The world is changing at a faster rate than ever before. Working professionals need to constantly adapt and learn new skills if they want to stay relevant and continue to add value - is online education a viable solution to staying competitive in today’s workplace?
It’s currently estimated that the amount of knowledge in the world is doubling every 13 months. According to IBM, the ongoing trend towards a “the internet of things” will quickly lead to a world in which the doubling of our collective human knowledge happens every 12 hours.
This, combined with the rapid adoption of technology in every sector of the economy, means that working professionals need to constantly adapt and learn new skills if they want to stay relevant and continue to add value in their careers.
HR executives worldwide are reporting the “skills gap” as the single greatest organisational challenge faced in 2014, and Forbes Magazine predicts that this trend will continue to gain ground until tertiary education curriculums are revised to better align with the demands of today’s job market.
In South Africa, the University of Cape Town (UCT) partners with the country’s leading online education provider, GetSmarter, to present a portfolio of over 60 university-approved online short courses, in the hopes of addressing the growing need for industry-relevant skills development and training among working professionals who may not be able to study full-time.
“We have to recognise that the educational needs of modern working professionals have changed,” says GetSmarter’s Chief Academic Officer Rob Paddock. “The existing higher education system worked exceptionally well for the industrial era economy, at a time when information was scarce, and change happened slowly. Now that we’ve entered the information era, that has all changed. Modern careerists now have to become lifelong learners if they wish to stay relevant and advance their professional ambitions.
“And that’s where online short courses, particularly those offered by the University of Cape Town and GetSmarter, are servicing an important need in the market. Throughout their careers, modern working professionals need to learn, unlearn and relearn without having to quit their job and go back to University. By completing online short courses from the comfort of their own home, working professionals can keep their skills up to date, and receive a certificate from a top University to validate their competence.”
UCT’s online short courses are delivered entirely online, through GetSmarter’s Virtual Learning Environment, over the course of 6, 10, or 12 weeks. Course categories include Business and Management; Finance; Entrepreneurship; Arts and Design; Systems and Technology; Health and Wellness; Real Estate; Talent Management; Writing; and Law. Each course is presented by an industry expert who engages with learners daily via the online discussion forum, and offers individual written feedback on all assignments submitted over the duration of the course.
“Support of this nature ensures that learners remain motivated throughout their online learning journey,” explains Paddock. “In our experience, average completion rates are as high as 90%. “Our online education philosophy brings the art and science of learning together with technology and people to provide a meaningful and interactive learning experience that benefits from the latest advances in online learning technologies.
“The high-touch support model provides learners with personalised support from a dedicated Course Coach, and ongoing access to a Course Instructor - the industry expert. As learning is enhanced when done in collaboration, a range of social learning activities are also practised with the virtual classmates. Proactive approaches to designing learning activities around real-world situations foster relevant, concrete skills development.”
The latest PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) global survey of over 1,300 CEOs in over 68 countries worldwide revealed a telling local trend related to what UCT and GetSmarter have set out to achieve: Compared to their global peers, South African CEOs are slightly more likely to invest substantially in filling talent gaps, with over 89% of those surveyed planning to make major development changes to their strategies for managing talent in the next 12 months.
According to GetSmarter, over one third of their current learners have their short course fees paid for by their employers. Because these UCT short courses are entirely distance-based and completed online, they don’t interfere with regular work schedules and the skills gained part-time can be immediately applied in the workplace to make a visible difference in the employee’s current role.
With over 20,000 South Africans already having taken one of UCT’s online short courses - and 83% of those professionals reporting experiencing career advancement in some form within six months of receiving their UCT certificate - online education appears to be gaining momentum as a recognised means for ambitious professionals to expand their skillsets and drastically increase their economic competitiveness.