Learning lays it on the line

EDUCATION is no longer confined to a lecture room, thanks to technology-enhanced learning.

With an internet connection, you can click into a world of information. The myriad online courses range from IT skills to foreign languages. The leaders in online learning are US-based, such as the Khan Academy, Udemy and Coursera. But Ireland is catching up: Hibernia College offers teacher training.

Today’s competitive climate means even people established in jobs cannot rest on their laurels. The constant need to be more proficient in your field is enabled by keeping up to speed from the comfort of your own home.

For the unemployed, the FÁS e-learning service is an obvious port of call for attempting to negotiate the market-place.

Why not use your free time to learn something new to add to your CV? Mothers and fathers working in the home can also benefit from online learning.

A Galway-based company is spearheading the growing popularity of online learning, both in Ireland and across the globe. Alison (advance learning interactive systems online) offers more than 500 courses at certificate- and diploma-level, from some of the world’s leading publishers.

All courses are free to the learner. Alison boasts 250,000 graduates worldwide, with 50,000 coming from Ireland.

CEO of Alison, Mike Feerick, who says he is a serial social entrepreneur, set up the company in 2007, funding it through advertising. Initially, Alison focused on English and IT literacy. The latter, in the form of a learning module called ABC IT, is a 15-20-hour training programme that remains the site’s most popular course.

Feerick says there is a mismatch between what higher education teaches and what employers actually want.

“I think that’s a huge issue. Many of us went to college and did some kind of degree. But when we go in the door of a job, how much of our degree do we actually apply? How much do we really remember and how relevant is it to the work we’re going to be doing?”

Alison is focused on the practical. It offers languages, project management courses, customer services, human resources, health studies and basic business skills.

Feerick points to the changing nature of work and that education hasn’t kept pace. “You don’t find factories with 500 people doing the same thing anymore. Nearly everyone has their own learning pathway and their own job description. If somebody comes online to learn, ideally, you need to be able to create an individual learning path for that person. As a society, we need to get people up-skilled quicker than we have been doing.”

Alison’s services have been advertised in social welfare offices with the support of the department of social protection. “We have older people learning IT skills. It helps them to communicate with their grandchildren and book tickets online, as well as deal with banks.”

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