CHENNAI: Fantasy and science fiction, forensic accounting and jazz improvisation -- the variety in online education is mind-boggling and, more importantly, gives Indians a chance from their middle class apartments in Chennai, with a good Internet connection, to be exposed to western methods of learning liberal arts, culture and music, as well as engineering, science and management.
The reversal of the concept of ‘school’, with the ‘class’ coming home, is still to pick up in India, but there is an audience that is fast reaping the benefits of online education. Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) is a fast spreading buzzword and ‘Coursera’, the popular online education platform began only in 2012, but it already has over nine million users and over 800 courses in association with 114 universities.
“Coursera appealed to me because the lectures by experts were free and accessible. I could do out-of-the-box courses like ‘How to Change the World’ and ‘Introduction to Banking and Finance’,” said Anirudh Kumar, an engineering student. “And the best part was that the lectures could be saved, so I could go back to them any time.”
While some students follow an interest, for instance, learning a subject like Greek Mythology that is rare to find in India, there are also many who do certified courses to help them in their career. Sheela Sharma who has a regular job and a passion for fitness took to online education when she wanted to become a nutrition expert. “I found a lot of flexibility in the course, I could do it along with my job, and if I didn’t understand something I could pause and read up,” she said. The flipside though, she added, comes from the same flexibility, as the free timings make it easy to procrastinate. Indian courses too have started taking off, and although the subjects are not as wide as the foreign courses, they have their market in engineering and management students. “We have around 3.5 lakh users now, where the majority age group is between 18 and 24,” said Vaidya Nathan, the founder and CEO of Classle Knowledge, a Chennai-based online learning platform. “Online education has not picked up pace in India because people here prefer individual coaching. We are trying to bridge this and develop the platform with an Indian context,” he said.
"What an Indian student demands is different from what a foreign university offers. In a foreign university everything is left to the student’s motivation, whereas in India, students want to be guided and given the extra push,” he said.
With online education making its way now to younger age groups and with school level free courses offered by places such as British Council, MOOC is here to stay.