On the other hand, the growing popularity and easy availability of the internet coupled with a need to be educated at one’s own pace has resulted in the birth of online education. E-learning has many advantages over the traditional face-to-face training methodology. It offers control over quality of the education material, ensures consistency in content delivery, provides flexibility of self-paced learning and removes locational dependency—all this at a much lower cost. The global market for e-learning crossed $35 billion in 2011 and a recent report from Global Information Inc (GII) estimates this market to cross $168 billion by 2018. Leading the pack is the US, which has 6 million students enrolled for at least one online course—almost one-third of the students pursuing higher education in the country. The US and Western Europe are the most mature markets and claim a lion’s share of revenue generated by the e-learning industry.
Increasing adoption of e-learning together with rapid growth in suppliers has resulted in many developing nations eyeing e-learning as a lucrative market. It is projected that in the next three years, Asia will outspend Western Europe to become the second largest buying region. Countries that are recording the highest e-learning growth rates are Vietnam, Malaysia and Romania. Strangely, India, whose online education market is estimated at $20 billion, does not even figure amongst the top 10 nations.
So, while e-learning holds a lot of potential and has witnessed a meteoric rise in popularity amongst developed nations, it has witnessed a much slower adoption in India. This could largely be attributed to an average Indian’s deep-seated need for social and cultural interactions coupled with inconsistent availability and accessibility of technology. Also, success for a learner continues to be hugely dependent on the level of self motivation. The learning experience itself is isolated rather than collaborative and poorly designed course-ware, problems with technology and lack of student support has resulted in unprecedented levels of post-enrolment drop-outs and, consequently, fewer re-registrations.
Arguably, success in the future points us towards a blended model that combines the best of both worlds while overcoming related limitations. Some ground was broken with the advent of VSAT as a medium to impart education. Educational programmes being offered on this platform allow for live classes to be conducted by qualified faculty at a specified studio location which is then beamed to multiple locations through the satellite network. Students attend these live lectures from VSAT-enabled classes nearest to their location. However, high set-up costs at both transmitting and receiving locations add considerable overheads that precludes widespread distribution of inexpensive courses through this platform. The locational dependency with respect to the education provider does not exist but students are still required to assemble in a class, implying that they continue to be restrained by logistics and travel limitations during scheduled class hours.
The “direct-to-desktop” approach has improvised on these limitations as well. The model allows faculty-taught live classes to be delivered online using affordable and user-friendly technology solutions, essentially offering the learner a complete classroom learning experience on a virtual mode. Students have the flexibility to interact with the faculty and fellow students, both live and offline, fostering a collaborative learning environment. Because the model is also location-independent and has minimal technology requirements, a student can also learn from literally anywhere. Some of the key benefits to the learners include access to all types of courses offered by legitimate and accredited institutes and universities without ever having to be physically present in those campus locations. The learners can get the benefit of live lectures by eminent professors and industry experts from around the world. Students can learn from the best of the best without having to be at the colleges where they teach. The students can even collaborate and learn with classmates from around the world on a virtual platform and can do projects and assignments together. What else, they can also interact with the faculty when they are not in a live lecture session. E-learning gives an ability to collaborate and schedule for classes, much like academic timetables can be published and made available to the learner upfront so that they are able to choose a schedule most convenient to them. Classes scheduled for late evenings and weekends work well for both active students and working professionals. And, if the learner faces difficulty understanding a specific part of the lecture, recorded sessions of live lectures can be made available for unlimited playbacks and recap—a facility that can never be replicated in a physical classroom. The models also include facilities where learners have access to virtual labs, business simulations, case studies and practice tests as applicable to impart hands-on experience in the domain being taught.
The power of this direct-to-desktop model lies in its ability to make regular, premium, high-tech or even ultra-specialised education accessible, affordable as well as valuable to the knowledge seeking masses. What may have once seemed like an impossible dream can change many individuals’ lives for the better.
The author is vice-president, TalentEdge, an education company