Considering the increasing need of the youth to pursue quality education at affordable prices and the importance being given to e-learning and digital literacy by educational institutions and governments across the world, the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are becoming an integral part of the education system globally.
In a country like India, where most people residing in remote areas do not have adequate access to skill enhancement and quality learning, MOOCs can play a pivotal role. MOOCs can especially be beneficial for those who are bound by financial instability, physical limitations or commuting issues. In fact, according to the Vision Paper (August 2014) of the Higher Education Committee of FICCI titled ‘MOOCs and the Future of Indian Higher Education’, the response of Indian students towards MOOCs is positive and they stand second in the world in terms of enrolling to MOOCs. Undoubtedly, there is an increasing interest among Indian students in MOOCs to obtain standardised education. This also resulted in the launch of a MOOC platform called the SWAYAM (Study Webs of Active-Learning for Young Aspiring Minds) by the ministry of human resource development in 2014.
According to the New York Times, over 5 million students globally registered for MOOCs as of 2013. The newspaper also reported that schools offering MOOCs worldwide are expected to rise from 13% in 2013 to 43% by 2016. The latest statistics furnished by Class Central—the MOOC aggregator—reveal that currently there are about 4,200 MOOCs offered by more than 500 universities globally. Clearly, previous years have seen a lot of MOOC platforms coming into existence, providing courses in areas like computer programming, mechanical engineering, agriculture, music, philosophy, literature, law, etc. Seeing the response, it can be said that the demand for MOOC platforms will continue to increase in the coming years.
While MOOCs will continue to increase in popularity globally, 2016 could be the inflection year for MOOCs in India. There are reasons to support this statement.
Massive demand: Considering the hike in global demand for online learning from 16 million to 18 million in 2014, and the rapid rise in the number of Indian students enrolling for MOOCs, it is clear that the interest in MOOCs will continue to grow in India.
Government recognising the power of MOOCs: The Union Budget FY17 focused on providing entrepreneurship, education and training in 2,200 colleges, 500 government industrial training institutes, 300 schools and 50 vocational training centres via MOOCs. Another major initiative proposed in the Budget was the launch of digital literacy schemes to reach six crore rural households in the next three years. This indicates the government’s intentions to uplift online education in India.
Comfort of online learning: A large number of students can acquire knowledge sitting in their homes from some of the best professors in the world, at the same time connecting with like-minded people globally. Moreover, students can refer the topic and read/view/hear it multiple times in whichever Indian language they are comfortable with, as per their convenience.
Smartphone proliferation with students: According to the recent International Data Corporation (IDC) reports, India is one of the most flourishing smartphone markets in the Asia-Pacific, and at present 21.3% of this market consists of 25 major tier-2 and tier-3 towns. With MOOCs being easily accessible on smartphones, students even in small-town India can pursue these online courses.
Colleges’ and educationalists’ interest: We have seen that educationalists are using MOOCs as a blended learning platform. Such a platform enables educational institutions to collaborate with each other. Moreover, with higher education being highly regulated—the Foreign Education Providers Bill is yet to be passed—MOOCs are one of the ways global universities can reach out to a large section of Indian students.
Certification for students: Apart from quality education, MOOCs also lay a special emphasis on quality assessment and certification. These certified courses can act as bonus points for students in the long run.
Cost of education: Students opting for MOOCs don’t always have to worry about educational fees, unlike many other educational platforms. This, in turn, helps educational institutions enrol more number of students and hence helps the bottom line.
Survival of the fittest: With the government promoting MOOCs, most educational institutes will follow suit. They will either create their own MOOC platforms or utilise the existing ones.
Reduced cost of data: Some of India’s leading telecom operators recently slashed their mobile data rates. Such developments can fall in favour with students.
High-speed internet connectivity: Internet speeds in India are increasing gradually. Today, 3G is becoming common and 4G affordable by the day. Moreover, Digital India will encourage large amounts of educational content to be accessed easily in gram panchayats across the country.
Without a second thought, MOOCs are one of the most viable platforms for transforming the educational scenario in the country, especially in semi-urban and rural areas.
The author is director, Business Services, All India Society for Electronics & Computer Technology (AISECT)