

Digital learning has made people reimagine education. | Photo Credit: iStockphoto/Getty Images

If teaching is talking, and learning is listening, then, does it make a difference whether you are inside a classroom or staring at your computer screen to share and gain knowledge? 

For Bharathan, an Engineering graduate working as a data analyst in Chennai, it did.  With 15% vision since the age of five, Bharathan took several online courses over the years, for deep learning, with assistive technologies. It equipped him in a world that otherwise challenged him inside classrooms. 

When COVID-19 forced campus closures, Priyanka’s college transitioned online. She completed courses mapped to the curriculum and built her skills, which helped her to seal a placement offer. 

Standard educational pedagogy was the norm for years. But, digital learning has made people reimagine education because there is better assistance for those with disabilities, computer-based remote exams are conducted, and students attend classes at foreign universities while living in another country or continent. 

Creating opportunities

Online learning is revolutionising education, and people are using it to further themselves, affirms Betty Vandenbosch, the former Chancellor of Purdue University Global. As the chief content officer for Coursera, a U.S.-based online content provider, she keeps pace with learner demands and job-market dynamics.

On a visit to India, recently, to explore new partnerships with the academia and the industry, she points out that India reported the highest growth for new online learners globally, between 2019 and 2021. “About 15 million joined Coursera programmes since January 2020.  The maximum enrolments were from Manipur, Bihar, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Kerala, Himachal Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh. Together, the non-metros added up to 62% at the end of 2021, in contrast to 2019 when 68% of learners were from Delhi-NCR, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh,” she says. “India loves education, with a focus on career; the idea is to advance content and credential innovations and align it with job opportunities in the digital economy.” 

Betty Vandenbosch, Chief Content Officer, Coursera.

Betty Vandenbosch, Chief Content Officer, Coursera. | Photo Credit: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

From two industry partners to five, and from two university partners three years ago to 14 today, the median age of Coursera’s Indian learners is 28 years. Women are also embracing online learning. From 37% in 2019, they represented 44% of new learners in 2021. Sought-after courses include Computer Programming, Machine Learning, Probability and Statistics, Theoretical Computer Science, business and personal development skills such as communication, leadership, management and entrepreneurship, Data Science and Programming, the science of well-being, and English learning for career development. 

“The pandemic accelerated the digital transformation of learning; online education has become a critical pathway to building a more inclusive and accessible model. India’s NEP 2020 is bolstering the push for online education, but it is crucial for the Indian government, industry and educators to work in tandem and focus on accessibility,” Vandenbosch says. 

Inclusive growth

The trend of reputed universities now offering online degree programmes, Vandenbosch believes, is an advantage for the institutions, educators and learners. “Coursera has also enabled Indian educational institutions (such as the IITs, IIMs, ISB, ISI and IIIT) to establish a global footprint in more than 50 countries.” She asserts that the Internet makes education easier and more convenient, fairer and flexible, cost-effective and enjoyable and that the reach of online education cannot be disputed despite the return to physical classes.

However, she also accepts that online users require self-discipline. In underdeveloped areas, people know about the adoption of new technologies but ignore the importance of connecting with high-quality educational resources. “We are in a forward-thinking era of education where learning is not limited to textbooks or confined to classrooms. Educators are exploring ways to connect with students anywhere and the students have the choice of either quick thinking (in classrooms) or deep thinking (online classes),” explains Vandenbosch. “Today, an academic institution can take place from wherever the student is. With the creation of job-level content, India can achieve its Gross Enrolment Ratio goals, from the present 29% to 50% by 2035.”

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