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Big trends in digital education: The MOOC is in session

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The Times of India | Joeanna Rebello | TNN | December 6, 2015 |

Online instruction is helping Indians open career doors

In 2013, Dr Balesh Jindal signed up on Coursera for the first-ever MOOC (massive, open, online course) on social psychology offered by Wesleyan University. She felt an application of its principles to her practice would help her engage more effectively with her patients. The 56-year-old Delhi resident was among 250,000 participants. Turned out her final essay, based on her outreach to girls in a neighbourhood government school, showing them how to identify and report sexual violence, was voted best of all.  She was invited to Stanford University for three days to be awarded a certificate and meet the Dalai Lama, who was visiting the campus. Her stay and travel were sponsored by Stanford, where Dr Jindal not only met the monk, but also eminent academics, including author and psychologist Philip Zimbardo, who ran the famous Stanford Prison Experiment in 1971. Dr Jindal, who says the experience virtually changed her life, plans to switch careers to counselling, a decision galvanized by that first MOOC. “Though I couldn’t pursue my dream of studying in an American university, the MOOC brought world-class lectures into my living room,” she says. As course providers like edX, Coursera and others look to offer more rigorous, certificate programmes, university-compatible credits, and specializations tailored for industry, Indians are beginning to see not just knowledge, but better career prospects in MOOCs. In Coursera’s first-ever learner outcome survey in September, it emerged that 53% of the 2,076 Indian online learners polled were looking for career-building benefits, while 35% sought to further their education.

Coursera has about 1.2 million Indian registrants. “Our learners may not have the option to structure their lives around their education, but rather need the flexibility to mould their education around the constraints of their life,” says Daphne Koller, Stanford professor and one of the co-founders, along with Andrew Ng, of Coursera. “New technology platforms and greater acceptance of online certificates by employers are allowing these people to transform their careers,” she adds. Google, for one, has started listing courses from Coursera as recommended qualifications for a job. And it’s not just global Goliaths that see recruitment value in MOOCs. When a 25-year-old senior manager wanted to pursue a $445 MOOC on business analytics by the Wharton School, her employer, Delhi startup KleverKid offered to cough up 20% of the fee. COO Priyanka Khanna says they want to encourage continued learning. “There are so many career specializations for which we don’t have the necessary educational infrastructure in India, and MOOCs fill the gap,” she says. Start-ups also perhaps identify with self-starters in the company who commit themselves to professional improvement. Vivek Shangari, a serial entrepreneur who’s running his third enterprise AceHacker, a coding bootcamp, lacks a college education but is armed with MOOC degrees in technology and management. “For me online courses were the only option,” says Shangari, who has made it mandatory for all his employees to take one online course every year. “It can be anything, a new coding language or poetry but it’s a must and 5% of the appraisal is tied to the employee’s performance in the online course,” says Shangari. There’s also a soundproof cabin in the office where his employees can take lessons for an hour every day without work-related interruptions.

Even NPTEL (National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning), the online campus launched jointly by the IITs and IISc last year, has been trying to set itself up as an accredited route to jobs. A spokesperson said they’re in talks with IT majors to ensure that students who have NPTEL certificates get short-listed by companies during recruitment and internships (including internships at the IITs themselves).  Backed by NASSCOM, NPTEL largely attracts students of engineering, often from far-flung colleges that may not offer the sort of electives premium institutions do. At the National Engineering College in Kovilpatti, Tamil Nadu, nearly all the third and final year students of civil engineering took the July course on modern construction material, an elective their college didn’t offer.  Additionally, for a Tamil-speaking engineering student in Kurnool or Tirunelveli, it offers a rare opportunity to be certified in a subject that improves career prospects in the urban market – like the elements of visual representation or even spoken English (for which the candidate makes audio submissions). And even though international MOOC providers co-opt translators, NPTEL believes its courses are better tailored for the Indian context, internet connectivity, and language. For example, rural colleges with deficient internet connectivity can download the course material on the LAN network. Demand drafts can be used to pay the exam fee of Rs 1,000 for those who don’t have access to credit card or netbanking.  And finally, subtitles and transcripts. “In rural parts, kids watch Hollywood movies dubbed in local languages,” points out an NPTEL moderator. “So to help students better understand the courses, we plan to subtitle the lectures and provide transcripts in as many Indian languages as possible.” – Courtesy


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