3 Trends To Watch In Education Technology

I think these are the top three education technology trends that need attention (short term perspective for 2 to 4 years) –

Improving the Retention in MOOCs

In year 2012, we saw a deluge of online courses offered by Ed Tech companies like Coursera, Udacity and edX. The number of students enrolled in these courses is a proof how online education is in great demand across the world. However, of the millions of students who enroll for online courses, only a small percentage of students actually complete the course. Coursera founder, in an interview last year said that courses at Coursera have retention rates of 7% to 9% depending on the course. The retention rates are of similar order or lower with other MOOC providers. Very soon, we would see solutions coming out to solve this problem and hopefully see improvement in retention rates. Some attempts would be in form of providing more structured education around MOOCs, especially in countries like India. We would also see some startups focussing on bringing the web product principles and improving the engagement of courses offered by employing personalization, gamification techniques etc.

Education Content Consumption on Internet

English: Online Learning

Content plays a key role in education but the methods currently used in online education are still old and somewhat linear. Going forward, we will see a lot of innovation happening in how education content is presented to students and how it can be made more engaging. One good example from year 2012 is Edmodo, that is bringing social aspects in the way content is consumed with more than 19 million students and teachers on board. We might also see startups coming up with technologies to bring more interactions in video lectures and other rich media. The core learning experience would depend largely on the way education content is delivered and consumed online.

Use of Mobile in Education

Mobile is increasingly replacing PC for lot of activities including education. In addition, higher penetration of mobile in some countries makes it a preferred medium over PC. For instance, in India with population of 1.2 billion, there are just 15 million broadband connections but more than 850 million mobile connections (source)

The learning experience over mobile is still in infancy and in future, we will see a lot of attempts in improving the same. With the changing perception about mobile usage for certain activities, education would be a key contender and we would see Ed Tech companies working on mobile experience.

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Other than these, I also think we will increasingly see more “teacher” involvement in EdTech instead of just bunch of techies solving education problems.

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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.

5 Resources to Learn Programming

In last few years I have seen an interesting paradox first hand. While there are so many companies looking for good technical talent, there are also thousands of engineering graduates looking for technical jobs. And what explains this paradox is the skill mis-match between what companies need and what these grads own. Unfortunately, most of the engineering colleges are failing to impart these skills required in Industry. Take for instance, programming skills – I have met many computer science grads in last one year who do not know programming. I am not an expert in programming, but being a geek, I have been able to aggregate some resources that might be of some help.

1. Udacity – Udacity is an interesting startup offering free courses from the greatest teachers. One of the current course running is CS101: Building a search engine and Udacity claims to teach enough programming in seven weeks that you will be able to build a web search engine like Google. The best thing is that this course does not need any prior programming experience. The programming language used is Python. Although the course started on 20th Feb, you can still join it or join in next session.

2. CodeAcademy – Yet another startup, but the approach is different from Udacity. Instead of using videos, Codeacademy provides an interactive web application to learn programming. The app goes in step by step manner through each lesson and exercise. As of now, Javascript courses are available and this is a good start. The web app also keeps track of your progress. In addition, there is very engaging QnA platform in case you get stuck. The UI is clean and now since they have made it as a platform [means other can also create lessons], I think many more courses will be available very soon.

3. Khan Academy – Salman Khan has been in the limelight for some time (I had written about him earlier here). Surrounded by lot of hype there is some substance in his style of teaching. The best thing about this videos is the simple and casual language used. However, these videos are not enough if you want to pursue programming seriously but can be a good starting point. Heres the link – http://www.khanacademy.org/#computer-science

4. Project Euler – Project Euler is a series of problems in mathematics and programming. A good collection of problems to solve and the problems range in difficulty level. An example problem here –

Find the greatest product of five consecutive digits in the 1000-digit number

There are 366 problems I can see (without logging in) – enough number to keep you busy for a while.

Image representing Stack Overflow as depicted ...
Image via CrunchBase

5. Stackoverflow – If you are a geek, it is almost certain that you would have stumbled on Stackoverflow. With more than 2.8 million questions, and growing, this has become one of the biggest library of programming questions. There is very high probability that you will find the answer to the exact problem you are looking for and in case you don’t find, you can always ask.

So we have five different ways of learning programming. Khan Academy and Udacity are based on Video learning, Udacity is more structured and comprehensive. While Code Academy and Project Euler are based on problem solving. Codeacademy walks you through step by step , perhaps good for beginners and Project Euler throws a good problem and its all on you how to solve it. Stackoverflow is more like reference where you go when you get stuck with something. All said and done, as some of the programmers say, the best way to learn programming is by doing it.

An Inspiring Story Of Two Rural Edupreneurs

It has been 8 months since the academic session started. Baluram has not yet paid the school fees for his three sons and one daughter and now he is requesting the school principal if he can pay it in kind – he has no money but has just harvested wheat and he can drop a part of his harvest at principal’s house. The principal has no idea what he would do with 100kg wheat – it would not even cover 25% cost of education he is imparting to four of Baluram’s kids. But he has no option – neither can he throw Baluram’s kids out of school nor can he reject this offer.

