History has shown that every crisis comes with a hidden opportunity. When Chinese customers were reluctant to step out of their homes during the SARS outbreak in 2003, major retailers moved online—this catalysed the rise of e-commerce. The job losses of the great recession led to a rise of the gig economy.
The year 2020 will be remembered as a milestone year for education, jobs and skills. Millions of students globally moved online, enterprises embraced digital workforce learning and governments empowered citizens to learn new skills. The evolution of learning during the crisis will have a far-reaching impact. I see 10 major trends from 2020 shaping a systemic transformation in how Indian students and workers will learn through the decade ahead.
When the crisis hit, many Indian colleges could rapidly adapt by integrating ready-made online courseware from leading global institutions into their curriculum—they matched and deployed the most relevant courses online. But beyond ensuring learning continuity, this could become a way for colleges to provide students with a consistently upgraded, up-to-date education.
With digital capabilities ramped up, colleges are now well-placed to supplement a foundational campus curriculum with curated online courses from the world’s best institutes. This would allow universities to continuously refresh offerings, keeping pace with technology shifts and building industry-relevant skills to make their students employable.
Reimagining enterprise skilling
Many companies met employees’ learning needs remotely with a push towards digital learning. As cosmetics leader L’Oreal reported, prior to the pandemic about 90% of internal training took place in person, with about 10% taking courses online—those numbers have shifted significantly. The accelerated adoption of online learning through this crisis brought continuity and flexibility to learning programs, enabling employees to develop the critical skills they need to adapt in a shifting economy. Looking ahead, online learning may serve a larger purpose—to build a workforce of continuous learners who chart their own learning paths and development plans, learning at their own pace to achieve personal growth and deliver professional impact.
Rise of ‘hands-on’ learning in a post-Covid world
With face-to-face training and internships cancelled, many students turned to ‘hands-on’ learning to demonstrate to employers their ability to apply job-relevant skills and in-demand tools like Google Sheets, WordPress, Python and TensorFlow. This trend boomed through the Covid-19 crisis. In a post-Covid world, such learning will advance the online experience, helping students and workers immediately apply their skills. I anticipate employers on their part will look for and encourage hands-on learning proficiency—Infosys recently tied up with Arizona State University (ASU), giving ASU students applied project experience in “playgrounds,” to run demos and practice exercises, with the goal of making them career-ready.
The mobile phone emerged as the device of choice for students across India through this crisis. With falling data costs and industry reports pegging smartphone users at 820 million in India by 2022, this could be a game-changer in the future. It would open up a world-class education online to millions of students in India, enabling them to learn anytime, anywhere.
The way to a top-quality, affordable college education
Spending on education is a major financial burden for Indian households— a tertiary-level education is unaffordable for most working people, according to indicators in the latest NSSO survey of “Household Social Consumption of Education in India.” Yet students across India continue to aspire to a quality education that is life-changing. In the near future, with just a smartphone, students will be able to learn from the best universities in the world online, at a fraction of the total cost of a prestigious campus education. Leading online learning platforms are enhancing features that support mobile learning, while also making it easier for students to download and learn offline, saving on data costs and improving access tremendously.
Bridging the digital divide
Even with the surge in smartphone adoption, this crisis has focused attention on India’s digital divide. An article in the World Economic Forum calls out “huge regional and household disparities,” with uneven access to technology, internet connectivity, and electricity. The government and the private sector must come together to ramp up the digital technology infrastructure—address erratic electricity supply and internet connectivity, high data costs, and insufficient internet-enabled devices. The Covid-19 crisis has sparked a much-needed debate, putting the issue on the radar of policy makers and citizens to find solutions that can level access, without which students cannot benefit from transformational learning opportunities online.
Governments step up to drive the skilling agenda
Across the world, we are now seeing governments deepening their commitment to drive upskilling and reskilling for citizens through online learning—a trend born out of this crisis. Stepping up their involvement, state governments in India, including Tamil Nadu Skill Development Corporation, Telangana Academy for Skill and Knowledge, Uttar Pradesh Skill Development Mission and The Odisha Skills Development Authority have taken critical steps to make job-relevant online learning available to local communities, equipping impacted citizens with the skills they needed to be employable again.
A recent APAC report by the International Labour Organization and Asian Development Bank has called for “urgent, large-scale and targeted measures” by governments to keep education and training on track for impacted youth who have been harder hit than older workers. This will be crucial to protect potential gains from India’s demographic dividend.
Growing demand for skill-based credentials
Workers in India looked to build industry-relevant skills to stand out in a crisis-hit job market. Enrollments for high-value digital skills across data science and cloud computing jumped from 2019 to 2020 amongst Indian learners -- their relevance grew as the crisis fast-tracked digital transformation across industries.
Overall, we anticipate ‘employability’ and ‘job relevance’ will continue to be top considerations for learner choices. Professional Certificates like Google IT Support, IBM Data Science, Google Cloud Networking, and Facebook Social Media Marketing Professional Certificate offer even low-skilled workers opportunities to enter digital fields.
Catalyst for lifelong learning
Across the world, we believe that cultivating lifelong learning is now a major priority in the global knowledge economy with its ever-changing technology and skills. The increased adoption of online learning last year has created a springboard for such a learning culture to take root and flourish.
Beyond campus education, online learning will allow Indians to build skills throughout their working lives. Not tied down by a physical classroom, they would be able to learn as they work, studying in snackable modules, stacking smaller credentials and in-demand industry certifications on the way to a promotion, or a degree -- learning for life in a way that fits into their lives.
Learning to thrive
The nature of this crisis has refocused societal attention on mental well-being and the soft skills we all need to thrive. In India, we saw a 745 percent YoY enrollment growth in personal development courses, including The Science of Well-Being by Yale University and Learning How to Learn by University of California San Diego and McMaster University.
In another inspiring move, pharma company Novartis opened up its learning ecosystem to friends and families of employees, acknowledging that not just employees, but their children are learning from home as well. This is a powerful reminder that employee well-being and solidarity are as crucial for business productivity.
2020 was a year of experimentation for learning in India. But as we enter the new year, it’s time to reflect on what we can build on. With the right digital learning models and greater access, we believe future generation of students and workers in India will be able to fulfill their potential through new opportunities, contributing to the economic growth and prosperity of India in the decade ahead.
Views are personal. The author is Managing Director, India and APAC, Coursera.