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Op-Ed: Virtual firms bet on digital to change education industry

While there’s an ongoing debate about national academic standards and testing scores, most technology observers believe that today’s tech-savvy crowd are continually marching towards digital learning and online curriculums.

Online curriculums

“We are living in a world where technology changes fast,” says Ashish Kumar, a director at Zeolearn, a virtual training company, in an email to Digital Journal. “By harnessing the power of the Internet, traditional classrooms have given way to virtual ones. Students and trainees should be treated as customers, and they should have access to the facilities of classroom training without actually attending one.”

At the core of improvements in student learning is the greater use of market forces — such as free market competition between service providers — to enhance the customers’ (i.e., students) experience, lower costs, and higher test scores. And such digital-based changes, proponents argue, could improve kids’ learning by optimizing the learning process (through the use of self-paced modules and personalized attention by subject matter experts); by improving platforms and delivery methods; and by making digital curriculums more cost-effective than capital-intensive classrooms, libraries, cafeterias, and university campuses.

“E-learning has the power to engage, inspire and motivate the learner–far beyond any traditional classroom experience can,” says Kumar. “It’s time to take learning into the future. In today’s technology-powered world, learning environments that are virtual make perfect sense.”

There are different ways of delivering lessons online, but Zeolearn is betting that real-time training from working professionals is the pathway to success in an increasingly competitive industry. To differentiate its curriculums, the company focuses on emerging technologies such as Hadoop, Ruby and Rails, Full Stack Development, Mean Stack, and development of smartphone apps.

The company also views students as customers. On Zeolearn’s website, users see the ratings of the courses, student comments, and how many have taken the classes. The social proof helps students to select which classes are appropriate to take. And when experts provide training, the discussion goes beyond a dialogue about abstract theories. Most students expect an eventual payoff, and therefore, the virtual courses are all about applying the lessons in future projects with real world employers.

Learning in the 21st Century

There may be an ongoing national debate about education standards, but many in the audience are skeptical — indeed cynical — of the politically-charged controversies that may altogether miss the value of online curriculums. Aside from school curriculums, digital methods can be applied towards vocational training, and help lift millions of Americans out of the shadows by giving them the tools to succeed in the knowledge economy. In the 21st Century, learning must enable students to learn in relevant, real world contexts that teach them skills and make them job-ready.

Many observers argue that desks, paper-based notebooks, and centralized institutions are marching towards obsolescence. Ultimately, the results produced by online learning providers will likely provide the more persuasive arguments in favor of changing age-old traditions in a highly resistant industry. Some politicians have called today’s schools as part of an education-industrial complex that are comprised of district superintendents and college-tenured deans.

Fortunately, the resistance found in this “education complex” hasn’t stopped disruptive innovations from forcing positive change. Many online learning providers leverage their Web-based modules to offer job training in high-demand professions such as app development, computer programming, and other IT skills. It will take several influential stakeholders to adopt these emerging approaches to learning and skill development.

If the United States is to fully leverage its IT infrastructure, these digital programs should be qualified to be eligible for government vouchers, subsidies, and enhanced tax deductions and credits. That would help students improve their knowledge, and empower workers to polish their skills. Government support makes it more likely that online curriculum can qualify for college credit, continuing education requirements, and employer-sponsored training.

“Traditional learning makes education collaborative, interactive and engaging,” says Kumar, adding: “E-learning is where the future of education is headed.”

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