MOOCs, lifelong learning and a need for collaboration

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“MOOCs, lifelong learning and a need for collaboration” was originally published in the March 2017 issue of Connections, as part of the regular feature “Tech Trends”.

Recent trends show that there is a growing convergence of approaches to online learning and lifelong learning. Whilst technology is already an important factor, technology companies are also becoming stakeholders in lifelong learning through innovations in online learning. Technology majors such as Microsoft, Cisco and Oracle (to name a few) have been known for their employment-oriented training and certificate programmes which are offered in a hybrid mode. Their programmes and certificates are valued globally, covering both developing and developed countries.

In the changing scenario, technology companies as well as companies that are data-rich (through ownership of social networks, for example) are offering training and certificates in an entirely online mode.

Udacity, a for-profit enterprise and an early player in massive open online courses (MOOCs), has been offering nano-degrees. These non-formal credentials are already recognised by a number of well-known companies, such as Mercedes-Benz, Microsoft, Google, IBM and Amazon. A new course, for example, is on the self-driving car. This is offered in partnership with a number of companies (potential employers), including two automakers. Coursera, the world’s largest MOOC company, offers courses developed and delivered by university faculty. Its courses are increasingly oriented towards employability. The non-formal credential used is the specialisation, a set of Coursera MOOCs taken in sequence.

Amazon has also entered the world of online learning with its AWS Educate initiative. This programme allows participating faculty in a university to integrate Amazon’s learning materials and computational infrastructure directly into teaching. LinkedIn recently launched LinkedIn Learning. The courses in this programme are almost entirely from the well-known, a popular provider of online courses that had been acquired earlier by LinkedIn. One of the very significant advantages that LinkedIn has is its membership. There are about 450 million professional profiles on LinkedIn with a very large amount of data available on interactions amongst members.

A key issue in online learning is one of trusted credentials and the integrity of the learner’s identity. This matter has been largely solved in the retail banking industry, which has a more homogeneous set of practices across the globe compared to education. It is fair to say at this stage that wholly technological solutions are not yet available. Recently, a number of companies have built systems and procedures that can be used by online learning providers to offer credentials. In India, NPTEL, a public-sector MOOC provider, makes use of a company that has built e-governance services to conduct proctored online examinations for those seeking a verified certificate. There is not, as yet, much following for these services amongst providers of higher education.

Industry estimates show that as many as 18 million jobs might currently be vacant because there are too few workers with the required skills. Scalable online learning could be an important support in filling this gap. Policy makers in developing countries, however, are faced with challenges in data connectivity and inadequate availability of critical technology support services. Connecting the less connected to the emerging convergence of online and lifelong learning calls for innovations. International collaboration involving the public and private sectors can be meaningful in generating innovations in technology as well as in the management of processes associated with learning and credentialing.

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