The Changing Landscape of Online Education

As consumers crave personalized experiences, education is no exception.

GUEST COLUMN | by Chase Jarvis

CREDIT CreativeLive Yasmin Abdi.pngThe concept is almost amusingly anachronistic today, but not so long ago learning beyond the four walls of a classroom meant something called “distance learning” in which students traveled to “satellite centers” or branch campuses to watch live broadcasts of classes. Yes, it provided some degree of access, but it was far from convenient or engaging.

But a lot has changed since then. Today, technology is putting the power where it belongs: in the hands of students. With the combination of cloud technology and connected devices students can, for the first time in history, truly learn anytime, anywhere.

Knowing that engagement is key to both comprehension and retention, we must make learning even more immersive for all students.

According to Gartner, more than 20.8 billion connected devices will be on the market by 2020. This represents an opportunity for us to give millions—possibly even billions—of students access to a world-class education. But to reach this new audience, the education industry must adapt and develop new models that deliver experiences tailored to the unique needs of each student. As an industry, we’ve made tremendous progress on this front, but there’s still much work to be done.

We need new models that better align education with the way we live and work today. The traditional four-year college degree is often a poor match for the reality of today’s employment marketplace (the “skill economy”) in which workers are defined primarily by the skills they’ve learned and the results of applying them. And job security is largely a thing of the past: recent college grads will average nearly three jobs in their first five years alone in the workforce, according to a LinkedIn Economic Graph report. As I’ve often said, our parents had one job, we will have five, and our kids will have five at the same time.

The future of online education isn’t simply streaming English 101; it’s a re-thinking of the entire system with a student-first paradigm. The classes must reflect the mix of hard and soft skills that’s so highly prized in today’s job market, and the virtual classroom must harness new technologies to create immersive, interactive and personalized experiences.

My company, formed in 2010, is among a set of new entrants using technology to bring world-class education to non-traditional students and equip them with the skills to thrive in the new workplace. We connect the world’s top experts in creativity and entrepreneurship with students across the planet via a rich, engaging learning experience centered on our virtual classroom. Reaching more than 10 million students to date through streaming video, supported by IBM Cloud Video solutions, we bring the power of live video to a global audience.

Yasmin Abdi, a former Somali refugee who is now a professional photographer in Sacramento, Calif., (pictured, above) is just one example of how this new model of education is changing lives. Yasmin had a passion to learn but limited education opportunities—until she discovered our free streaming photography classes. With the opportunity to further her learning through non-traditional methods, coupled with the availability of technology to stream content across the globe (and some plenty of hard work on her part), Yasmin created a new path for her life and turned her passion into her career.

While Yasmine’s success story is heartwarming and invigorating, we have an imperative to continue evolving the technology and how we apply it. Knowing that engagement is key to both comprehension and retention, we must make learning even more immersive for all students. Facilitating dynamic discussions between the instructor and their students (and peer-to-peer discussions between students) replicates the vital social learning component of brick-and-mortar classrooms. Every student, regardless of physical location, should feel like they’re present in the classroom and part of a community of passionate learners.

We must also use new cognitive technologies to create personalized experiences. The ultimate goal in the marriage of education and technology is providing students with the opportunity to continue their education, whether their intent is picking up a new hobby or forging a new career path, as Yasmin was able to do.

Cutting-edge technologies, like cloud and cognitive capabilities, will continue to be the catalyst for game-changing innovation in education. Cloud will offer the ability to deliver high-quality live-streamed content while new cognitive technologies promise to help us better understand what people want to learn and how they learn it.

For example, cognitive technology will give us deep insights on each and every one of our students – what they like to learn, how often they’re streaming, feedback they have on the classes they’ve taken, and more. By understanding the nuances of each student, we’ll be better able to personalize the experience to meet their learning needs in a way even the most dedicated teachers would be challenged to do at this scale.

It may seem like education has come a long way since those “remote learning centers,” but I believe we’re just at the beginning of a tectonic shift in how we educate students and fuel their passions for fulfilling careers.

With millions of new, non-traditional learners coming online every year, the need for innovation in education is greater than ever. And now, by continuing to harness new technology, we’re able to deliver on the promise of online education. It’s up to us—the ones at the helm of this new industry—to embrace the new technologies, use them to create new models of learning and, most of all, to leave no stone unturned in the search to better serve our students.

Chase Jarvis is the founder and CEO of CreativeLive, a provider of over 1,500 classes curated by over 650 experts serving more than 10 million students with creative classes, inspiration, and tips in these areas: photo and video, art and design, music and audio, crafter and maker, and money and life.

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