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IIM Bangalore Drives a Digital Revolution in Business Education

The management school is extending elite caliber education to 180 countries by offering free online business courses.
BY Uttara Choudhury |   15-09-2015

Dr Sushil Vachani, Director, IIM Bangalore believes the sudden burst
of MOOCs is the most visible way digital technologies can reshape Indian universities.

The prestigious Indian Institute of Management Bangalore is extending high quality education to mass new global audiences by using technology to revolutionize traditional learning. It is offering free online business courses through the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) edX platform, founded by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In July 2015, IIMBx rolled out a popular course on Business Statistics with plans for offering short and sharp online courses on business topics ranging from Innovation and IT Management to Operations Management. It's still early days, but students have embraced the idea.

"We are very happy with the response to the six courses we have announced  — four which are open for enrollment and two which we have just completed. We have 60,000 people registered from about 180 countries," says Dr Sushil Vachani, Director, IIM Bangalore.

"This is the first time we have been able to put our educational content in front of people in 180 countries. That's really exciting."

Stellar Lectures from the Best Professors

While edX takes care of the whole technology piece, IIM Bangalore is focused on developing the high quality online course material.

The school has roped in its world class professors to rollout 10 courses in the first 12 months. After the sixth course goes online in September-October, IIMBx will launch a new course every six weeks. IIM Bangalore has shown great commitment to its MOOC development initiative with 15% of the faculty signed on to develop online courses.

"We have a team of about 25 people right now who are working on our first ten courses. The professors teaching these courses are among our best teachers," says Dr Vachani.

"When you think of using technology for delivering education, you think that this is a mass solution — one shoe fits all. But in reality, the development of MOOCs will eventually allow our professors to develop techniques that will tailor course delivery to individual needs. The professors who are teaching these online courses have to carefully dissect what they are doing. They get feedback all the time and think very cleverly about being effective at a distance. They can also test the efficacy of alternate ways of explaining concepts."

The IIMBx offerings embrace the "active learning" process whereby students engage in activities, such as listening, watching, reading, or problem solving which promotes analysis. The lectures have been divided into segments, for easier online viewing.

Producers have mixed in graphs, photos, videos, illustrations and captions, and kept the duration of each segment under 6-9 minutes. Each concept is explained using a carefully designed learning sequence that intersperses byte-sized videos with quizzes, readings and assignments. Discussion forums add to the peer learning experience.

People in the open online course can earn a certificate of completion and even get an ID verified certificate by paying $25.

Extending Elite Caliber Education to the Masses

As the world's second-most populous country, India is home to roughly 600 million people under the age of 25. Simply put, there are not enough existing colleges and universities to educate the country's young people. Dr Vachani says that in many ways, technology now empowers schools to extend elite caliber education to the masses who wouldn't otherwise have access to anything close. MOOCs offer not only free courses online, but also a system of testing, grading, peer-to-peer learning and certificates for completion that opens up higher education to the masses.

We all know that big breakthroughs happen when what is suddenly possible meets what is desperately necessary. Keeping this in mind, Dr Vachani stresses that the sudden burst of MOOCs is one of the most visible ways that digital technologies can reshape Indian universities. Online technology promises dramatic improvements in the access to higher education. Internet connections can deliver college classrooms to people in the most remote parts of India.

"When you use technology and design your programs well, the variable cost of reaching every incremental person is quite low provided the person has access to the Internet," says Dr Vachani.

"It will be far too expensive to educate the hundreds of millions of people who need to be educated through brick-and-mortar universities. There just isn't enough real estate on which you can put all those universities. Even with the universities we have, there aren't enough teachers."

The fact is, students do not need to be on campus to experience some of the key benefits of top quality education.

"We want to create social impact by providing free online courses which are meaningful for the larger population which cannot come to an IIM. We have a social agenda here. Of the 60,000 learners signed up for our courses, about one third are from India," points out Dr Vachani.

"We would like to eventually launch courses for micro-enterprises, small businessmen and entrepreneurs, who never get the kind of education we deliver. We impart education that goes to produce managers for top-notch companies. That's great, we will continue to do that, but we would like to have a broader impact.

"If we have to achieve our prime minister's vision of 'Make in India' we have to upgrade the skill of the vast majority of workers and we have to provide support to all those people who are struggling at it," he adds.

Into the Classroom

MOOCs are also making real bricks-and-mortar classrooms more interesting, more effective.

"The professors teaching online courses all say that they are not going back to the classroom the same people. They are carrying so many discoveries from online learning into their classrooms," observes Dr Vachani.

Many residential courses that have IIMBx counterparts will be able to use online resources to support residential instruction. Professors will be able to adopt online units or modules to illustrate and enliven certain parts of their instruction.

Uttara Choudhury is Editor, North America for TV 18’s Firstpost news site and a writer for Forbes India. In 1997, she went on the British Chevening Scholarship to study Journalism in the University of Westminster, in London.

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