Emerging Education Trends: Online Degrees and Certificates

future of education

Our current educational system is one of the oldest, least evolved systems in the World. The way in which it has been delivering knowledge has not changed (much) during the past century. Considering how much change technology has brought to some, even most basic, fundamental ways we go about our lives, this is a rather strange “phenomenon”. Even questionable, sceptics would (and do) argue. But we’re not here to question that.

The Next Educational Revolution

We are just happy to be living through the preliminary stages of the next educational revolution, right? Even though some of us might not be aware of this, it is happening – and is doing so in the form of online degrees and certificates. Yes, they have been around for quite some time now. However, it is only in the past two-three years that the public perception of the quality of education acquired this way matches that of a traditional education.

And it’s not only the public perception. Businesses and Governments have only recently started valuing and accrediting online degrees and certificates equally as much as the ‘regular’ ones – especially in new, rapidly-evolving sectors (such as for example Cloud Computing), in which the demand for expertise outnumbers it’s supply. Many ‘futurists’ argue that most of secondary education and learning in general will become of an “on-demand” nature within the next several decades, and that people will be acquiring expertise and specializations through specific, 1-2 year courses – as opposed to spending four years of a lifetime on learning rather general and broad concepts. A recent study conducted by LinkedIn found that Millenials normally switch between four different jobs within their first decade out of college (while Generation X averaged two job switches in the same time period).

The number of individuals who are now enrolling for online courses and distance learning degrees is and has been on a constant rise. In the United States, over 35 million people have enrolled in online courses over the past four years, while the year 2015 saw the number of enrolments double since the previous year. These statistics include courses offered directly through Universities, through mediator organizations such as Coursera, EdX, or Udacity as well as though corporate training programs. At the moment, most of the online degree enrolments, according to “Coursera”, involve subjects in Business & Management (16.8%), Computer Science (9.74%) and Social Sciences (10.8%), but new subjects and courses are being introduced on the almost daily basis.

Those who might be interested in University-offered online degrees in the UK should look into institutions like NC IUL, where students have the opportunity to learn at their own, desired pace and monitor their progress through the University’s e-platform (accessible via any device connected to the Internet), as well as the option of accessing any and all lessons 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The lessons are usually available in different formats in order to cater to different learning preferences students might have. At the moment, the most common formats include videos (lecture recordings and video-conferencing), Power-Point slides, downloadable (PDF) materials and self-assessment tests. The platforms, like that of NC IUL, normally provide students with forums, chat rooms and other media of communication meant to facilitate the interaction between students, tutors and professors.

Why only now?

You might be wondering how come online learning is only gaining momentum now, after almost two decades of it’s presence. The answer lies somewhere in between technological, social and business model evolutions that we have seen in the past decade. First came the technological advancements that made online lectures and learning resources accessible not just from one’s home, but from anywhere, at any time, and on any device – be it a cell phone, laptop or a tablet. Of course, the fact that anything related to accessing the Internet (from both the point of view of the institutions and the private individuals) has become significantly cheaper plays an important role too.

Then there is the upward shift in contemporary society’s valuation of education. The global job market (now more global than ever) is at an all time high in terms of the job market competition, and people have never in the past been as motivated to add a new section to their CV as they are today. Finally, (and most importantly, I find) it is the evolution in the previous business model that made the entire idea financially feasible to the majority. In the past, most of these courses and degrees cost a lot of money and were only affordable to a certain segment of the population.

Today, most of the courses are offered for free. Either they offer the initial, “Introduction to…” courses, and earn their revenues through those that get ‘hooked’ and go on to pursue full degrees, or they offer complete ones and the revenue comes from those that decide to buy the actual certificate. The actual learning and knowledge are ultimately completely costless. This means that you can start a course, complete a course, earn the knowledge and skill, and only later decide whether you want to pay for the accredited certificate (in case you’re applying for a job in the industry related to the course). Isn’t this something we’ve all been waiting for? Being able to ‘try out’ a career before devoting our life to it?

About tikichris

London-Based Writer/Photographer

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