Free Online Learning - A Scalable Solution to India's Skill Shortage

Date:   Wednesday , June 15, 2016

An Ireland based global online learning community, ALISON provides high-quality online education resources to learners in the areas of IT Literacy, English Language, Financial Literacy, Math, Business Skills and Health & Safety

The government of India\'s aim of creating a 500-million-strong skilled workforce by 2022 is both ambitious and an economic necessity. The only way to up-skill so many people in a meaningful way in such a short space of time is to embrace and develop the growing opportunity of free online learning. India and the world must face this unique challenge together; it is estimated that by 2022, 17 percent of the world\'s workforce will reside in India making the up-skilling imperative not just an Indian but an international one. According to a 2014 Economic report by the National Skills Development Authority, only two percent of India\'s workforce is adequately skilled for the modern workplace.

Free workplace learning solutions pioneered since 2005 are changing the up-skilling landscape of the world of work at a very rapid pace. Free learning ecologies have the capacity not just to change and empower individual lives, but to change and empower whole economies. Freemium models hold the greatest potential. The view of \'Free\' services as somehow inferior is being left well behind as people fully accept and engage with other no cost services such as Facebook, Google and LinkedIn, knowing full well that a flexible business model allows these companies to be both free and hugely profitable at the same time.

Free learning ecologies mean that the cost of providing education and skill training is not borne by the student directly, but by advertising and the sale of optional parchment and other learner premium (paid) management solutions. All learners can access the learning for free once they can gain access to the internet, currently estimated at 35 percent of the population of 1.36 billion people.

For India, the free online learning revolution matters most in regard to practical workplace skills training, helping people to upskill and to secure better-paid employment. India needs modern workplace skills, from accounting to project management, from digital literacy skills to human resource management and from sales and marketing to coding skills. In a Manpower group Survey, 67 percent of Indian employers reported that they struggle to find employees with the necessary skillset.

Upskilling a nation is more than providing free courses. Now, free online solutions involve tapping the entire knowledge resource of a nation, creating free publishing, learner management and testing solutions, essentially driving all education and learning costs to zero through the harnessing of a massive online learning platform. Basic educational and skills training content offers the advantage that it changes very little at a basic level, hence can be almost entirely digitised, and once digitised, the marginal costs of sharing it are minimal. Any Indian business or expert will be able to develop their own courses at very little cost in the future.

The Role of the Indian Government

For India to become the global competitive powerhouse, it must unleash the full productive capabilities of its people through free online learning ecologies. The Indian Government must play a direct role in bridging the skills gap with online learning through three clear policies.

Firstly, it could mandate that free online informal learning becomes an integral part of any hiring and promotional decisions across public and semi-state recruitment. Evidence of successful free online learning achievement substantiates a candidate\'s assertion that they are self-motivated, keen to keep their skills up-to-date, and are interested in being competitive and productive in the workplace. Were Government to ask for such evidence, it would comprehensively deliver the message that free online lifelong learning is important, relevant and valued.

Secondly, the Indian Government could specify that new hires and current employees must complete and successfully graduate from a series of free online courses related to their new or current positions. This programme can start with a minimal number of courses countrywide - but it will begin to inculcate a tradition and expectation of online learning. This not only means new employees have higher skills levels and knowledge when they join state employment, it also cements informal and lifelong online learning into the fabric of new employment hiring practices.

Thirdly, the Indian Government,through economic or tax incentives, should encourage private industry, from large corporations to small businesses, to follow suit and integrate free online learning into their hiring and employment practices across their organisations. Encouraging business to create basic-level online courses for training purposes will both make industry less reliant on others - including government - for its workforce training needs, and allow individuals to become more competitive, enabling them to make better choices in what they work at, and where they work.

Adopting new technologies and methodologies however requires new thinking and bold departures from the old. That\'s where leadership comes in, and the inspiring words and actions of Prime Minister Modi in this regard are encouraging enough for us to believe India is serious in its mass up-skilling intent.

Besides the clear economic imperative of up-skilling for India, Prime Minister Modi\'s acknowledgement of the personal empowerment potential of free learning, especially among the poor resonates. Research tells us time and time again that nearly every free online learning graduate gains confidence and a greater appetite for further learning when they successfully complete a course. As Prime Minister Modi has stated, \'the Skill India mission is not merely to fill pockets, but to bring a sense of self-confidence among the poor\'.

Visiting Ireland last September, Prime Minister Modi stated that \'India and Ireland are ideally placed to form productive partnerships to take advantage of the opportunities in the digital age\'.