Education and Skills

Is online education reaching the masses?

Sukanya Samy
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The online education market has come a long way. The days of corporations offering e-learning modules are long gone, and now Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are being used by universities, schools, governments and not-for-profit organizations to bring education to people all over the world.

The global spend on education today is about $4,450 billion and is expected to grow at 7% annually. Meanwhile, the online/e-learning market is slated to grow by 23%. This takes the worldwide e-learning market from $90 billion to $166.5 billion in 2015, and $255 billion in 2017.

In India, the online education market is expected to grow to $40 billion by the year 2017, from approximately $25 billion now. With almost half the population of India below the age of 25, and with a network of more than 1 million schools and 18,000 higher-education institutions, India is a dream market for any online education company. In fact, Asia’s online education market is growing faster than in any other region, with Malaysia and Vietnam expanding the most rapidly.

Why the rush?

There are several reasons for the popularity of online education and here are some that I think are very important:

  1. The explosion of the internet – Almost 40% of the world’s population has access to the internet. With this expansion of internet access, more and more people are logging on to MOOCs, which are convenient and cost effective.
  2. Advanced technologies – Innovations such as the cloud, social media and web analytics provide the infrastructure necessary for MOOCs to be successful.
  3. The benefits to corporations and education institutes – With internet-based training, the cost of running a course is drastically lower than traditional instructor-led training.
  4. Eco-friendliness – Recent studies conducted by Britain’s Open University have found that e-learning consumes 90% less energy than traditional courses. The volume of CO2 emissions per student is reduced by up to 85%.
  5. Productivity – In my opinion, the performance of online teachers is often better.

Is it really reaching the masses?

Do MOOCs work in developing economies like India? Not yet. I have a friend who works for a not-for-profit aiming to reduce the disparity of education in India. She was recently in Rajasthan, a state in western India, to work for another not-for-profit specifically trying to increase its literacy rate. What she described is true to most parts of India and here are a few reasons why I think MOOCs have a long way to go before they make a difference at a grassroots level in third-world countries.

  1. Access to schools/internet – Most children in developing economies, especially interior regions, do not have access to schools as there is no transport. Internet access is also a problem in these areas.
  2. Lack of trainers and teachers – The number of qualified trainers and teachers is extremely low in rural areas, because so many people leave villages and migrate to cities.
  3. Lack of infrastructure – With a lack of basic services, such as electricity and schools, online courses are a distant dream for most people in places like this.

The learning curve ahead

What can developing economies do to make sure they use technology to improve education?

The first step in these economies would be to fix and upgrade the infrastructure and facilities for trainers and teachers, as is argued in the World Economic Forum’s Global Information Technology Report 2015. Technology used to increase levels of awareness of teachers can then propel the number of children getting a good education, some of which can be through online courses.

The second would be to combine traditional classroom education with these online methods to augment the outcome. Children who do not have access to the internet and online education need to be catered for so that they can catch up with more privileged children.

MOOCs can attain effective economies of scale. Policy-makers in developing economies should make note of this so that online education can be combined with traditional education to reach the masses.

Have you read?
What is the link between innovation and social mobility?
How MOOCs boost higher education in developing countries
How to help students stick with online learning

Author: Sukanya Samy, Thought Leadership and Marketing, Wipro Limited

Image: Employees work inside the Minerva Project office in San Francisco, California January 7, 2014. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

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