In India and around the globe, skilled workforce populations are on the rise, and MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and other online courses can offer a necessary competitive edge in any market. One of the ways employers measure the potential value of a candidate is their educational background. Education and self-development have been promoted in our society as the key to a better job. While the lifecycle of learning ideally culminates in a job, learning can be a continuous process and it does not need to stop once a student is gainfully employed. Additionally, skills needed for employment are changing faster today than ever before. The jobs people will have five years from now, may not even exist today, which is why continuous education is exceptionally important in today's job market.
MOOC verified certificates and alternative continuing learning approaches represent an unbundling of education where a degree is only one component of a portfolio of credentials. MOOCs are already reshaping how employers evaluate candidates, and how people prepare for employment. With fast moving technologies, there are also increasing skills gaps between what employers are looking for and the kind of education many of the universities provide. With an increase in learning platforms and improved online assessments, we will see more consumption of free or affordable skills training as people opt in for unbundled education credentials.
The massive enrollment in MOOCs illustrates that this widespread adoption is clearly not an educational fad. A well-executed MOOC can unlock creative thinking, inspire innovation, and accelerate career mobility. Investing time in lifelong learning will ignite new ideas and enable students to ask better questions and to gain credentials and skills for the jobs of the future. Students and professionals at all stages are seeking to explore new and specialized courses to gain that edge.
What is Happening in India
There is a lot of talent in India, but often there are not enough slots for qualified students in public colleges and the fees in private colleges are often unaffordable. There is a large pool of untapped talent throughout India and maybe even at various institutions. There is simply more demand than bricks-and-mortar institutions can accommodate at this time. There are clearly uniquely talented students throughout the nation. One example is a talented 16-year-old in India who took MITx Circuits and Electronics course and earned an A! He is now a member of MIT's class of 2018.
Large number of students in India do not have access to quality education - they have the will to learn, but may simply lack access. Similarly, many universities in India are not fully staffed with professors in all the subjects that are important for industry jobs, such as computer science and business. MOOCs will not only increase access to learners who are not in universities, but will also increase educational tools and promote the quality of education as well.
One of the challenges for MOOCs in India is that MOOCS require access to devices, such as a desktop or laptop, and an Internet connection. Over time, more and more people will have access, and this industry is working on initiatives, specifically mobile, that will continue to increase access even more. Parallel to that another challenge is capturing and putting to use the great amounts of data about teaching and learning gained from MOOC courses to improve education on campus and online.
Online learning as a rising tide and it is truly lifting all boats and improving all types of education, both online and on campus. Professors and universities have to reinvent themselves to take advantage of all that online technology has to offer. Instead of dwelling on old yellow notes and lectures, professors can improve the quality by using blended models of education and by combining the best of online and in-person teaching. In the past 500 years, teachers were given chalk, blackboards, textbooks, and technologies like PowerPoint and email. In the same way, online learning is the latest tool in our educational arsenal available to learners and teachers. It will not replace in-person learning, instead, it will augment it.
Online learning tools and technologies are advancing at a rapid pace. Today we are able to create online laboratories using virtual simulation technologies. We are also able to grade open-ended responses like essays using peer assessment and AI (Artificial Intelligence) assessment. With peer assessment, students grade each other's work online. One thing that both supporters and critics of online education agree on is that the MOOC movement has ignited a spirited conversation about the future of higher education. No one could have predicted the explosion of interest in MOOCs that has occurred. Nor can we truly predict where MOOC technology and research will lead us. However, we can examine these innovations and collaborate on how best to use them to transform and reimaging higher education. Success will lie in experimenting with these new concepts and continuously innovating. (As told to Sarath Syam)
He is the CEO of edX, a worldwide, online learning initiative of MIT and Harvard. Agarwal received the 2001 Maurice Wilkes Award for computer architecture and in the same year was appointed as Director of MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. He is a Distinguished Alumnus of IIT Madras.