I've been going on a Udemy shopping spree, especially since they've been giving massive discounts on amazing courses (up to 90% off!). It also helps that the Skillsfuture grant applies to a select range of courses too. I never understood shopping sprees, but I think I do now. Udemy has courses for a wide range of disciplines, from art to engineering and even health-related skills - like sleeping!
This is nothing new though. YouTube has plenty of courses taught by enthusiastic bloggers (and the occasional expert), but quality is usually questionable. Udemy has a ratings and comments system to help users identify the good courses from the unimpressive ones. In my opinion thus far, the ratings haven't let me down.
So what do I have against formal education? Well, in my short time spent learning online, a lot. Paying a premium for onsite education is a dying business in my opinion. Here's why:
"He who can, does; he who cannot, teaches."
Yes, I know it's unfair to generalise all lecturers, trainers, teachers and 'facilitators' as less capable than their industry counterparts. But industry folks do have extensive and relevant experience in the real-world, and they're always updated on the latest in technology and processes.
Professional educators based in a university or a school may be better at delivering knowledge, but an actual expert somewhere else in the world might have both the teaching skills AND superior knowledge to do better. It's a game of numbers in finding a good talent to teach in locally versus finding a great talent in the world to teach remotely.
Moreover, a lot of relevant knowledge these days are still "not-in-syllabus". It's because course notes need to be drafted, developed, tested and approved by a bureaucracy of fellow lecturers, administrators and professional bodies. Meanwhile, someone taking a month-long break can film 10 hours of video, edited with snappy sequences with on-camera examples, and then release it on Udemy, Coursera or EDX.
By the time the lecturer finishes his "introduction to <insert new technology>", the software has undergone a major revision, 20% of his screenshots are outdated, some software libraries are deprecated and students are wondering why they're getting compilation errors on their worked examples.
It's worth mentioning again, that online educators are constantly judged by ruthless students who are always a click away from a one-star review. These guys need to be on their toes, responding to queries, troubleshooting problems and maintain updated course content.
On the other hand, trainers have a feedback form that students need to fill AFTER the course is completed. Sure, they may be axed in their year-end performance review, but that's after training batches and batches of students ineffectively.
Even more ineffective are academics who have to teach as part of their job, the other part being research. I've attended lectures that would have been better delivered in the lecturer's native tongue. I've seen lecturers who read off slides after slides, and then end it off with a recommendation to purchase a textbook for further reading. I've also had lecturers who delivered lectures with the eloquence of a rock. While they are still actively teaching in universities and polytechnics, online courses are covering the same content at a lower cost, with updated content, engaging slides and the ability to revisit the same lessons over and over again.
Of course, this is computer engineering. Some disciplines are more susceptible to disruption by online courses - computer engineering, mathematics, design, business, the arts and social sciences. Basically, if the course does not require a dedicated laboratory with specialised equipment, the entire class can be conducted online. With this assumption, at least half of the courses can be replaced easily with trainers from across the world.
Paper qualifications still matter today, and many people still value post graduate degrees to further their employability and personal network. But in recent years, some professions have started favouring professional qualifications over formal degrees, like the ACCA for accountants, the CISSP for internet security consultants, the Google/Facebook certifications for digital marketers and the PMP for project managers.
These courses are licensed by industry bodies, not formal academic institutions. This could also be due to the fact that many of these professions were created only in recent years, and universities have not caught up with them yet.
Online platforms like Udemy and Coursera also issue certificates of completion. Coursera is working with academic bodies to provide accredited certifications, which might eventually pose a threat to formal diplomas and degrees currently issued only by universities and colleges.
So what can formal education institutions do?
Some universities are already taking action. Harvard and Stanford are among the bigger names that have released video recordings of their classes for the world, some for free and others at a huge discount to their onsite classes. Other universities are embracing remote classes as a way to earn a degree or academic certificate. This is the way forward.
I may sound very dismissive of formal education, the institutions and the educators. No, I owe them a lot for guiding me to where I am today. Startups owe them a round of gratitude for the knowledge and skills to build online learning platforms. Silicon Valley owes them for bringing tech-savvy individuals together in one location. But where we once had no choice but to go to a physical school to learn, the internet has brought us better quality courses for a lot cheaper, and it's time for universities to evolve and produce higher standards in education at lower costs.
They've had a good run for hundreds of centuries. Right now, I hope they can last the next decade.
About this blog
Mostly startup and tech stuff. An occasional rant or two. Travel-related articles are published on my other blog.