Online or Offline learning? This is a great question to ask and a tough one to answer. After the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in the world, everyone and everything has gone online. People are working online, meetings are being held online, colleges have thrown open their online classes, and in India, even the judiciary is conducting trials online.
There are quite a few companies in the upskilling space for professionals as well. However, the fact is that while MOOC (mass open online courses) companies are valued at millions and in some cases billions of dollars, their consumers often drop out of their journey midway. Many don’t start them at all.
According to a number of studies conducted in 2018, the average completion rate for a course was barely 15%. While this is up from 4% in 2016, it’s still not a great number. A lot of people sign up for MOOCs and lose interest some way along the road.
A big reason for these dropouts is that companies often just upload recorded videos of their sessions. This is akin to telling a student to go to the college library and learn on their own. Companies are simply selling hardware that is packaged well. This is a good pitch to make to investors and HR heads when you tell them that this is a massive opportunity for their teams to upskill themselves and increase productivity. When these practices are put into place at companies, the end results are, well, not the greatest.
Of course, a lot of companies claim that the last two weeks have seen a surge of interest in people signing up for online courses but that is purely because people are cooped up at home with nothing to do. And it also helps that most of these companies are giving away their courses for free as a ‘hook’, hoping that people will continue to learn once COVID-19 has gone away.
There is also an argument that says it is not necessary for people to complete 100% of their online course. People join courses with a specific pain-point that they wish to solve. If they derive all the benefits they want out of your course with 50% of course completion, there is no need for them to invest their time and resources to complete the whole shebang. But in a country like India, where certifications and grades play a very important role in the process of hiring and even promotions, it’s not enough to say that ‘I know about the changing digital marketing landscape because I have learned new techniques from XYZ online course’. You need a certification that proves you are capable of doing it right.
Does this mean that India can’t be taught online? Far from it, India has to be taught ‘live’ online. Take the benefits of offline training: Individual attention, ensuring students are paying attention, clearing doubts and queries in real time, and combine them with the ease of efficiency of the online space: Remote learning, no travel, access to multiple online resources and massive savings on rent and resources. This, I believe, is the way the upskilling segment in India, and maybe the world, will play out for the next decade. It will be a blend of online and offline learning.
Another method to approach this is by having trainers fly out to respective organisations to conduct offline sessions. Record those sessions and use them as a library for when employees have doubts. Or you can have separate sessions for doubts and clarifications online at a later date. This is how an Israeli-American IT firm with a back office in West India functions. Their engineers are trained on everything from DevOps and full stack development, Big Data/Hadoop offline while their doubts are cleared online with the trainer functioning on remote.
MOOC companies and L&D heads have to understand that people who sign up on their own to upskill have to be really driven to complete the course. HR and L&D heads might issue a mandate to their employees to get certified but we all know, ‘People don’t do what’s expected, they do what’s inspected’.