E-learning answer to India’s training requirements

By : |December 29, 2006 0

Some years back, John Chambers, CEO, Cisco, had predicted that the next big killer application on the Internet will be education. "Education over the internet is going to be so big it is going to make e-mail usage look like a rounding error," he had stated. Somehow, education over the web has not really percolated the way it could have, especially so in India.

A company named Universitas 21 or U21Global is trying to make Chambers prediction come true. It is an online graduate school that offers degrees from 19 global universities.

Since its inception in 2001, Mukesh Aghi has been at the helm as the chief executive officer. Before taking charge at U21Global, Aghi was president of IBM India and for years was handling Big Blue’s operations in India. In a detailed interaction with Shashwat Chaturvedi from CyberMedia News, Aghi speaks about the potential of U21Global and how Indian students can avail of this opportunity. Excerpts:

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How has the online learning market shaped over the years?
To date, online learning is most prevalent in highly developed western countries and regions such as Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and the EU. According to a research and consultancy firm Eduventures, the US for example appears to have overcome its initial hesitation over online education with 1.2 million students, or seven per cent of the total, taking a complete degree or similar online.

Online learning is spreading at an enormously rapid rate. There are exciting examples of e-learning at the university level in Egypt, in Bangladesh, in Mexico, in China, and in dozens of other countries. Online learning is also spreading to primary and secondary schools very rapidly and virtually all countries are engaged at this moment in some forms of online learning.

When we look at the demand for postgraduate education, we see that it will be impossible for traditional education sources to cater for such demand. It is just too much – and especially in this region. Take India for example, last month a record 1.91 lakh students sat for the Common Admission Test (CAT) to vie for the 1,500 seats available at one of the six famed IIMs. Many educational institutions are looking at online education as an alternative to assist them in coping with the demand. While the numbers of future students in India and China are staggering, there will also be demand from smaller developing nations who cannot afford to “gear up” their institutions to high quality international education quickly enough to cope with demand. So the demand is growing very rapidly.

What are the inherent benefits of online mode over the traditional medium?

For centuries, the classroom settings have been considered the only means of learning i.e. a typical classroom environment has always constituted the lives of students. But with every technological milestone, perspectives have been changing rapidly. Online education today is being expected by lot of students and the speed with which it is catching up suggests online learning/education is set to make a big difference to the way conventional education is understood by people.

At U21Global, e-learning is student-centered, flexible and convenient. With the ease of online delivery, the emphasis in the educational process shifts from teaching to learning. There are quite a few benefits but some of the more important ones are; flexibility, for instance in programmes like the U21Global’s, students do not have to follow a prescribed pattern and there is more scope for learning according to their own preferred style. They can study when they have time, and consequently can better manage their time. There is also the accrued benefit of cost. Often, students attempting to undertake post-graduate courses are working professionals and are either unable or unwilling to halt their careers to pursue higher education. However, with the development of online learning, students are now able to pursue a postgraduate education whilst still continuing their career. At U21Global, we offer students the flexibility to pursue their courses at a time and place convenient to them. Even if traveling, these students can have access to the classroom anywhere in the world. As working professionals, they can immediately apply what they have learned to their jobs, making the educational experience all the more real and relevant to their daily lives.

What are the kind of courses that are offered U21?

U21Global currently specializes primarily in Business Management and Information Technology Management programmes. All programmes offered by U21Global are owned and taught by full-time and adjunct faculty at U21Global. Presently, the programmes offered include: Master of Business Administration (MBA), Master of Science in Tourism and Travel Management (a combined programmed with The University of Nottingham), Master of Management in Information Technology, Master of Management in International Business, Executive Diploma and Certificate of Business Management and Technology Management

In India, the graduate school launched a blended learning programme with the Loyola Institute of Business Administration (LIBA). The 12-month executive programme offers two areas of specialisation: the Executive Post Graduate Diploma in Marketing Management and the Executive Post Graduate Diploma in Human Resources Management. More recently we tied up with the NSRCEL of Indian Institute of Management Bangalore for a joint programme for Entrepreneurs and Family Business.

In addition to the broad range of publicly available masters, diploma and certificate programmes, U21Global has also developed a number of highly customised programmes for selected corporate clients. Presently we have tie-ups with Aditya Birla Group, Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited, Tata Consultancy Services, Murugappa Group, Satyam Computer Services, Wipro, Indian Oil Corporation Limited, Virtusa, Citibank, to name a few.

How many students are currently enrolled with U21?

U21Global was established in 2001 and today has approximately 3000 students from over 60 countries including those from Asia, Australia, Africa, Europe and the Americas

The fact that online education allows students to not restrict themselves to geographic boundaries can be a strong driver to encourage people to take up online education. E-learning is spreading rapidly across colleges, universities, schools, businesses and government agencies and may soon become a necessity than just being projected as a demand.

