When a new concept invites you, you are either mesmerized by its simplicity or overwhelmed by its complexity. Former experience pushes you to try the solution instantly while the latter is more discouraging and you might feel like giving it a pass till you are clearer. Another response in the second case could be a slow and steady movement towards the solution but it works only when you have high stakes for not learning or high motivation for achieving what you wish to achieve once you have acquired the knowledge or skill.
Most sessions in mainstream education are designed to bore you but because of the high stakes, students drill themselves into books and try to learn as much as they can for they have to pour enough words to get a shining score. On the contrary, in the vocational courses designed for online learning, an understanding has been achieved that students would be willing to learn, understand and apply lessons only when they are made simpler. Even if the concept itself is complicated, it is simplified by extending the learning curve, creating mini-steps, and helping them identify smaller components to acquire learning. Besides this, these courses also add a component of entertainment through stories, jokes, animations, and activities that work on the intrinsic motivation of students thereby giving them more push to keep going on.
However, a high level of engagement is needed from the trainer or tutor if this new model has to be successful. Unfortunately, most online courses are self-paced and thus, the engagement is very limited. They do supply peer discussion opportunities but if students are not confident enough to have discussions around the subject, these discussions would not be so encouraging. During the initial few days of weeks of learning, that confidence is hardly achieved. A solution to this could be the bifurcation of discussion threats into categories for new joiners, early-stage learners, and old learners who are willing to take the learning to the next level.
Self-Paced Learning gives variety and a large number of educators could join in to produce resources for learners.
Platforms like Coursera have used this model by creating a hierarchical forum structure that is also guided throughout the learning process. At the start, they would encourage you to just introduce yourself to other learners; No pressure of learning or knowing anything. At the next stage, they would ask you to give an opinion on a simple topic. The very next engagement could be answering a simple question, so on and so forth. However, the platform can still not ensure, for most cases, high attendance level throughout the course. The reasons could be several – a division of content into multiple pages makes the course appear very long; Despite introductions, peer engagement is difficult to achieve; most courses can be taken for free as a part of audit so the stakes of not following through are very low.
MOOCs gained popularity fast!
Despite the caveats, this model, which is also called MOOC, became the most popular because of the high volume of students joining in. Whether they attended every lecture or not, enrollments were high as high-quality lessons were provided at no cost. The platform had pre-recorded sessions of professors from established universities like Wharton and Yale. New-age courses also include lectures from professionals of big organizations like Google. The MOOC model was replicated by many other platforms like EDX and Open Learning.
Disclaimer: The opinions presented in this article are personal and interpretations are made based on my personal experiences. Please do not treat them as comments from an expert as I am a logical writer and trainer myself but not an L&D expert.
Platforms like Udemy don’t have multiple discussion threads for one course and thus, the engagement is designed in different ways such as quizzes, activities, resources, notes, and comments. However, real engagement depends a lot on the person hosting the show. The high energy, use of humor, bold strokes of conversation – can mesmerize a learner. This would require a trainer to not just be an average teacher but an effective public speaker who knows how to spruce up communication to ignite passion in learners and keep them hooked to the spoken words.
The Engagement Gap
These two models have dominated the online learning space for a long but recently, a few more models have emerged. Their genesis could probably be a result of sensing the gaps in learning. The engagement, for instance, was the biggest gap found as there was no real interaction happening between the trainer and the learners. Online learning management systems like Toppr filled this gap. Front Row, a mobile app tapped into the growing mobile audience and added a human interaction model to produce a high level of engagement. However, the platform serves only limited categories of students who want to learn music, singing, writing, and dancing.
Lack of Consistency
Another gap that was staring at the learners in online learning was the lack of consistency. The individual courses were designed by individual trainers and thus, their structures were all different. This gap was filled by Great Courses, now Wondrium, a platform that brought together the finest trainers and created new courses that were consistent in their presentation, structure, appearance, and so on. The sessions were specially recorded for the platform using an impressive studio set-up and were not just the upload of pre-recorded lectures.
Of course, this would demand investment which is why the courses could not be provided for free like on Coursera or cheap like on Udemy. The platform is somewhat similar to Masterclass in its financial model but it added the flexibility of small monthly payments to make it easier for the Indian learners. Masterclass, the popular international platform that has exclusive courses offers only annual subscriptions and has still not opened up its subscription for Indian learners. However, you can still enroll if you not paying INR but using dollars. Wondrium doesn’t have this challenge and is open to the Indian audience.
Besides the two extremes of traditional and modern learning models, some traditional systems added online learning methodologies to create a blended model of learning. Some of these already existed for a long such as IGNOU distant learning program while others emerged recently such as Swayam. The benefit of this program was that it extended the traditional degree, diploma, and certifications to the online learners who could not attend physical classes. To fill the gap of trainer-student interaction, IGNOU invited students to their physical facility for a few days. Of course, the past two years made this difficult, and the whole model was taken online except for the examinations. Swayam on the other hand did not provide full-fledged degrees but only certifications. Instead of filling the interaction gap with physical facilities, they added video lectures like self-paced courses and allowed students to ask questions to their faculties over emails.
Today, a huge variety of different learning models exist even besides the one discussed so far. For example, live lectures, automated applications, workshops, books with email support, group sessions, and so on. The arena of education is expanding but despite the innovations, the importance of the mainstream is still a dominating factor. This is why most students would go for mainstream education and only top-up their skills with other learning models. Even when the new models save on efforts, costs, and are sometimes have better deliveries, the mainstream models still take precedence. One reason could be that the certifications and degrees are respected and accepted by the world while smaller certifications received from organizations not registered as universities or schools do not have any hold in the career progression, especially, when it is about getting your first job.
The Woes of Non-Mainstream Learners!
However, there is also another arena of freelancing that allows non-mainstream learners to also join the league and doesn’t ask for any certifications. However, without any solid governance structure or recognition provided to freelancers, they are always at a disadvantage. A freelancing career is more like running a one-person business but many freelancers might not have the business and sales skills. Those successful in this arena are the masters of their subjects as well as of sales and marketing. This game is very different from the game of education as it doesn’t count certifications and poses no limits before learners. Anyone can become a freelancer after learning from online courses. However, since already mentioned, this road of career doesn’t come without challenges and recognition is a struggle. Moreover, because of its very nature, most freelancers struggle financially and often go back to doing a job. However, this would not be possible without having degrees to support you.
Training Programs Provide Practice
Coming back to the idea of learning, some models also extend learning programs to people already working in organizations. These programs do not provide basic teaching but more application-oriented practical learning. They usually follow the workshop models and invite participation in activities. The certification provided by these program deliveries holds importance only in a company or a particular industry. They might not be accredited but because of the recognition of the programs, trainers, and hosting organizations, their programs do stand on some pedestal.
These programs are clearly created to fill any learning gap and also the gap between academic learning and practical skill requirements. Some of these companies have the motivation to fill this gap before people join their organizations and thus, these programs are extended outside the boundaries of their organizations through additional certifications or educational programs. In this case, they would join hands with other learning models to reach out to learners. For instance, Google provides specific courses through Coursera. NASA is inviting young students to their workshops by joining hands with school authorities.
The arena of education is scattered and is run by so many different models with new emerging every year. The governance structure is still unclear and hardly will anyone find a single source of truth that could present the entire landscape of education.
However, if you could gain some insights on the opportunities in the area of education from this article, I would be delighted. If you are aware of more unique and effective learning models that can add to this body of knowledge, please feel free to drop comments and I can add them to the list with your name mentioned in the article.
I invite contributions from EDUCATORS and LEARNERS…