Shift to lifetime learning

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Shift to lifetime learning

Wednesday, 13 January 2021 | Harjiv Singh

Shift to lifetime learning

Digital as a way of life is here to stay. In the education sector, on-campus learning will move to a more blended approach, says Harjiv Singh

A thought-provoking experiment centred round the future of college education got underway in the Spring of 2013 at Stanford University. Inspired by the new emphasis on online learning, the Stanford 2025 Project, explored how different universities, students and teachers would approach the 'in-person, physical learning environment' a decade from then by 'bringing an end to a society of alumni in favour of a lifetime of learning'.

A year since COVID-19 upended everything including education, the Stanford study with its emphasis on modular, personalised, and collaborative learning across space and time seems nothing short of prophetic. Not only has 2020 compelled a change on the ground in who is learning online, where, and how, but it has also brought into focus key questions about education.

But if the past year is anything to go by, it is clear higher education can no longer be sought in the same in-person, four-year on campus module, which has dominated the US for decades.

For one, college education, especially at any Ivy League school, is extremely expensive. An undergrad, on-campus degree can put a family back by about $70,000 a year in annual fees. During an economic downturn, made worse by a pandemic, such an investment makes no short-term or long-term economic sense. Add to this mix, the grim reality of student debt, estimated to be $1.7 trillion held by more than 43 million borrowers .

Even if a student loan cancellation by the Federal Government comes through and the current impasse caused by rising COVID cases is stemmed by mass vaccination in the coming months , we know it will take the world a few years to bounce back.

Irrespective of whether and to what extent restrictions on social interactions will be lifted, digital as a way of life is here to stay. In the education sector, on-campus learning will move to a more blended approach.

As if to confirm that shift, the eight Ivy League schools have broken with tradition to offer several hundred short-term online courses across multiple online platforms such as Coursera and EdX.

Spanning a range of subjects from Computer Science and Data Science to Health, Medicine and Education, these courses offer students the rare opportunity to learn and interact with some of the best faculty in the world, from the comfort of their home, at a fraction of the cost they would have incurred from an in-person, on-campus degree.

In being among some of the oldest and well-endowed universities, the Ivy League schools can rope in top-notch speakers from across disciplines and walks of life, including heads of states, presidents, and Nobel laureates. Opting to take short-term courses at any of these schools provides students with stellar exposure, hard to replicate outside the university system.

With this experience under their belt, students will find it easier to set themselves up for success. This is because as indicated by the Stanford project, exposure to one or multiple courses at any of the Ivy League schools will introduce them to an alternate idea of living and learning. It will no longer seem imperative to enrol in a multi-year, on-campus programme to attain a degree.

Instead, students will understand that learning is a lifelong project punctuated by time spent away in the workplace, to learn by doing, along with a return when required to college to further embellish domain knowledge.

But how are students to choose from the plethora of courses that are now widely available? There are several platforms that can play a pivotal role in serving as a bridge between students and universities, by helping students and their families choose the college that best fits a student's profile and interests, smoothening the path towards enrolling in a short-term, high-value course.

It can help students think through what they want to learn, by planning early, identifying the disciplines they have a proclivity for, zeroing in on which colleges they want to go to and connecting universities in turn with this cohort of prospective students.

Change is always hard. But as history has shown us, each shift provides us with new opportunities to grow, adapt and evolve.

The writer is founder-CEO, BrainGain Global

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