The promise of e-learning in the new normal

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The Covid-19 pandemic has created the biggest disruption to education systems in history, according to the The United Nations.

College students have been among the hardest hit – eager to return to campus, struggling with canceled internships and worried about graduating to enter a crisis labor market.

The pandemic, however, was a watershed moment that transformed higher education. It has stimulated universities to take the leap into the future of learning, making online learning the core of their student experience.

In the Philippines, more than 60 campuses have adopted Coursera for campus, with more than 171,000 course registrations.

Many of the changes that took root in the midst of the crisis will inform our education strategy for the new normal.

I believe that the ideas of the class affected by Covid do not only have the potential to solve the challenges of students at this time. They can be applied to create a much more efficient higher education system for the future.

Adopt new blended learning models

By 2020, the closures shut down physical classrooms. The Philippine Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) called for a Flexible learning policy. The commission urged colleges to design and deliver programs that meet the unique needs of learners in terms of location, pace, process and learning, ensuring uninterrupted learning.

Many higher education institutions (HEIs) have relied on plug-and-play online courseware from leading institutions around the world. As the campuses needed to ramp up in no time, they took advantage of the high quality courses that matched their programs. With technology making skills obsolete faster, the benefits of blended e-learning programs will extend far beyond the current disruption.

The International Labor Organization warns that the intersection of job disruptions by the combined forces of Covid-19 and rapid digitization endanger the jobs of 7.2 million Filipino workers. In today’s constrained and risky two-tiered labor market, the window of opportunity for retraining and upgrading workers’ skills has become even shorter.

Today more than ever, graduate students need professional skills. The short shelf life of technology courses poses a serious challenge for curriculum development. By incorporating hybrid models, colleges can effectively create a pathway to complement foundational knowledge taught on campuses with learning that provides cutting-edge skills to improve student employability. Students would be able to overcome cost and location constraints by enrolling in the hottest online courses and learning from the best in the field around the world.

In the Philippines, the University of Mapúa is already having success with such a model. The university has partnered with Coursera, with the aim of filling curriculum gaps and creating a pool of employable graduates globally. By successfully integrating Coursera’s industry benchmarking tools and data-driven course recommendations, they were able to deliver strategic, job-relevant blended learning programs that equip students with the skills of the new age like data analytics, python and critical thinking.

In this uncertain job market, colleges need to redouble their efforts to prepare students for employment with results-based, industry-aligned learning.

We are already seeing colleges in the Philippines closing the gap for skills in high demand in technology areas such as computer programming, machine learning, and computer networking. Learning to apply job-relevant skills will be invaluable for students entering the workforce.

“Hands-on” learning accelerated as a trend during the pandemic. With Guided Projects that enable step-by-step guidance from an instructor, students can now practice and master the application of sought-after skills in real-world scenarios, using tools such as Python, Tensorflow, and Google Sheets. This is already helping Filipino learners demonstrate their ability to apply the skills employers are looking for.

With over 200,000 registrations since the May 20 launch, the Philippines has the highest registrations in Southeast Asia.

Building the classrooms of the future

In 2020, colleges experimented with new approaches and models of online education, providing very valuable and creative learning experiences.

– A private non-profit school in Makati City, AHA! Learning center used Facebook and text messages to deliver lessons, ensuring that every student continues their learning journey despite financial and accessibility constraints.

– A Philippine health technology company and Museo Pambata launched an AR mobile app that inspired students to explore and experience life beyond the classroom. Using augmented reality (AR), young Filipino students had access to virtual tours and immersive experiences safely at home.

– As part of Coursera for Workforce Recovery, the Department of Science and Technology (DoST) delivered nationwide training and created a vibrant online community of learners through social media campaigns. The program is one of the largest online learning initiatives in the history of the country.

Teachers, now more adept in a digital environment, will be better equipped to organize compelling classroom experiences, seamlessly transitioning from the virtual to the physical world.

By leveraging digital technologies, they can replace ‘one-size-fits-all’ classroom experiences with personalized large-scale learning experiences. Teachers can assess each student’s readiness for specific learning levels, tailoring learning to students’ strengths and abilities.

With a “flipped classroom” strategy, for example, students can study course videos at their own pace, making time spent in class all the more meaningful. Teachers can use these sessions to break down into complex concepts or trigger discussions that engage the whole class. The possibilities of digital learning are truly limitless.

Transition to lifelong learners

We have entered a future where college education will have to extend beyond three years to cover a person’s life. As technology accelerates, graduate students today will jump from job to job and almost certainly move from career to career.

Filipinos will need to continuously retrain or develop as lifelong learners to remain relevant in the workplace.

As the adoption of e-learning takes hold, this transition will become both seamless and sustainable. Professionals won’t need to uproot their families or move to a new city to improve their skills.

Online learning models offer built-in flexibility, helping people learn at their own pace and at their own pace, with the convenience of learning on mobile or studying both online and offline.

Over time, I see universities evolving to serve different student populations, on campus and online, personalizing the delivery of workplace learning for the life of each learner.

It’s a change that colleges sowed the seeds for when they made great strides in digital learning.

The pandemic may have sparked the world’s largest e-learning experience, helping students and institutions find a solution that restores academic continuity. But far beyond the present, online learning will find new interpretations in the Philippine higher education system, building on opportunities to bridge the digital and skills divide.

Raghav-Gupta

Raghav Gupta is the Managing Director India and Asia-Pacific at Coursera. He is responsible for growing Coursera’s consumer and business activities in the region, providing the world’s best education for learners. He is also the global sales manager for Coursera for Campus, the platform for colleges and universities. He is also responsible for driving impactful partnerships with leading companies and higher education institutions.


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