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The Verdict on Online Courses: To Do or Not To Do

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.”

– Henry Ford

Not many years ago, if you wanted to learn something, you had to sign up for a course with a brick and mortar institution, leave your current job and physically attend classes. That was before the advent of online education (or MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses – as we popularly know them).

As of today, online courses are getting huge traction and many brick and mortar institutions (such as MIT, Harvard, etc.) are starting to host their courses online. The flexibility of learning from anywhere, pursuing a course part-time and the enhanced reach of quality courses are some of the advantages of online learning.

However, anything new and revolutionary always comes with its own set of challenges. High drop off rates, lack of personal attention, degree affiliation and placement assistance are some of the drawbacks of many bootcamps and online courses.

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Online courses are a huge boon when it comes to training people in new and emerging fields like Data Science, Digital Marketing, etc; which are not yet traditionally taught in offline schools and colleges. Even if they are taught, there is a greater focus on theory than on practical aspects. Data Science, in particular, has seen a huge surge of such online courses due to a huge talent gap in the industry. As per Mckinsey, the US alone is expected to have a shortfall of 150,000 data scientists by 2018. The number for India would also be similar.

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With the proliferation of bootcamps and online courses, it has become harder and harder to choose one which is fit for the needs of an individual. A quick search of “Data Science Bootcamps” on Google shows 163,000 results.

I have been involved in teaching data science, as part of the content team here at UpGrad, for the past few years now.

These are the different things to look for while choosing bootcamps or online courses:

  • Type of Content Delivery:

    In most online courses, there are two ways in which content is delivered to students:

    • Live Lectures:

      In this, an instructor delivers all of the lectures live or in real-time. This is similar to attending a virtual classroom. The major advantage in this type of setting is the synchronous communication between the instructor and students. However, this hampers the flexibility aspect of learning in which the instructor has to wait for everyone to get on board before moving forward. Communication is another issue such that it is hard to explain concepts through figures/graphics in this type of setting (no post-production or editing possible). Also, getting an experienced or reputed instructor’s commitment for a 10-12 week long course is quite difficult.

    • Recorded Lectures:

      This is what most of the online education providers like UpGrad, Udacity etc, are seemingly moving towards. In this setting, it is possible to hire quality instructors and devote enough time offline, developing the content. The major challenge in these settings is to explain the concept as clearly as possible so that students don’t have many doubts while reading/viewing.

      UpGrad and the IIITB team have done a stellar job in this regard. The pedagogy was extremely well thought of with a case study approach to explain the practical applications of various data science concepts.

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  • Industry Connection:

    For most of the professionals/students, pursuing online courses in data science is accompanied with the aim of getting practical working knowledge of the field. Many bootcamps teach the relevant technical concepts of machine learning, python, etc., but lack the insights into the practical application of these concepts. UpGrad’s team has nailed this by collaborating with top industry experts from companies like Uber, Genpact, Viacom etc.

    I am extremely proud to be partnering with them. Engagement of experts is in the form of recorded lectures, live sessions, and even mentorship sessions.

  • Credibility:

    While choosing an online provider or course, it is important to establish the credibility of the instructors as well as the overall program so that it is easier to land a job post the program. While some of the programs offer certifications, there are only a handful which award degrees. UpGrad, with its unique connection to IIITB offers a diploma degree with a robust credit structure and grading policies. In fact, most of the theory is taught by well-known professors of IIITB.

  • Placement Assistance:

    Many universities offer campus placements in India. This is a deal breaker for many online programs as there are no dedicated career services after the program which can help the students land a job. UpGrad tries to solve this problem through 1:1 mentorship sessions, resume reviews, mock interviews, etc. The team also ties up with many big firms/startups to offer job opportunities or career assistance to their students.

  • Connection with Peers:

    In the current world, doing a course should not only increase your knowledge on the subject but should also expand your social reach in the field. Many online courses host discussion forums, but they are accessed by only a handful of students. UpGrad’s team has been very innovative in this regard. They grade the student’s participation in forums, have a leaderboard of students who are most active on them and so on. Also, they try to arrange frequent virtual and physical Meetups locally, for all the students. This helps students to network with each other and develop relevant professional connections.

Overall, UpGrad grooms well-rounded professionals in data science and makes them industry ready with relevant skill sets and practical intuition. Most of the credit goes to the team that is extremely enthusiastic to try out new ideas and committed to delivering the best experience to the students.

India’s education sector needs a new avatar, a contemporary approach


The Future of Online Education

While online education is here to stay, it is definitely going to evolve in a way that many companies will treat the MOOCs channel as a great source of talent.

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Some of the things we can expect going forward:

  • Easy Content Creation:

    With the advent of new technology tools, content production will become cheap and easy. Creating content still takes dedication and a lot of hard work. In the future, we can expect content creation to be as easy as creating a blog.

  • Personalised Learning Modules:

    Online courses are currently static and for understandable reasons. With the advent of Big Data and Artificial Intelligence, the natural course of action would be to use the data collected on a student to build a learner profile that can effectively mimic their learning behavior, allowing the content to be tailored to the course-taker.

  • Instant Feedback:

    Currently, there are places where a machine grades an assignment, but those are limited to only a few basic questions. Soon, we can expect a machine to grade complex assignments and students will get instant feedback as opposed to manually graded feedback for which one has to wait a few days.

Finally, online courses have been widely accepted and UpGrad tackles most of the shortcomings faced by other programs. Having said that, there are still a lot of opportunities to look forward to in the future. I am extremely confident that online courses will transform lives for the better.

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