The Rise of Online Education in India: Key Strategies Indian EdTech Must Employ to Meet the Growing Demand

Online learning has shown significant growth over the last decade. However, with COVID-19 outbreak, it has become more centric in people’s life than ever before.

The pandemic has forced schools, universities, and companies to remote working, and that has tremendously pulled the usage of online learning. Not only K12 and test preparation, platforms for language learning and skill developments have become very well in demand. Even the top tier universities are also democratising the learning by making courses available online. For instance, international universities like Stanford and Harvard are now giving access to online courses under categories of computer science, engineering, mathematics, business, arts, and personal development. Well, these are huge demand from people to learn online. No wonder, even before the pandemic, research and markets forecast that online education market is a hundreds of billion dollars market today.

In this piece, we take you through the key elements of the rise of online education in India, as drawn from the Google’s EdTech Summit 2020.

Brief stats on India education market

As per KPMG report, India’s edtech sector is worth over 15,000 crores now. The COVID-triggered lockdown has provided an immense opportunity to the edtech firms. It is said that since the lockdown started, it has seen a 30% increase in the time spent on education on average in India. According to Google, India education is an over $100 billion market today. While online education is just about $2 billion, this is said to be growing at a rapid CAGR of 50%. It is said that 65% of Indians are in the age group of 12-29 years of age, and about 7 million of those students are today using parents’ phone to access the online education. According to Google’s report, influx of funds has risen almost 7X year on year. While H1 2019 saw close to $100 million of funding, it saw about $800 million funding in the first half of 2020 alone. The report further said about 300 million students, 1.4 million schools, and 51,000 colleges in India are now dependent on the online education. Well, the government is also pushing the online education with various initiatives including eBasta or skill India program to help students.

Major segments in the Indian edtech market

There are 5 major segments in the Indian edtech market. According to Google, massive demand is coming in from users in each of the segment and they are all expected to see massive growth over the next few years. COVID has done only good to this that online education is now accelerated at a faster pace in 2020. The 5 major segments and the percentage of growing in each segment are given below:

  1. Primary and Secondary Supplement Education – 60%
  2. Test Preparation – 64%
  3. Upskilling and Online Certification – 38%
  4. Higher Education – 41%
  5. Language and Casual Learning – 42% CAGR

Google searches in different categories of online education in India

According to the Google, the searches on ‘online learning’ and ‘online courses’ saw spontaneous surge across the country, starting March second week. It saw massive 237% increase in search volume. It is said that language, professional and learning skills have caught people’s attention as well during the COVID time. Interest in language courses such as French, German, and Spanish across Google search and YouTube is said to have gone up by 100%, learning skills like drawing classes by 200%, and interest in app development and coding related courses by 50%.

Major happenings across different edtech segments in India

As per Google report, entrance test category has seen a major jump in the last few months, while other categories like K12 and skills have also seen an upsurge. It is said that in K12 segment, NCERT has seen a massive jump around April, May and June, with most queries around class 9, 10, 11, and 12 books. With new dates announced for exams like JEE and NEET, the flurry of activity has revived across NCERT, Engineering and Medical test prep. In test prep, administrative and bank exams queries are said to be climbing back after a dip, due to the postponement issues of SSC-CGL exams leading across the year until recently when UPSC took over.

Comparative education app usage in India and globally

As per App Annie, the mobile performance standard providing market data and analytic insights via its platform, mobile apps usage has surged in Q2 2020 to highest ever recorded – 25% quarter-on-quarter growth globally comparing time spent in Q1 and Q2 this year. It is said that amidst this high growth of time spent, education apps is among the highest growing category globally – 70% growth in downloads and 40% in time spent. Interestingly, according to the report, India is the #1 in education app market by downloads globally and is said to be still showing a strong growth.

According to the report, as shared by Yunde Yu, VP of Sales and Global Support, App Annie, COVID-19 has accelerated edtech adoption in India. It said there’s 50% quarter-on-quarter growth comparing Q1 and Q2. The biggest categories of growth here are said to be K12 apps and facilitation technology driven by mainly apps like Google Classroom. Yunde said edtech was already growing well in India even prior to COVID. He said in last five years, more than 1.8 billion dollars have been invested in the Indian edtech startups, and these startups have broaden their offerings into several sub categories like K12, language learning, test prep, upskilling, etc. Talking about user acquisition practice among Indian edtech, App Annie found that a lot of Indian edtechs use video advertising in their apps. Instasolv and Vedantu are said to be two top video creative on app in India. Also disclosing how top edtech apps in India measure up against top global education apps in terms of usage stickiness, App Annie found two apps from India figure in the segment amongst all the global education apps, and they are Doubtnut and Instasolv.

