Higher Learning, Upskilling And Reskilling In Times Of COVID-19

Many companies are realising the value of training and upskilling as a benefit for its employees yielding greater loyalty.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the education sector providing opportunity for many online platforms to leverage their expertise. According to the World Economic Forum report on online learning, the pandemic has propelled online learning as indispensable to disseminate knowledge indiscriminate of geographical boundaries, business organizations and social strata. Where earlier digital learning tools were considered as supporting education, today they have become imperative, accelerating their adoption in many institutions globally.

A surge of laid-off working professionals and potential students is expected in this crisis, without access to classroom instructions reaching out for affordable online alternatives. The downturns are precisely when disrupters need to forge their way such as Southern New Hampshire University which was in financial straits before it emerged as a disruptor in its online avatar growing to 130000 adult participants – one of the largest universities in the USA.

Even businesses realise the efficacy of this medium in training and upskilling their employees. Amazon is planning an outlay of $700 million for reskilling one-third of its workforce i.e. 100,000 employees but is finding current traditional learning insufficient. With many companies realising the value of training and upskilling as a benefit for its employees yielding greater loyalty, lower turnover and enhanced productivity, institutes that leverage their dynamic capabilities in this disruptive environment would thrive. Apart from online courses in executive education and short online skill development courses, they can offer mobile-based micro-courses with specific knowledge to cut down on information overload.

Meanwhile, there is debate on online environment inhibiting tacit learning in absence of face to face experience. According to Michael B Horn, Co-founder of Clayton Christensen Institute, a typical institute experience would be of undifferentiated teaching and limited experiential learning for a participant. On the other hand, in the online environment, students can be engaged in multiple ways such as chats, polls, or breakouts and in intense simulation-based learning. The course would be accessible beyond the geographical boundaries enabling constructive cross-cultural exchange increasing the overall breadth of learning. According to Prof. Mohanbir Sawhney at Kellogg School of Management, even students with language limitations can participate by communicating via chat and processing information gradually instead of fast synchronous learning. 

The pandemic having changed the landscape of business and of most economies across the globe, does have a silver lining for a developing country like India. With a substantial drop in students going abroad for higher learning, India needs to prepare itself for an unprecedented acceleration in demand for online learning both from college ready youths and also from workers who are either laid off or reskilling.

As per academic research, the model of critical success factors(CSFs) on different dimensions that influence online learning adoption in developing countries enables evaluation of the capabilities of the higher learning institutes. In terms of CSFs in the infrastructure dimension, with improved penetration of telecom networks and 5G rollout, the online learning tools would be accessible to far-flung students. The government itself is paving the way by allowing 100% courses offered online in higher education as compared to meagre 20% previously and allowing Indian universities to offer online degrees.

Further, social distancing has increased reliance on digital technology for shopping, medicine, work from home and social interactions as well as entertainment. Thus, students would be more amenable to learn online and would be able to navigate the technology better with increased usage, enabling learners’ dimension CSFs. This also impacts instructors’ dimension CSFs in computer-assisted teaching and engaging the students in a highly interactive online environment.

Thus, by employing this framework of CSFs, academic institutes can turn the tables on this pandemic for greater good of the community in generating employment for the stakeholders and of the students who are willing and able to learn but unable to access.

Covid-19 has been so cataclysmic and global in nature that the only real comparisons available in the modern era were World War II or the Great Depression, where post-crisis-era deviated considerably from the pre-crisis world, altering the norm and this crisis has acted as a hugely successful experiment in proving the efficacy of online education driving future adoption.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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