Education is one of the last remaining industries to not have been completely disrupted by automation and technology over the last 20 years. Manufacturing, travel, retail, finance and marketing, all have undergone massive change. Incumbents have lost their past relevance or completely died. Why was education as an industry by and large unaffected?
What can be automated?
Let us take a few examples of disruption over the last 20 years. We were accustomed to going to a brick and mortar retailer and be greeted by a shop floor executive who would help us get what we want and bill that. Now with the click of a button and sometimes not even that, we get the item we want delivered at our homes. In the past, we had to step outside to book a cab or call someone to book flight tickets.
Now all those services are again available with the click of button immediately. Soon driver less cars will make even the driver redundant. If you think jobs that require skilled talent -- say engineering -- are immune, think again. Advances in artificial intelligence and automation are already disrupting the Indian outsourcing services industry, as evidenced by the sea of change affecting companies such as Infosys.
Services industries with repeatable steps are prone to technology disruption.
What cannot be automated?
Why have online courses from the same fantastic teachers not replaced them in a physical classroom? Even live virtual classes where a great teacher directly teaches a group of students don't seem to have had a significant impact. The difference here seems to be the fact that by and large these services are intangible.
Unlike a car that arrives at your door step or a flight ticket, here what we receive is not a commodity. We learn something new or feel better. For this to happen, a bond of trust has to be first created between the provider and the receiver before the receiver perceives value.
Even if the service provided in an online environment is of similar quality, the receiver does not trust it completely and hence does not perceive value. In an intimate classroom setting, even with 60 other students, we have experienced this trust and relationship with our teachers.
Consequently, online education and learning has not been able to disrupt classroom learning.
So why can't we live with that?
Great teachers are unfortunately far and few in between. This means that the vast majority of us are robbed of a phenomenal learning experience. Disruption, while not great for the incumbents, is of tremendous value to the consumers. As we saw with earlier examples, disruption improves the accessibility and quality of services. In the case of education, if a truly online offering succeeds in the market, many more learners from all over the world can learn from the best teachers and have great outcomes.
Is there a solution?
An interesting model emerging in the recent past few years is Mentored Learning. In this model, highly trained mentors support learners along their online learning journey. Best in class learning material, which includes lecture videos, presentations, data sets, assessments and so on are created and updated by great teachers online.
However, as the great teachers are not in plenty, this curriculum is delivered virtually by mentors who are practitioners and experts in these areas. Learners meet mentors routinely one-on-one or in a small group online and build relationships over multiple months. In addition to teaching and walking through examples, the mentors keep learners on track, give personalized feedback on assessments and also clear doubts during the one-on-one live virtual sessions.
By building this relationship over time, learners have the opportunity to build trust. Consequently, learners not only experience an intense learning experience, they also perceive a much higher value over time.
Is there a success story?
An example close to home is Great Learning's completely online programme -- the Business Analytics Certificate Program (BACP). While observing learner success and progress, we noticed that course completion and engagement was not tracking what we usually observe.
While our blended programs have over 90 per cent completion rate, for BACP we were seeing a completion rate similar to what other online providers such as Coursera and Udacity publish.
To improve engagement we introduced mentored learning as an additional feature in BACP.We then saw a significant reversal in trends and a final completion rate of over 80 per cent for the batch. As a result of the above success story, we believe that mentored learning is a disruptive mechanism through which high quality education can be made accessible to millions of learners around the world online without sacrificing outcomes.