Key strategies Indian edtech must employ to meet the growing demand


As part of the EdTech Summit 2020, Google has provided a host of tips/strategies to help education app developers to scale and grow their businesses and platforms. It offers the following marketing pivots:

  1. Build a powerfully credible brand: Building a trusted credible brand and investing in it is important. According to Google, the top 10 edtech brands saw about 1.8X increased search volume in last three months. So it’s very important that your brand is known to the consumer and they know what you stand for. Users make a very conscious call when it comes to choosing any learning platform. Reason being it is going to impact their jobs, career, and their life for the next 30-35 years. It’s important what perception you are leaving with your audience, who could be a kid, a student in class 12, or someone who is preparing for a test exam, or their parent. You are talking to different people at the same point in time. So it is very important that you leave a right perception in their mind to build your brand.
  2. UI/UX and content: Since people are spending more and more time on apps, organization, categorization, and discoverability of the content are very important especially with multiple streams on offer. It’s important to have FAQs and Live Chatbots for ease of interaction and access.
  3. Price points and packages: Price is a very important factor. It is important to introduce lower/mid level price points based on region or geographical location to make it accessible by people of all walks of life. Video calling on leads and product explanation for deal closure is worth exploring.
  4. Site/App crash monitoring: Keep a close check on site/app traffic to avoid fraudulent activities. Monitor site/app load to prevent server crashes when multiple students are logged in simultaneously. It may sound too small to be bothered, but this will have a huge impact on the perception of the student or their parent. An uninterrupted learning is something which every student and parent looks forward.
  5. Certification and Gamification: Retain student interest with competing live games with peers or with a bot with operational innovations. Provide usable certification on courses to them. This is a big draw and a clear key for users to invest their time. Providing with something that students can use it for their next job, to showcase on their LinkedIn or Facebook profile is what students are interested in.
  6. Partnerships: Partnerships with exclusive educators can help establish brand loyalty and user retention. Right partnership with educators and institutions is something which will go a very long way and build a brand perception for your app/website. Also, focus on both live as well as recorded classes for increased interest.

Some of the examples of how top edtech players are helping students to navigate through the complexity of highly dense categories

Unacademy utilizes chatbots to guide a new user through dense categories and information overloaded. In test preparation, there are multiple categories and courses available, so they are using a chatbot to navigate the complexity of the information which is there. Extramarks uses packages price drops. The startup pivoted their marketing in such a way that they want to have more retained user and for a more number of days, quarters, months. So what they do is they decrease their price point as users move from one month to 12 months subscription. Toppr uses free online video counselling, a live interactive session with a counselor to select what is best for the user.

Doubtnut pictorially shows easy usage of the app. BYJU’S gives intuitive book-wise categorization. Vedantu uses Free Live Classes. Before you even subscribe for their course, they are building a huge confidence by offering free live classes before the final subscription.

Key to User Retention

Sharing key strategies to retain users in the wake of the rise in online education in India, Ankit Saxena, Director of Technology, APAC, Branch – a company that helps app developers build measure and optimize seamless user experiences across channels and platforms – said growth starts with retention. He said a churn user is almost as expensive as a new user when it comes to re-engagement, so it makes a ton of sense for developers to not let users churn. Citing a survey his company did on some of the top app developers in the world, Ankit said the focus on retention was by far number one priority for them. He said there’s an increase in app usage in edtech but a challenge for brands is how to retain those users even after COVID-19 has become the new normal or faded into the background. Saying that engagement is the backbone to retain users, developers must do whatever to keep engaging and retaining them.

Ankit shares the following key strategies that app developers can use to retain users:

