The world is facing an unprecedented situation. Many of the countries in the world are under lockdown with billions in the world locked in their own houses. Offices, shops and other major commercial activities have shut down. Offices have started to work from home, educational institutes have shut their operations, events such as marriages and others have been postponed or cancelled altogether. Many major events such as the 2020 Wimbledon Championships have been cancelled too. The last time Wimbledon stood cancelled, it was during the World War.
Because so many people have started conducting their business and other activities online, internet usage has increased over 30% going by recent numbers. We should think about the amazing design of the internet system worldwide, that has endured this spike in usage. We should at the same time think deeply about how economic and cultural institutes are faring. Internet-based activities contribute to around 14-16% of our GDP according to some estimates, but the remaining part of the economy remains hugely affected.
Right now, the institutions of religion and culture are doing well, even though they are mostly useless currently. People working in technology and creative businesses should be asking the question of how they can use the enforced lockdown. Many businesses are re-evaluating business models, tuning up products and understanding their customers in a better way. One of the important questions is to understand how the institutes or mechanisms of education are working.
The Online Learning Avalanche
During the last decade, we have seen a huge avalanche of free courses that are available. A technical university in India charges around anything from Rs. 5 lacs to Rs. 1 crore for a 4-year college degree. If we look at the massive coursework that has been open-sourced in the last decades, the value of that education might run into billions of rupees.
The major worry that has hampered the progress of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) has been the dropout rate, which is close to 99%. It means that 99% of students or professionals who enrol in a course do not finish it. The online courses ecosystem will innovate a lot during this epidemic.
When a crisis occurs, there arises an opportunity to also look closely at the basics of how we organise many of our important institutions. We should at this moment really examine, do we really need 4 years of bachelor degree training to create good engineers? Is there a faster, better and more efficient way to create engineers and technical experts who are more ready for the real world.
Does all of the 4-year education have to be face to face? Large parts of the syllabus are already available online in the form of courses and papers. These resources can be leveraged to make the modern university become more market-friendly and frictionless.
As schools shut down, events and conferences stand cancelled, slowly but surely tools that help online education and learning are making inroads into people’s lives. The Daily Active User(DAU) metric for Zoom, the world’s leading video conferencing technology reached 200 million in a matter of weeks. Here is the moment the online communication, learning and working companies were waiting for.
Alternative Models Of Learning
In the last few years, interesting models of learning and education finance have come up. The education in the past was mostly financed by small and big student loans. There are now startups that will invest in a student until she gets a job. Here are a few new models for learning:
- Prenda School: Prenda is a micro-school where only 5-10 students learn with a home tutor that enhances learning through software and online resources.
- Lamba School: Lambda helps students launch a new tech career from anywhere in just 9 months and pay nothing until students land a high-paying job. They charge a percentage of salary after the student lands a job.
- Teachable: Teachable helps teachers build a beautiful course website, share their knowledge, and be rewarded for it.
- MOOCs and university courseware: MOOCs on platforms like Udacity and Udemy, and MIT Courseware and others, help students take their
Apart from interesting ways to learn using a combination of software and internet there are also ways to finance your education now. An income share agreement (or ISA) in the context of education and learning, is a financial arrangement in which the educator offers education for free in the beginning. And in exchange, the student agrees to pay back a percentage of their income for a fixed number of years.
India and Technical Education Online
The online learning scenario in India is promising. According to a leading media outlet reported, “From $247 Mn in 2017, the opportunity in India’s online education market is estimated to soar to $1.96 Bn in 2021. Key driving factors include the rapid adoption of mobile phones and cheap internet, rising disposable incomes and the ever-growing demand for reskilling.” Apart from fast-growing companies like Upgrad, Unacademy and others, there are various ambitious startups that are bringing unique learning opportunities for many in India and abroad. The COVID-19 situation has given a huge opportunity to grow fast, grab the attention of online learners and make sure they have the pulse of the learners.
One of the promising startups, Board Infinity which offers targeted technical courses in the area of software engineering and data science. They have also launched heavily discounted microlearning courses during the last month. Here is Sumesh Nair, Co-founder, Board Infinity talks about the recent surge in activity on their learning platform.
He says, “We have more than 8450 enrollments in the last four weeks. This has been completely organic with a minimal marketing push, highly depending on referrals from the existing user base and word of mouth. Engagement (attendance is 80%+ on average) and instructor ratings are 4.6 / 5 on average in the last month. We have launched 5 new courses focused on employment opportunities as well. We see a mix of young professionals and college professionals taking up these programs.”
This is a spectacular moment for online learning, there is a high possibility that we will transform into a world that relies heavily on remote education and online learning. The new world may look at the past ways of learning with complete bewilderment.
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As a thorough data geek, most of Abhijeet's day is spent in building and writing about intelligent systems. He also has deep interests in philosophy, economics and literature.