Call it a Demonetization – Paytm moment, Edtech has finally shed its tag of a perpetual sunrise industry and have entered a massive growth phase.
It took a giant Covid phenomenon that eventually led to permanent consumer behavior change of learners consuming leaning completely online. Earlier, edtech was considered a “Nice to have” offering mainly adopted by relatively tech savvy premium institutions and premium customers with very little adoption by the masses. During the Covid times, it saw a meteoric rise and got suddenly catapulted to a “Must have” survival tool, becoming the only vehicle for education delivery. A majority of stakeholders i.e. students, parents, Govt. decision-makers, institution owners, and corporate executives all tasted edtech during the past 3 months of Covid period, except for bottom of pyramid 40% audience which continues to suffer due to limited access to a smart device. The democratization process of smart device access to this segment is underway and hopefully, soon learning can become all-pervasive.
For people with access, the transition to edtech was largely smooth, with Zoom, Google Meet, Webex type of Webinar / Virtual classroom platforms being their first brush with a formal digital learning interface. These platforms help in the live delivery of classes in real-time, pretty much replicating the classroom experience. With greater exposure, the stakeholders realize that beyond live classes, edtech experience can significantly contribute to pre-class activities and post-class activities as well. Pre-class activities such as reading material, videos, links, etc. and post-class activities such as quizzes, exams, assignments, grading of assignments, etc. can all be digitally enabled and integrated in a centralized manner to provide a seamless end to end experience to all the stakeholders.
This entire teaching-learning ecosystem including admin and logistics requirements can be served through the Learning Content Management System (LCMS). The LCMS industry is pretty evolved with several players in the segment. Open edX and Moodle are the most evolved open source LCMS platforms while proprietary systems such as Canvas, Backboard, Cornerstone, TalentLMS, and many others are equally good platforms. All these players have found new bigger hunting grounds in K-12 and higher education which was earlier ignored due to relatively poorer monetization in comparison with the richer corporate segment. On the retail front (called B2C in industry jargon) customers are best served by organizations such as Byju's, Vedantu, Unacademy in the K-12 segment; upGrad, Simplilearn in the continuing education segment; a plethora of others in the competitive exam/test preparation front and various niche segments like doubt resolution.
Everyone without any exception, be it B2C or B2B (School & Higher Ed institutions) is after the holy grail of “Learner Engagement” – has anyone cracked it yet, the answer is either “Maybe” or “No”, far more needs to get done for a definite “yes”. So, what are the important elements, and how does one go after it?
It all begins with a teacher – be it a digitally pre-recorded teacher (other forms of digital content like static content has taken a back seat) or be it a live class real-time teacher – is s/he interactive and engaging in his approach? What can be done to improve it further? Watching out for aspects such as gauging students’ interest, conducting a practical demonstration of a model/ experiment, asking questions, etc. For the first time, teachers are completely exposed to the outside world i.e. students, their parents, and their friends. Teachers’ live class recordings are getting scrutinized threadbare which in turn is leading to huge Quality improvement in the delivery of live classes, partly driven by self-motivation to improve and partly due to the threat of being shipped out.
On the student-learner front, lack of human touch, and peer interactions are two big concern areas which seem difficult to circumvent and will continue to be sub-optimally served. However, the biggest benefit is the true democratization of learning, there are no back-benchers anymore with weaker students now getting an equal platform to learn and ask questions. The inhibition to ask in front of the entire class is pretty much gone and trigger-happy chat-based Q&As are in. With detailed reports and analytics provided by edtech platforms, more and focused personalized learning is getting enabled which can hopefully lead to mastery for all.
But can “Learner Engagement” alone create profitable businesses? No, if it is not intelligently bundled with Learners’ perception of value for money.
A case, for example, is the competitive exams test preparation industry which trains millions of IIT, NEET aspirants. This segment has already started seeing a huge churn with genuine worry about what happened post-Covid. They rightfully suspect that post-Covid, the learners will continue to prefer Online learning over physical classes. As most of the test prep theory content is available online (YouTube etc.) and questions & solutions are freely available through platforms such as Doubtnut, Instasolv and others, can they command the same price as in the physical classes model - the answer is most probably a “NO. They can crack the “Learner Engagement” piece but the learners’ perception of value for money will continue to be a problem. Other segments like traditional schools might fare better on the perception piece and will be able to hold on to the pre-Covid pricing.
There is a great level playing field now, with contemporary technologies driven new entrant far better equipped to serve the customers than offline branded institutions that are largely relying on their historical brand pull. The institutions will have to move fast and evolve with the online or blended model (a combination of offline and online) lest they face extinction. As and when the remaining pieces of technology puzzle settle in - primarily true 100% online automated proctoring of exams; video analytics of live classes and hands-on practice through practicals/ experiments, the online and offline world will merge seamlessly and so are the opportunities.