There has been a growing uptake of online learning platforms in the recent past.
These are online marketplaces that connect learners with courses and programmes from multiple providers such as Coursera, edX, Udemy and Udacity.
But though providing opportunities for institutions of higher learning to reach more students, they also pose a threat to competitors.
The Harvard Business Review, on December 21, last year, published insights by Boston University academics on how educational institutions should react to the growing presence of online platforms.
Whereas none has yet taken a dominant role like the top e-commerce giants, they will substantially affect the education industry as they target glaring inefficiencies in traditional learning institutions.
They have introduced low-cost alternative courses at all levels. Two, they more efficiently match learners and programmes by offering one-stop access to a broad selection of programmes.
Three, they fulfil labour-market needs by offering innovative programmes and credentials that appeal to career-focused learners, often developed with employers. Four, students do not have to travel abroad to study.
But traditional institutions can engage the platforms. First, maximise the value of learning platforms by taking advantage of early mover benefits. Identify opportunity areas and be the first to move there, creating a lasting competitive advantage and negotiating with platforms to be exclusive providers of defined subject areas for a certain period.
Data and innovation
Also, leverage the platforms’ data and innovation. They contain valuable data on educational demand and supply, vital in assisting institutions in designing programmes that maximally meet learner needs. Access the data and ideas that can improve programmes and take advantage of the global reach offered by most successful learning platforms.
Institutions, especially in Africa, may capitalise on the platforms to generate income instead of relying on government funding. They can design marketable short-course programmes that charge relatively higher fees and have a global reach.
Secondly, minimise the risks of dominant platforms that can “dictate strict terms to institutions” and “the takeover of the learning relationship”. Encourage competition among multiple platforms by participating in more than one.
Avoid being tied into long-term contractual relationships with one platform or use of its proprietary technology. Insist on using its own content delivery and learner-support technology and software, which make it possible to post content across multiple platforms.
Cultivate lasting relationships with learners. They are likely to continue to consume education to upskill and reskill as career requirements continuously evolve, something with which their original educational institutions are best placed to help.
Develop alumni portals with high-quality tools for researching career opportunities, suggesting personalised up- and re-skilling plans and leveraging alumni networks for career advice and opportunities.
Lastly, learning platforms offer great opportunities for institutions to innovatively upscale their programmes. Don’t feel threatened by them; take advantage of their global reach to create more value.
Dr Kakonge, PhD, is a development expert and former Kenya’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to UN Office and WTO in Geneva, Switzerland. [email protected]