Speaking to TechGraph, JPS Kohil, Founder & Chairman of SkillUp Online said, “In line with the ‘Netflix experience’, I believe that AI and cloud technology can provide invaluable insights into learner behavior and preferences.”
Read the interview:
TechGraph: Could you help give a sense of how SkillUp Online has come in its five years of existence?
JPS Kohli: When I started SkillUp in 2016, my 25 years of experience in cloud-based learning, which included being Director of Online Training at Microsoft, revealed a problem in the industry. Though education was shifting from face-to-face learning – which limits numbers – to online self-paced learning – which is available to anyone, anytime, anywhere – completion rates for online courses were very low. I believed the human touch was missing and created SkillUp to solve this problem.
The business has grown based on a learner-centric training methodology that balances a technology-driven ethos with a human-centered approach. We focus on future skills training that keeps professionals relevant in this changing world.
Our course catalog includes fields such as artificial intelligence, data science, machine learning, cloud computing, cybersecurity, etc.
However, we also offer human skills training that enables professionals to develop the leadership, team building, time management, collaboration, and problem-solving skills that businesses desperately need.
To further the SkillUp vision, we then launched our dedicated training platform – SkillUp Online in 2019. SkillUp Online is a hybrid learning platform that focuses on learning outcomes – namely skills, practical experience, and certifications – and learner outcomes – where improved skills and practical experience facilitate access to better career opportunities, higher salaries, and future-proof jobs.
SkillUp now operates in the US, Europe – based in Portugal – and India. The company has partnered with top organizations, including Microsoft, IBM, and Google Cloud for technical learning content, and NASSCOM and Pacific Lutheran University (USA) for extended reach.
TechGraph: How is SkillUp Online, facilitating the entire learning process digitally?
JPS Kohli: The SkillUp Online platform offers a mix of online self-paced learning, peer-to-peer interaction, and online instructor-led sessions. We utilize a flipped learning methodology that blends the best that instructor-led training and self-paced learning have to offer.
This includes high-quality technical training content developed with industry partners such as Microsoft, IBM, and Google, substantial hands-on learning, practical projects, soft skills coaching, and real-world capstone projects. And the outcome is learners develop job-ready tech and human skills that are aligned with the specific roles employers are desperately seeking to fill. This, in turn, gets learners better jobs, faster, than if they’d trained elsewhere.
Additionally, we also provide a valuable human touch to ensure our learners fly. For example, we offer 1-to-1 online mentoring with subject experts who are there to provide support, spot when learners need a nudge, answer questions, and personalize their learning.
Recent projects with NASSCOM and IBM Skills Build are outstanding examples of the success of our approach. Through these initiatives alone, the business has trained over 125,000 learners and achieved 67%+ completion rates. That alone is impressive, but what we’re proud of is the fact that we’ve achieved this by focusing specifically on learner outcomes – higher employability, better salaries, and improved promotion opportunities.
TechGraph: How is the response so far to your online courses?
JPS Kohli: Our focus on career-aligned skills has prompted a very good response. Our learners are building skills that their traditional degree hasn’t covered, and they’re achieving great results quickly.
But the stats speak for themselves. With 67%+ completion rates – in comparison to MOOC completion rates of 3%-5% – it’s clear that the business is not only enabling deep learning at scale but also helping learners to build successful careers quickly.
To build on this success, we’ve launched a unique collection of cutting-edge programs that enable learners with minimal tech experience to get job-ready and hit the ground running. For example, our popular TechMaster Certificate Programmes cover data science, artificial intelligence, and cloud computing. The strapline for these new programs – Designed to get you hired! – Perfectly encapsulates our focus on learner outcomes. And learners are welcoming the opportunity to invest their time and money to get a better job and higher salary quickly.
TechGraph: What are the new trends in AI & Machine Learning and the Big Data space?
JPS Kohli: The opportunities appearing through AI, machine learning, and big data are very exciting for edtech. The strides being taken in natural language processing (NLP) are highlighting the genuine possibility of AI instructors now. Though, at SkillUp the human touch will always remain an important aspect of our offering too.
