Why has online education in India not taken off yet?

Statistics One | Coursera
Statistics One | Coursera (Photo credit: AJC1)

Indian Education sector is hot. We see innumerable startups popping up all around us. I wouldnt be surprised, if stats say that there is one EdTech startup per day. And I think the trend has been similar in last few years. But we havent yet seen online education taken off in India. On the other hand, we are seeing lot of action in online learning in higher education in US. Be it massive online open courses like Udacity, Coursera, EdX, MITx etc or informal courses at K12 like Khan Academy – we have been hearing a lot about success of these programs. There is also lot of action on collaborative learning and lms front where companies like Edmodo, Coursekit, Piazza etc are growing fast.

Why havent we seen any success story in India so far? I do not know the reasons but let me try to list down some possible reasons.

1. We are not ready yet for online learning? There are some 100 million+ internet users in India. But when it comes to usage of India, learning is not really the priority of these online users. Online learning competes with entertainment, social networks, ecommerce, news and many other things. In addition, learning is a serious engagement that needs some good amount of time allocation. So although, we say that there are so many internet users in India, and out of these there would be some percentage of students online. But how many of them really get through all other distractions and sit back for learning. I think in India we are still in those lingering stages where students are yet to commit themselves for online studies. Just a clarification, joining an online portal or discussion board in not what I count as serious online learning.

2. Investment ecosystem is absent. Coursera has secured more that $22.5 million with a model where they are yet to think about monetization. Edmodo has raised more than $40 million. And here again, there was no monetization model, though things might have changed with their platform model now. There are many other examples – Code Academy, Knewton, LearnBoost etc. We have not seen many such stories in India. Companies like Educomp, Everonn etc have raised lot of money but they are more of an infrastructure/ content stories. Education+Internet is missing. To be fair to investors, maybe they believe in point one above or may be they havent found teams that can execute like some of the american counterparts have done.

3. The right product is missing. I think we are yet to see an online education product (or service) with right user experience that is suitable for Indian students (specially K12). Some of the products are half-baked products released too early to be firsts in the market. Take the tablets for example. There is a deluge of 7 inch tablets from many companies (I can count at least 10 of them) that promise bundled K12 content along with the hardware. Take the best of them all and just try it out, you will know what I mean. Also consider other products like online streaming classes, or factory made animated content available from tens of companies. It is understandable that these companies are trying to crack the market and some will be successful. But in the long-term, things act against because online learning ultimately looses trust from parents, who pays for the product and student, who is the consumer. Scrappy products will make money in the short-term but will lose out in the long run.

It would not be fair to compare online learning with e-commerce. But if we look back 6-7 years from now, we were facing something similar in e-commerce. There were too many companies around, none making a real mark in the market. But then, suddenly something changed – due to market dynamics or changes brought by the leading companies today – and then we saw this gold rush in e-commerce. Thereafter, imitators and laggards followed.

I just like to think, that one day, things will change, this jigsaw puzzle will be solved and some company or set of companies will change the dynamics of online education in India.


4 thoughts on “Why has online education in India not taken off yet?

  1. I think, you missed few fundamental points.
    Classroom learning is always much more effective than Online learning.

    In India,
    1. People want to learn either for a degree stamp or a job search requirement – both are best through classroom learning
    2. People why studying, they don’t have to work – Unlike in US, where you also learn while you work and vice-versa
    3. And, most importantly, Classroom education is very expensive in US – thats not true in India.

    In India, A business becomes a success only if there is a market need Or, if the business creates the market need. Online classroom models that we have currently do neither and are bound to fail.

    1. Thanks Raj.

      1. I agree that people want to learn because of some specific reason – a degree, a certificate, to crack some exam etc. I disagree that classroom learning is better than online learning considering the conditions in India. Every (physical) classroom needs a teacher and unfortunately, we have big gap there. The last start that I read, we fall short of 2 million teachers. And the ones we have, are not all good. I have interacted first hand with many parents and kids who are shifting to virtual learning because of crappy classroom learning experience for supplementary education. For formal education, we have no choice. But perception is surely changing in supplementary (tutoring / test prep etc) and non-formal education. However, the fundamental problems about internet, infrastructure, trust with provider etc remain.

      2. Agree. It will take some time to see some change here. In certificate courses, there are some companies in India who are providing online courses but dont know how is the traction.

      3. Disagree. Good quality education is very expensive in India (relative to what people make here). Education comes in one of the fundamental expenditure budget of an average indian family – along with roti, kapda aur makan 🙂

  2. Some points in random order

    So It may not be OFFLINE OR ONLINE. A good mix is the way forward.
    Do humanly what can be best done by humans. Use technology where technology can do a better job.

    Its not If but a question of when the whole thing takes off. INDIA is a country of followers. Whole bunch waits for 1~2 big guys to take a move and everyone follows fast. Content Hungry Media helps to spam the world with anything. Good causes should get front page coverage.

    + Education universe is not only about delivering learning. Its also about Tests and the whole lot of other things. Currently an education institution spends huge amount of precious teaching resources on non productive tasks.

    For those who have the privilege==>May be teaching a student can still be best done by a teacher in person…But what to teach and how to optimize that 45 min can be guided by data driven science. The way education is given has no data driven science to it. But if technology is used, the whole thing can be optimized 20X with help of analytic alone. Leave aside the coverage, cost and time factor. Teacher teaches same thing to class of 40 students. Each one is different there.

    For Those who dont ==> Online education is god send. Android One and Android One Concept tablets will just push the Internet base in INDIA to 500 million. Its just a matter of time after that.

    + If there is something which solves large problems at large, there is no reason it wont be successful. Problem is: How to give education to millions at speed and cost. Govts cannot do old style.. They will simply go bankrupt doing it and take ages. Technology is the only way forward.

    Examples for a big city ( App apprx)
    A. 1 Maths 10th Class: 40 students
    B. 1 School: 4* A = 160
    1 City = 500 * B = 8000

    If just the test writing part is automated, we will know
    (a) How Students in a city/ district/ school/ class are doing
    (b) Which questions took least time (c) Which areas took maximum time (d) 100s of other statistics

    All this will greatly improve teachers to focus on what to be taught and to whom. Even classes can be held as per data driven science needs.
    Home Assignments could be offloaded and school time could be utilized only for teaching. Students could have flexibility to write anywhere, any time.

    Technology in Education will come with Digital Adoption. As Education is still largely a state controlled subject, so penetration is indirectly controlled by them. If one big university takes a step forward, others should follow. Although GOVTs and their people are pretty bad at these things .!

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