Online Education and Anonymity – Value of Social Contracts

We all set resolutions for the New Year. But, more often than not, we fail to stick to those. Let me share two examples:

  1. A close friend of mine, this January, sent out an email to 60 of his friends announcing his resolution and requesting his friends to remind him of his resolution.
  2. Another person I know, wanted to quit smoking. And before giving up completely, he told 5 of his office colleagues that he will quit smoking and they should call him out if he is ever caught smoking again.

Come to think of what they did here, they got into social contracts with a set of people they interact with regularly. The social contract added the extra pressure on them to perform and stick to their promise/resolution.

Online education faces a similar challenge. I call it the challenge of ANONYMITY and SOCIAL CONTRACT. In the realm of online education, no one knows who is getting in and who is getting out. It becomes very easy for anyone to get out, leading to high drop out rates. Compare that to offline education – where when you enroll, 10 of your batch mates know, your parents/partner and your extended family all know that you are in an education program. By doing this, an individual gets into a social contract that has very little scope for a drop out.

This is a major problem that the online education industry faces. Education is anonymous on most learning platforms. If an individual wants to learn a new skill or take a new program, without telling anyone they can enroll, it’s very likely that they’ll drop out from the course. Not buying into any form of social contract results in high attrition rates. If the individual pays, there is a sense of stickiness – but still, many consider that payment to be a “sunk cost”.

In order to really disrupt the online education space – one has to break this concept of anonymity. Learning has to be more social and peer driven. This social learning that I am talking about, also needs to go beyond the set of students enrolled in the program – but also seep into the surrounding social environment of the individual – friends, family and colleagues.

At UpGrad, we are working towards creating a highly engaged learning environment, where we are breaking anonymity for individuals. The learning platform encourages social learning that drives engagement. The need of the hour is to bring a rigorous learning environment, where students don’t feel that they are leaning in front of screens but are aware that they are learning with many other students together. Bringing socially engaged learning will bring a higher level of engagement for students and individuals in online education.

I would love to hear your thoughts on what more one can be done to facilitate greater interactions for online education platform. 

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About the Author
Author: Mayank KumarWebsite:
Mayank Kumar is the Founder and CEO of UpGrad, India’s first full-fledged online education company. Mayank co-founded UpGrad together with serial entrepreneur and philanthropist Ronnie Screwvala and secured $16m of capital to grow the venture into India’s most meaningful education business. Before founding UpGrad, Mayank was Vice President Education at Bertelsmann, Europe’s largest media and education conglomerate, where he oversaw Bertelsmann’s education strategy and its multi-million dollar investments in India. In this capacity, Mayank further served as Board Member of iNurture (, India’s No. 1 provider of industry-specific academic programs. Prior to joining Bertelsmann, Mayank was a Senior Principal at The Parthenon Group, where he advised global clients in the education sector across all geographies including China, Southeast Asia, India and South America and participated in deals worth $1.5bn flowing into the education sector. Before joining The Parthenon Group, Mayank worked at the Tata Strategic Management Group, advising Tata’s strategic direction. Mayank holds a BTech from IIT Delhi and a MBA from Indian School of Business (ISB).

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