  1. Show empathy and focus on pain points: Don’t focus on promotions; adopt a customer-centric mindset of empathy and loyalty. Showing empathy goes a long way, and customers are likely to remember you and come back. And, focus on pain points.
  2. Content: During the lockdown, people are consuming more content than they were doing a year. Make your content as actionable as possible. Do a lot of marketing automation, use marketing automation tools to run surveys and quizzes and make sure that you give the avenues to your users to interact and engage with your content across different platforms. In addition, increase the volume of the content that you are putting out there for your users.
  3. Referrals as a retention strategy: Referral program allows apps to acquire more users. However, according to a study on the data from the apps that had implemented referral program using Branch links showed that the referral links were driving more re-engagement than new user acquisition. Some of the referral program best practices: (1) Make sure your links can share the content inside your app, and that they deep link through install. (2) Make it easy to share on your most used platform by using native share sheets. (3) Share a screenshot of the content in addition to a link. (4) Enable sharing when a user takes a screenshot by showing a pop-up asking if the user wants to share.
  4. Incentivize referrals to increase conversions: The kind of referral programs some of the apps were using that were ultimately giving them re-engagement was not just simply one-side referral, but a double-sided incentivize referral program. If you put some sort of incentivization for both the parties, who is referring the user and the person who is being referred, there are more chances of you converting them to or activating them for a certain metric that you’re building the referral program for. One interesting thing is, monetary referrals as well as product-based referrals work almost the same.
  5. Reassess your acquisition channels: Reassessing your user acquisition channels is very important. Reassess where your users are coming from. This basically will help discover new tactic which are specific to the product by yourself. Remember: (1) Users acquired from organic channels are more likely to be retained than those acquired by paid channels. (2) See which acquisition channel sees the most churn, and then develop a retention strategy to that specific channel. 3) The channels that worked for you pre-COVID may no longer be the same anymore.
  6. Fix leaky buckets across channels: 1) Upgrade to an accurate attribution model that gives you insight to the full user journey. 2) Fixing leaky buckets allows you to uncover insights like who your most valuable users are and where they came from, so you can further invest in those channels that bring in users. Make sure that you are measuring or stretching your user journey, your understanding where your users are coming from, and then you use that context to build and improve the user experience that you’re building.
  7. Connect users across platforms: Creating a connected ecosystem out of your digital presence allows users the ability to complete their journey with ease, and presents simplicity for even the most unmotivated users. Once you know that this is the journey that your users are taking across the different channels that are out there, start connecting the user. If you want your user to do something, you can use the seamless experience and your content and referral tactic to improve the ease of doing things and the motivation that your user would have. A study Branch did show that users who were engaged the brands across platforms, their retention rates were significantly better as compared to users who just engaged on one platform.
  8. Final tips and reminders: If you’re growing: Take advantage of temporary spike to build loyalty and retain these customers long-term. If your traffic is lower: Focus on the long term, prioritize relationships (rather than revenue), and use other creative ways to engage your users.

Sharing his insights on how BYJU’S managed to create a wonderfully credible brand in edtech space in a fireside chat with Paula Wang, Director, App Developer Sales, APAC, Google, Mrinal Mohit, Chief Operating Officer, BYJU’S, said as a product, the only job which you need to do is to establish your relevance. Elaborating his perspectives, he said that the whole education ecosystem has always been around teachers, being centric towards the teaching process, and even at the early technology in education. But he said that apart from teaching, learning is also a very important element, and that for a student, there’s no tool which can make him learn better when he is learning at home. That is why they created BYJU’S app, the best way to learn at home. Explaining further by bringing into picture the whole ecosystem – the school, the teachers, and the students – Mrinal said BYJU’S has always been on the side of the student and its platform is controlled by the student. He said that while the platform has content by best of the teachers, the whole experience was controlled by the student. And when they did that, they got huge acceptance from their core users – the students. He said that once you have the acceptance from the core users, and because it is a high involvement sector, once you have the engagement, everything else follows.

When asked how much he thinks the edtech space has changed in the wake of COVID pandemic and if he sees the wave as a critical mindset and habit-change which can be expected to continue beyond the current crisis, Mrinal said the pandemic has been an unfortunate event, but has been a big positive for the whole online learning segment. He said that during this COVID time, he saw a huge shift in the behaviour and thinking of parents, and the animation which they had in their mind ‘can my child learn from mobile’ has actually disappeared. He said digital learning which was more considered as an add-on has now become a mainstream, and parents have seen the benefit of it. The COO said that while most of its app downloads were done by students earlier, he saw that shift happening and a lot more parents are coming and downloading the app for their child during this COVID time. He said the perception of parents toward digital learning will result into more use of digital learning when the schools reopen and when offline methods are available.

On being asked to share one piece of advice with the younger startups that are just beginning to explore the Indian edtech space, Mrinal said as a company, they have to be flexible. He advised them to have a deep consumer understanding, keep innovating, and keep evolving. Throwing a caution note, he also said when they do that they will face lot of failures, which is okay. He asked them to be witfast and avoid big mistakes. The BYJU’S COO concluded by saying “until and unless we don’t evolve, we don’t create better product, and we won’t be able to capture the student’s requirement. So as long as the product is not very relevant to the student, you won’t get traction.”

About the Author
Author: Stephen Soulunii
Stephen Soulunii No more a student, but love to learn. Not a teacher, but care about how students are taught. Not an educator, but want everyone to be educated. Not a social worker, but desire to see change. Not a reformer, but always want to see a better world. The author believes that only sound education can bring a better future, better world and technology can help achieve a lot in this field.

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