The case for e-learning

Betty Vandenbosch, Content Manager at Coursera, shares her perspective on how the internet is accelerating the era of online education

Betty Vandenbosch, Content Manager at Coursera, shares her perspective on how the internet is accelerating the era of online education

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

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

When COVID-19 forced campus closures, Priyanka’s middle school went online. She took courses tailored to the program and developed her skills, which helped her seal an internship offer.

Standard educational pedagogy has been the norm for years. But digital learning has caused people to reinvent education as there is better assistance for people with disabilities, remote computer-based exams are held, and students study at foreign universities while living in another country or continent.

Create opportunities

Online learning is revolutionizing education and people are using it to improve their skills, says Betty Vandenbosch, former Chancellor of Purdue University Global. As Content Manager for Coursera, a US-based online content provider, she keeps pace with learner demands and job market dynamics.

During a visit to India recently to explore new partnerships with academia and industry, she points out that India has seen the highest growth in the number of new online learners in the world, between 2019 and 2021. “Around 15 million people have joined Coursera programs since January 2020. Peak enrollments came from Manipur, Bihar, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Kerala, Himachal Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh. Combined, non-metros accounted for 62% at the end of 2021, unlike 2019 when 68% of learners came 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 them with job opportunities in the digital economy.

Betty Vandenbosch, Content Director, Coursera.

Betty Vandenbosch, Content Director, Coursera. | Photo credit: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

From two industry partners to five, and two university partners three years ago to 14 today, the median age of Indian Coursera learners is 28. Women are also embracing e-learning. From 37% in 2019, they accounted for 44% of new learners in 2021. Courses in demand 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, science for well-being and learning English for career development.

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

Inclusive growth

The trend of reputable universities now offering degree programs online, Vandenbosch believes, is a boon for institutions, educators and learners. “Coursera has also enabled Indian educational institutions (such as IIT, IIM, ISB, ISI and IIIT) to establish a global footprint in over 50 countries.” She asserts that the Internet makes education easier and more convenient, more fair 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 need self-discipline. In underdeveloped areas, people experience the adoption of new technologies but ignore the importance of connecting to high quality educational resources. “We are in an era of forward-thinking education where learning is not limited to textbooks or confined to classrooms. Educators are exploring ways to connect with students anywhere and students have the choice between quick thinking (in the classroom) or deep thinking (online course),” explains Vandenbosch. “Today, an academic institution can take place wherever the student is. With content creation at employment, India can meet its gross enrollment ratio targets from 29% currently to 50% by 2035.”

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