Online learning and upskilling have gained currency in 2020. Lockdowns have allowed people to invest more time in self-training and online-based skill development in the field of their choice. For instance, Gagandeep Kaur from Punjab broke international records by finishing 171 courses in 18 days!
Edtech platforms, tech companies, and even government agencies have offered courses for free during the pandemic. Data science related courses featured heavily in the offerings.
With vaccination picking up momentum, and the world slowly returning to the pre-COVID-19 order, the free courses trend might taper off.
Free Data Science Courses
Data science courses, in particular, kept many professionals busy during the lockdown. While a few pursued these courses for immunity against recessions and massive layoffs, others signed up to segue into the booming field of data science.
On cue, edtech platforms rolled out several data science courses (many of them for free) in response to the growing demand. Many tech giants have also offered high-on-demand courses and upskilling certifications at zero costs. The huge-skill demand gap also contributed to a surge in the availability of such classes.
Is It Just A Fad?
The free courses trend aligned well with the need of the hour — enhancing skills and staying relevant in uncertain times. The wealth of knowledge available at a mouse click away, sometimes at no cost, left users spoiled for choice. That said, the paid and free courses didn’t overlap completely. Paid courses have apparent advantages over free ones. To note a few:
- The quality of study material in paid courses is a notch higher than the free ones.
- Paid courses also offer mentorship services.
- The paid certifications have good market value and are readily accepted by companies as proof of acquired skills.
- With limited seats per course, paid certifications offer better peer and community support.
In other words, while free courses could act as a good primer, a more strategic and holistic approach is required to advance career trajectories in data science and related fields.
‘Free Course Are A Test Drive Before Subscription’
“While the demand for data scientists continues to surge, training companies during the pandemic offered free modules to create interest among aspiring data science professionals. The free programs are more tactical in solving a specific business problem but do not facilitate holistic learning. While they may continue to offer free modules in the future, the emphasis has to be on offering scientifically designed programs, to cater to dynamic technology and industry requirements. Therefore, the focus needs to shift from short term free programs to strategic data science programs to enable upskilling/ reskilling through continuous learning,” said Rameswar Mandali, CEO and Founder, SKILL MONKS.
Echoing similar sentiments, Shantanu Rooj, Founder and CEO of TeamLease Edtech said pandemic prompted a dramatic transformation in online learning. “What would have happened in 2030 is happening now. Owing to this sudden dramatic shift, many organisations started offering their courses free of cost.”
Rooj further added, “Several platforms wanted to use this opportunity to build a sales pipeline for themselves. The free courses offered by platforms and organisations provided learners with an opportunity to test-drive a course before subscribing to the same; these learners provided valuable leads to these organisations’ sales teams. Most platforms have started rolling back the free offer and have moved to a more evolved paid solution; modular payments, EMI payments and Income share agreements have gained momentum now.”
“Free courses on Data Science is democratising the learning and access to technology. The society, in general, becomes more aware, but the downside is, at an individual level, there is a risk of ‘I know it all’ effect. Democratisation without accreditation doesn’t achieve the purpose of knowledge dissemination,” said Dr Abhijit Dasgupta, Director of the Bachelor of Data Science program, SP Jain School of Global Management.