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Alternative Path

Online education and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) offer the promise of parity and quality in education for all

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India has one of the largest higher education systems in the world and is home to more than 1.4 million schools with over 227 million students enrolled and more than 36,000 higher education institutes. Still, there is untapped talent throughout the country. Despite a record growth in intake of candidates at AICTE-approved institutes, more than 80 per cent of engineers in India remain unemployable, reveals a national employability report by Aspiring Minds.

For a nation to be able to build a knowledge society, the first step is to be able to democratise quality education. A UNESCO report states that India will be half a century late in achieving its global education commitments and the country needs fundamental changes in the education system.

Online education and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are one of the latest progressions in the education sector and offer the promise of parity and quality in education for all. The Indian government recognises the potential of the Indian learners and the value MOOCs bring to the society. The New Education Policy (NEP) is aligned to democratisation of education and is a very promising step forward towards enabling mass-scaled education.

The world has changed dramatically. IT has changed every field known to humans. We are on the brink of the most collaborative technological advancements with cloud computing, video distribution at scale and gamification being used widely around the world. Sadly, the only constant has been the way we look at education.

The NEP recognises the impact that technology will continue to have on education and is an encouraging first step towards what we call ‘unbundling education’.

The linear model of education is rapidly changing, and everyone around the globe, with a device and an Internet network can access quality courses and education free. As today’s students are pushing for a non-traditional (non-residential) education, many educators are now asking if traditional degree pathways are the right fit for all students.

While there are substantial benefits to students coming to campus to work closely together with faculty and with each other, we should re-examine why four years on campus is considered to be a magic number for a degree programme. Why not imagine an alternative path of lifelong continuous education? Why not envision a world where students continue to learn even after they find work? After all, technology is changing everything so fast, knowledge is not static anymore.

We should consider the unbundled approach to education — unbundling the clock, the curriculum and the credential. Unbundling the clock might mean that a student takes the first year of college fully online, maybe even while in high school. Then, the student might attend two years of college on campus. Working in person with other students is important to learn collaboration and other social skills, which are harder to do purely online. This would be followed by a stint in the workforce to gain real-world skills. Finally, learners would take online courses as needed throughout their career — in place of the traditional final year.

Unbundling the credential will offer even more opportunities that are educational. This might mean that a student obtains a digital credential for a modular amount of online work, for example a MicroMasters certificate. This credential can stand on its own, showing knowledge and skills in a field to launch or advance a career, or can lead to on-campus programmes since it is a credential with a pathway to campus and credit, and is recognised by industry leaders such as Oracle and Infosys.

MicroMasters programmes, including a Business Management and a Entrepreneurship programme from IIMB, are one of the latest learning trends in MOOCs that provide the next level of innovation in learning.

By embracing flexible, online learning programmes that expand access to higher level and continuous education, India can pave the way for democratisation of quality education for all.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Anant Agarwal

The author is CEO, edX

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