Improving skills via online courses

Last Updated 30 May 2017, 10:50 IST

Mid-level and senior executives just don’t like classrooms anymore. Instead, they prefer innovative learning environments that offer cloud-based education or educating themselves through augmented and virtual reality, personalised learning, gamification, blended learning and mobile learning.

Let’s rewind a bit. The management education revolution in India began in right earnest in 1961, when the Government of India established the Indian Institute Management, Calcutta and the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. In the 1970s and 1980s, the demand for management education grew at modest rate. Consequently, the need for working executives to go in for a management education degree was never felt.

It was only in the late 1980s and 1990s that the space exploded in India, due to the advent of economic liberalisation. Several management diploma granting institutions came up in the private sector and many universities established departments of management studies. During the 1990s and 2000s, an unprecedented growth of the Indian economy led to the growth in the number of institutions providing management education with the All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) giving permission to set up such institutions in large numbers.

While the early seekers were fresh graduates, many executives working in professionally managed companies began to realise that their education had not adequately equipped them to handle global organisational challenges. This led to the awareness that their professional growth in organisations could be expedited by a management degree or diploma from a good management institute. The 1990s, thus, saw a huge increase in mid-level executives with prior experience, which has continued since then.

Return on investment

The traditional on-campus management education throws up two major hurdles in the path of aspiring professionals – accessibility and financial affordability. Business education is very expensive in India, especially considering the return on investment (ROI) on them. The tuition fees for premier B-schools in India are high, and spike periodically. A working professional who is evaluating going to a business school in India may be extremely discouraged when s/he takes into account the tuition costs, living expenses and most importantly the loss of pay during the period of education in a full-time programme. This situation pushes majority of applicants to the lower tier schools, which have a mixed track record with respect to their programmes and post-programme benefits.

Corporates also began to look for ROI and came to realise that they would not be able to send their key mid-level executives for long-duration courses. Management institutes identified this trend and started offering customised short duration executive education programmes that are now a significant source of revenue for B-schools.

Virtual means

Innovations in information technology have had a major impact on the content and delivery of programmes. The demand from education seekers and continuous technological developments are prompting providers to create new online models and platforms for imparting executive education online. Multiple skill enhancement or skill development programmes are easily available free of cost as massive open online courses (MOOCs) on platforms such as Coursera and EdX. Unfettered access to MOOCs means executives from diverse locations and communities are joining online, web-based lectures to upgrade their skills.

However, one of the key drawbacks of MOOCs is that the completion rates are very low. This is primarily due to the fact that the learning is usually one-sided with the student viewing the videos and completing the assignments based on his/her understanding, without feedback. Therefore, it is said that MOOCs can impart information, but are not very effective in imparting skills. Even within the online education space, a lot of young executives are now looking at small private online courses (SPOCs). They see better value in such courses vis-a-vis attending massive open online courses (MOOCs). The preference for SPOCs has been on the rise in recent times. SPOCs deliver faculty lectures on video, learning happens in small groups of cohorts that are virtually connected, discussions and projects are assessed by faculty members and peers, and students have access to insights from the world’s best faculty.

Such has been the demand that the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) are also looking at launching online executive education programmes. Sebastian Morris, chairperson of the Management Development Programme at IIM-A was recently quoted in the media that the institute intended to launch online courses soon owing to its good demand.

Apart from individual students, the demand for such courses is also fuelled by companies that are increasingly investing more in developing internal talent and building a leadership pipeline to meet the challenges of a globalising economy. It is expected that numerous developments and themes will gather pace to transform the online executive education landscape in the coming days with the learner at the epicentre.

(The author is executive director, Emeritus Institute of Management, Singapore)

(Published 24 May 2017, 18:23 IST)

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