What are the cost differential between an online and a traditional classroom degree?

Compared to a traditional degree, online learning is more cost-effective and maximizes the return on investment for individuals. The capital outlay for an online learning course is less than a brick-and-mortar form of education as students will save on long distance travel costs, overseas accommodation and other living costs if the programme is pursued abroad.

In addition, U21Global takes a unique approach to fees. Education has traditionally been elitist, only for those rich enough to afford it, and that is neither fair nor smart. The situation is particularly critical in Asia and this is where U21Global comes in.

To make postgraduate courses affordable and accessible to those want to pursue higher education, we have pegged the cost of our programmes according to the standard of living in each market. The MBA programme for example cost $8,000 for a student based in India compared to $25,000 for a student living in the United States. Our fees include tuition for all required subjects to fulfill the online programme requirements and examination fees.

What are the numbers of Indian students that have enrolled at U21?

India is one of the top three countries where we have recruited students from and together with Singapore and the Middle East contributes over 80 per cent of our student population.

Why hasn’t the online learning model taken off in a big way in India? What needs to be done?

One of the biggest challenges is the need to change mind-sets. Often we don’t like to change and don’t see that doing things differently is better. But this is not an option any more. We need to look to the future and develop capabilities to deal with greater uncertainty than ever before. Many people think the main drawback of studying in a fully online environment is the absence of non-verbal communication. But it is precisely this lack of ‘faceless interaction’ that allows students to discover new aspects of themselves. To succeed in this style of learning, students must have a constant thirst for feedback. The only way to do well is by regularly participating in the discussions, both with one another and the professors. It usually also helps certain students overcome their fear of speaking in public.

Online learning started in the early 1990s with computer based training. It was very clunky and not very interesting. It was also slow. Today, high quality online education is available – up to the standards and quality required of top Universities. This has been possible through the World Wide Web and the Internet – and the technology- add-ons available. This combined with the high speed processors, and other interactive devices such as web and video cams, podcasts, webinars, etc. makes online not only exciting, but far more interesting than the traditional face to face education programmes. Over the years, we have seen the rise and fall of many online educational institutions. Institutions that are non-responsive or over-zealous in their approach face the possibilities of crashing. We strongly believe that in the long-term, only those institutions with a fervent commitment to quality will prevail.

With all the challenges that India is facing in education and training, e-learning has a lot of answers and these needs to be taken as a serious concern by the government as well as the private industries. In addition, authorities should not simply reject distance and online providers outright, but should look at the quality providers of distance education, including U21Global, to see how they can provide the knowledge, skills and capabilities to deliver high quality learning outcomes, and assist in the development of their people for the future. India displays a huge talent pool of skilled resources and if used effectively e-learning can deliver education to a much larger population.

Are you in talks with any of the Indian universities to join the board?

We are currently in talks with a couple of Indian universities but right now these are yet to be finalised.

Currently the model seems to be more inclined towards management, i.e., management of a certain corporate decides to sponsor his employee, are you also keen on taking the individual path?

Our online model has been well received by corporates as we offer executives not only the opportunity to pursue a postgraduate education whilst remaining employed despite the amount of travel or location changes, but our unique pedagogy provides a holistic learning environment where learning is acquired through opportunities for reflection and active construction of knowledge in which executives will be able to retain such knowledge longer and more importantly apply this knowledge to real-life situations.

Having said that, we are seeing an increasing number of individuals who are beginning to realize that in today’s economy, the best investment they can make is in higher education that offers immediate professional advantage and also retains its relevance by providing the foundation for continued personal growth and career advancement. Among the more common reasons for getting a postgraduate degree qualification are – career advancement, ability to enhance earning power, and job satisfaction. Increasingly, people in their 30s, 40s and beyond find that the world of business and management has changed so dramatically that they must return to education to take full advantage of the opportunities in global knowledge economy

What is the roadmap ahead for U21? Are you personally satisfied with the progress made so far?

In just over three years since we introduced our first programme, our student population has grown to 3,000 students from over 60 countries. This is pretty good from a standing start – and would be envied by many business schools. Last year, U21Global’s MBA programme was awarded the coveted Certification of e-Learning (CEL) by the European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD), only the third educational institution to earn this accreditation. This international accreditation recognizes the high quality of the management courses offered by U21Global in addition to the high quality e-learning pedagogy.

U21Global will be hosting the inaugural graduation ceremony in early 2007 for our first batch of graduates. We will continue to focus on improving our student support structure and are planning to launch two new postgraduate degree courses – in public policy and healthcare management next year. We are also working closely with many of the Universitas 21 universities and other universities worldwide to expand our programme offerings further.

When the characteristics of online learning are combined with the explosive growth of learning, information and communication technology and the rapidly declining costs of these technologies, it is apparent that online learning will play an increasingly large and disproportionate role in learning at all levels in all countries and regions of the world.

© CyberMedia News

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