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‘Students not after certificates now’

Posted on Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Dennis Yang, CEO, Udemy, speaks to Anisha Sahijwala on trends in and future of online learning in India

The internet and distance education allow students to learn without coming face-to-face. Keeping this in mind, how do you think the classroom environment and teaching pedagogy will change over the next five years?
Over the next five years, I don’t see online learning supplanting in-person instruction. Instead, I anticipate the worlds of the face-to-face classroom environment and online learning intersecting and interacting more often and in profound ways. However, two factors will feature prominently – increasing internet access, particularly through mobile devices, to allow more people access to content before they ever set foot in a classroom; and a greater emphasis on localised content in online and in-person environments.

Online learning can also free local teachers from needing to develop expertise in myriad disciplines and instead enlist instructors from across the globe to share expertise, so local teachers can focus on the skills needed in their specific communities. 

Learning models now allow students to gain core instruction online (through a mobile device in many cases) and then come into classrooms to discuss advanced material. This model is also used to engage with students looking to specialise beyond what is offered in their local communities. The potential for these models is immense, especially when you think of traditionally disenfranchised groups (including girls and women in many parts of the world). 

How credible are online grading/testing systems? Are they on a par with manual testing practices?
Online grading and testing platforms are becoming increasingly sophisticated and credible. The benefits of offering more people more access to testing through online tools far outweigh any disadvantage. While there are important reasons for grading and testing, it’s also important to note the key changes taking place in how these traditional signals are viewed over time. The world is changing from one where certificates and degrees serve as the only signals to one where what you know and what you can do are the signals that matter. Today, a number of students are interested not in certificates but in teaching methodologies that help them master content. They want to learn skills and put them to use right away.

What is the future of MOOCs in India?
We are just at the beginning of realising the potential impact of online learning in India. To support its burgeoning young population, India would need to build universities and recruit and train teachers at a staggering rate. Online learning can help scale existing resources without building an entirely new infrastructure by opening more access to education outside of the traditional classroom and providing an opportunity for teachers to reach larger numbers of students online. Through online learning platforms, anybody with a mobile device or internet connection and a desire to pursue a better life can acquire the practical skills they need to achieve their goals. We have also seen an increase in the number of students opting for online courses in India. We see the strongest demand from areas with young populations and growing technical economies. Nearly one million students in India are enrolled in courses on our platform – a figure that’s more than doubled from last year. 

Any particular trend that you notice among Indian students who take MOOCs?
One trend we have noticed is in the type of content that Indian students pursue. In India, entrepreneurship skills are among the fastest-growing courses online, while core technical skills such as web development and programming are the most popular course categories overall. A second trend we are noticing across developing regions (including India) are local initiatives that bridge online and classroom learning. 

Career success in a global and highly technical economy depends both on access to learning and personal ambition. In India, many people have the drive, but too few have access to traditional education resources. To those with ambition and drive, online learning can be transformative. 


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