Why should students come to a campus? Instead, can the campus go to a student, wherever they may be? That was the question that triggered the Long Distance Programme (LDP) pioneered by Prof Ranjan Das, a strategy management guru at IIM Calcutta.
LDPs are management education programmes where participants log in from remote locations to listen to lectures by the professors of IIMC. Prof Ranjan Das strongly believed that the existing form of MBA education is keeping out a very large segment of Indian society. By partnering with delivery providers like Hughes and NIIT, Prof Das created a unique learning system. Participants visited Kolkata for a one-week orientation when they started the programme. After orientation, participants attended classes three times a week from the delivery centres of NIIT or Hughes [later, Times]. These programmes ran for anywhere from 12 to 15 months.
They listened to lectures, did assignments, did group projects pretty much like a regular MBA student. The difference was that these were all working professionals spread all over India; NIIT and Hughes had delivery or learning centres in over 50 cities. In the years leading to 2010, while IIM-C had around 400 two year MBA students, they had over 3000 executives attending the certificate programmes in LDP mode.
Many other Business Schools adopted this model and it became a booming business. I remember discussing the potential of online delivery of education content in an academic forum. One such idea that got debated was the ‘flipped classroom’ model, where the lecture is delivered in a pre-recorded format and the students came to class to discuss the topic or the case.
Ten years ago, participants had to go to a learning centre to attend a lecture. But the pandemic showed that we can attend classes from our home or any other convenient location. Online education, with all its warts, was becoming the new mode of instruction across the entire spectrum of learning and development.
Content creation and curation
Starting with schools, there has been a flurry of activity creating content to be delivered online. Then there is the coaching industry that was badly affected but had to adapt to online mode of delivery. Undergrad and postgrad education too had to be delivered online.
Companies have had to reinvent their Learning and Development programs and take them all online. Many industries have also created learning modules for their customers; pharma industry is a great example. Online vendor training is another.
As the pandemic waxes and wanes, and hopefully it will wane, what will be carried forward? Face to face delivery of teaching will come back. But I believe there will be some blending models that will hold ground.
In this scenario, what kind of jobs will get created or destroyed?
For a start, online education or training across all sectors will need technically trained people. How to record a video, how to edit a video, how to upload it, how to manage updates are some of the basic jobs that will have to be performed. Be it in a K-12 school or a technical institute. There will be a multitude of jobs that will be created at the technical end of education, content creation, curation and management.
As we understand the role of online content, there will be a growing demand for professionals who can write content. What may be engaging in a live class room may be boring in a video format. Byju’s success is largely due to the way they have made their videos engaging and fun for kids.
The innovation that was pioneered by Coursers and other online models of education was not just in creating video lectures, but in having breaks every three or five minutes when a question is asked and an answer is sought. But where to stop and where to ask a question is not as simple as it looks. You need experts who can test options and ensure that the little quizzes add to learning and retention. These professionals may be from the broader educational field or may be domain experts or a blend of the two.
Teachers and professors were thrown into the deep end in May 2020. As physical classes return, we will need to see how we can create a blended learning model. This will call for teachers to learn how to do both physical and virtual classes, better. A lot of training of teachers will be called for and domain experts will be called to do the training.
While we rapidly adopted online teaching, not all of it was perfect. If online is going to be a permanent feature, it has to be done better. Chances are most large educational institutions will hire experts who can train their teachers and professors.
Moving to the corporate sector, most companies have a Learning & Development department and they organize training programmes on a regular basis. Some companies even have training norms of seven days a year etc. During the pandemic companies had to abandon the off-site model and had to go online with their training modules.
An experiment that worked
I got exposed to something that seemed to have worked well. This auto major decided to create a learning engagement where an external expert was asked to deliver five lectures online, with the usual reading material and case studies. These five session, each lasting 90 minutes, were spread over two weeks. Then the participants were asked to work on a real-life project where they applied the concepts learnt over the five sessions.
Remember all this was being done in parallel mode. The executives were working on their day job as they were going through this L&D intervention. The results were very encouraging and other divisions are now adopting this model.
Training sessions were often seen as paid holidays but the online model is going to change that. Not that the ‘paid holiday’ kind of training will disappear. Some types of training need a three-day off-site mode, but not all.
I know of a couple who do safety training for medical representatives; they adapted their training to complete online mode. When the pandemic hit they thought their model was dead since all their training was face to face. But they adapted their training model to online, created new forms of online games and quizzes to the extent that they are able to produce better results than before. Not only that, since it is online they are able to offer this to multiple clients located in other locations. Chances are they will be doing this across the world soon.
During the pandemic, several industries have discovered new ways of engaging with their customers. Pharma industry traditionally ran what was known as Continuing Education Programmes (CEP) by hiring hotel rooms and inviting doctors to listen to experts. Many pharma companies have moved these CEPs into the digital mode.
The big advantage here is that the speakers can be from anywhere in the world. While I was skeptical about the efficacy of this mode, I have been hearing great reports from doctors who attended these sessions.
We started our journey of jobs and education discussing the LDP offered by IIMC; numerous IIMs have joined the band wagon. IIMA has created a three-year LDP MBA program that is premium-priced. What was done by MBA schools should also spread to other domains such as law, engineering, medicine [with enough practical training], architecture, etc.
EdTech organizations like Udemy and UpGrad are jumping into this space and offering certificate programmes in partnership with respected universities. If this trend holds, India will be able to bridge the big higher education vacuum. That will be one significant positive outcome of the pandemic.