Generative AI is also exploding, with ChatGPT and Bard taking the world by storm. This may soon facilitate new and up-to-date content being accessed and presented automatically in courses through machine learning. It will most likely start with text-based updates being made. But I see no reason why images, video, and even music won’t follow shortly too. Content will always need to be moderated by a human being, of course, to check its accuracy. However, the process of updating content will be speeded up considerably.
Edge computing also deserves a mention here, with AI processes managing applications locally, as opposed to centrally, to reduce latency. And I’m also excited about explainable AI – XAI – where soon, for example, powerful algorithms will provide descriptions and explanations for why decisions were made in a scenario.
TechGraph: SkillUp Online has been collaborating with different industry experts and technology partners to enhance the student’s learning experience. Going forward, do you see more such engagements?
JPS Kohli: Absolutely. Learning from industry experts is critical to the learner’s outcome once they’ve completed a course. Ensuring that the right expertise and support are in place is core to the philosophy of SkillUp. Our approach to learning blends traditional expert input with self-paced learning; achieving the right balance is very important to us. We’ve found that learners need experts to show them how something is done, so they can then go and practice it themselves.
However, in addition to using skilled instructors and industry experts in our programs, we also ensure we provide high-quality technical training content developed with industry partners such as Microsoft, IBM, and Google. Our technology partners enable us to include a lot of practical, hands-on material in our courses.
As learners work through a course, they get their hands dirty working on labs created by our industry partners. Plus, they are supported by proactive 1-to-1 mentoring from SkillUp Online technical experts. And with this approach, we make it easier and quicker for learners to gain the employable skills backed by real practical experience they need to get a better job.
TechGraph: What is the state of online skill development and learning platforms in the Indian market, especially for Gen Z?
JPS Kohli: Gen Z learners in general, including India, are the digital natives of our world. They intuitively know how to work an app without training. They are happy to consume bite-size chunks of content. And they’ve got the confidence to keep up with the fast pace of change in a digital environment. Their challenge, though, is that a give-it-a-go attitude isn’t enough… they need employable skills.
This is where online courses come to the fore. The young professionals of today are very comfortable learning online via videos, sound bites, and well-defined learning paths. Online courses facilitate quick and easy access to such modular learning. And because, yes, learners still need nudging, skills-building courses that provide good mentoring support are achieving results much faster than traditional training.
The predisposition of Gen Z’s ability to consume digital content, coupled with the clear need for upskilling in hot fields such as artificial intelligence, data science, and machine learning, is creating a match made in heaven. And this means that learning platforms that don’t just shell out certificates, but instead ensure learners are armed with employable skills and practical experience to get a job quickly, will make the difference.
TechGraph: How do technologies, namely Al, machine learning, and cloud, have relevance in online courses? What will the future look like?
JPS Kohli: People have gotten used to technology making recommendations based on their user profile; Netflix and Amazon are excellent examples. Edtech learners are no different, and they are now expecting this tailored experience in the learning arena too.
In line with the ‘Netflix experience’, I believe that AI, machine learning, and cloud technology can provide invaluable insights into learner behavior, preferences, and needs. And by making good use of the power of machine learning, SkillUp is planning to use technology to tailor custom learning plans for individuals and offer them choices in how they learn and how they are supported to learn.
This personalized approach also has another aspect, though. To speed up deep skilling at scale, future-focused learning platforms like SkillUp Online will need to harness AI and machine learning to power continual learning. And I anticipate this will include adaptive learning, where the progression of the course content will vary depending on the pace of the learner’s uptake in understanding.
Generative learning powered by content created by algorithms akin to ChatGPT will also soon be working for hand in glove with explainable AI (XAI). This will take personalized, continual learning to new heights, with online courses always providing the relevant skills of the moment.
TechGraph: What has the response so far been to code learning courses on your platform?
JPS Kohli: With the explosion of AI and data science across the industry, it’s no surprise that our coding courses are popular. A great example is Python. Python is used across all industries and Python skills learned with SkillUp Online can be applied in many ways. This ensures our learners have transferable skills that will enhance their career opportunities considerably.
Because of this, we’ve made a point of integrating core Python skills into our flagship TechMaster Certificate portfolio. So, not only are learners developing specific Python skills but depending on the field they are training for, be it AI, data science, cloud computing, etc, they are also learning how to use their Python skills with other coding competencies. And this approach ensures they do have the skills they need to get hired.