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The era of e-learning and “micro degrees”

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My linked in home page seems to be full of my connections’ “acknowledgements” of completion of online courses. I also decided to go with the flow and enroll for a bunch of certification courses and decided to use the work from home days to learn something new.

The COVID19 situation has turned out to be the Black Friday sale for the online learning platforms. A whole new pallet of courses is made available to me. This relative relaxation from work (work commute at the very least) has given all of us some time to think about our future and just to pause and look at where we are headed. Time was ripe for such platforms and they did grab this opportunity with both hands. Mobile learning, micro-learning, social learning, and corporate MOOCs are the emerging trends boosting the e-learning market revenue. So many predictive models are already in place to suggest the right specialization for me. Honestly, these models have much more clarity on where my career is headed than I do!

The e-learning market is expected to grow at a CAGR of over 14% during the period 2019-2025. With the drastic increase in the availability of interest the demand is constantly increasing for content and the average cost of content creation and delivery with the same is undergoing a consistent decline. The advent of cloud-infrastructure, peer to peer problem solving, open content creation and rapid expansion of target audience has enabled e-learning providers to rein in economies of choice and offer content at a competitive price

While there is a very obvious reason for this sudden upsurge in popularity, in my opinion this trend is here to stay. I started working in data science in 2016. In 4 years I have probably unlearned as much as I have learned. By the time I got a grasp of the traditional enterprise data warehousing techniques it was time for Hadoop. While I was getting a hang of Tableau, hundreds of open source dash-boarding tools were made available. A very commonly demanded skill in a field is becoming completely obsolete the very next year. It is not just the software industry, each field is experiencing drastic changes, becoming more and more interdisciplinary, evolving ever to rapidly. I had taken up a course on Statistics recently and away from the traditional image of a statistician breaking their heads in front of a blackboard, R programming is now a necessary skill for most statisticians. Even in social science fields like Development Economics one needs to have a fair understanding of good visualization tools and basics of programming like pen and paper. The traditional education is not able to cater to this rapid change in demand. In the most optimistic scenario it takes 1-2 years for syllabus to be revised in universities. By the time a common college student graduates after 4 years most of their knowledge is bookish and world has already evolved. To cater to this timely need, many e-learning platform have created specializations and “micro-masters” in very specific part of a field.

Why now?

The following factors are are likely to aid the growth of E-learning market:

• There are 7.7 billion people in the world, with at least 3.5 billion of us online

• Growth of Blended Learning in Education Technology

• Increasing AR & VR Applications in E-learning

• Decreasing cost of content creation and distribution

• Rapid development and interest in interdisciplinary fields

More and more workplaces now acknowledge these certificates. While there are courses which are designed to sell certificates, there are also legit ones that can be as demanding as an actual degree course. Complete with virtual classrooms, quizzes, assignments and peer reviews! If this industry takes advantage of the mammoth user base created in the past couple of months, become more organized and work cohesively with job search engines it will be a serious competition to advanced degrees like MBA, MS which essentially cater to need of improving job prospects.

Most schools argue that the overall experience is an essential part of growth. While it is true not everyone is able to afford the time and money to pursue an on-campus degree. This system makes knowledge much more accessible, specially for working professionals who want to grow or want to change their career altogether. These platforms are becoming more and more sophisticated and try to design their courses to replicate the on-campus experience. Done right, this could mean a qualitative and much more inclusive system of education.

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