School Building
School Building

This incident is not new for Mr. Ravindra Sharma, also popularly known as Pappu Bhaiyya. In 16 of his life in educating rural kids, he has come across many such cases. Ravindra Sharma started Vyankat Vidhya Vihar, named in the memory of his father, 16 years back with his wife Maya Sharma in a rented house with just two rooms and 20 students. Before this school, the kids in his village had only two options – go to government school 5 km away with highly questionable quality of education or drop out and start helping their families in making livelihood.

Kids waiting for their bus trip
Kids waiting for their bus trip

Today, Ravindra and Maya Sharma educate more than 480 students till class 8th with students coming from around 15 surrounding villages. Around 60% of students are from farming community, rest are from tribal areas with occupations like digging, pottery, sweeping and – hold your breath – stealing. Ravindra and Maya Sharma have been trying to provide a high quality education to these kids at just under Rs 100 per month and may I say, they are trying really hard.  Two years back Maya had to send her husband off for 6 months to do some other job and make some money for the family; they have a son and mom to take care of. Ravindra sold pesticides for 6 months and used the money earned to cover the salaries for the school

School bus
School bus

staff. Later he sold his family possessions, borrowed Rs 5 Lakh from Bank of India and some more from family and friends and build this structure that houses the school today (see pictures). The school even has a bus now that makes three rounds to pickup and drop students (please note, Rs 100 / month covers transportation charges as well). While browsing through the school files I note that they achieved 100% result in last academic year. Sounds impressive.

Investment lined up - fans, painting
Investment lined up - fans, painting

I also note that only 60% of fees was recovered in the last academic year. However, they had to pay teachers salary in full and on time – the total staff stands at 19 – 14 teachers, 1 driver, 1 conductor, 1 cleaner, Ravindra and Maya. Today Maya handles the daily chorus of school including the academics while Ravindra tries to bridge the cash flow gap. I am still struggling hard to understand the economies.

Drinking water facility
Drinking water facility

Ravindra and Maya are not from IITs. They are not even very well-educated in normal terms. Ravindra had to drop out due to family reasons and Maya is still pursuing higher studies – she had to take two breaks; one for her marriage and one while giving birth to her son. But that doesn’t really matter. What matters today is that they have changed lives of more than 1000 kids in last 16 years. And this number is going to increase manifold in coming years. What also matters is that their model is working – albeit with a lot of hard work.

The inspiring story of this couple raises two important questions  –

1. Can we create more of Ravindras and Mayas in other parts of the country to solve the real problem facing our country?

2. And can we make their lives little easier in this journey by using some innovative finance model?

What say you?

3 Ideas To Bring Change In Education At BOP

Why are there not enough good schools catering to economically weaker section of the society? We all know the reasons – There is no financial incentive for an entrepreneur to open a school in area where people cannot pay. Compare this fact to metros and tier-2 towns where hundreds of new schools are coming with fees range of 15K+ / annum. These schools are either run by politicians, real estate guys or well-known companies [no surprises, schools are profitable model specially if you have access to real estate and cheap source of money]

Here are 3 ideas to solve this problems

1.  The Education Fund – This fund is raised from people who look for social return on their investment. This is not donation but an investment that earns zero % interest or very low-interest rate and invested for a long-term (typically 10+ years). The Education Fund invests this money in instruments providing decent returns and since the investment duration is for a long-term, there is some guarantee of return, lets say, it is 10%. This return is used to fund the education of deserving students. Number of students who can benefit is directly proportional to the amount of money that can be raised and rate of return that can be earned on this money. Using technology enabled learning, lets assume that good quality education can be imparted with the cost of around Rs 5K per annum per student. That means, we need around 50K as principle amount deposited for each student. Now someone can ask – why complicate so much. If a person is purely interested in social ROI, why should he care about this complicated model and not just donate 5K every year? For following reasons – 1) It will save you hassles of writing cheque every year. 2) Probably, there is higher chance of finding an investor than a donor 3) The same 50K will impact lives of students for many years – which would otherwise need a solid commitment and discipline for such a long duration.

2. Guru Dakshina – In the age of Gurukuls, students did not get free education. It was kind of loan which students needed to pay back once the education was done. It was called Guru-Dakshina. Similarly, we can have a model where the payback comes when students pass-out and are employed. For few initial years this inflow would be zero [ as someone said, education is a very long-term investment]. After few years, we have a flow of cash, which makes it more self sustainable. 500 passing out students can fund 500 new students. This will also bring accountability on the education system – if we cannot make students employable, in a practical world, we have failed.

3. School in a Box – To bring down the cost of education. With such a large population and so little money, there is no other option but to cut the cost of education. Can good quality education be provided at such a low-cost. Technology and standardization may come to rescue. Lets say we have School in the box concept (phrase borrowed from UNICEF’s) – a completely standardized set of curriculum based on digital media and learning management system. If this can enable us to cut out dependency on good teachers and world-class infrastructure. In such scheme of things, can the cost of opening a new school be brought down? Can we build a good school with Rs 1million instead of Rs 10million.

No new idea comes without a problem. The first idea is not scalable, the second idea is cash flow negative for many initial years and the third idea needs a lot of investment and research to create such a concept. May be, if all the three ideas are applied together, these problems can be nullified. In any case, it is very difficult to say unless a solid research is done by getting on the roads. Hope one day we see these models working.

Education Fund
Education Fund Ecosystem

At Eduflix: Blended Self Learning And Its Role In India

Blended Self Learning And Its Role In India.

Take note of this interesting fact –

In a traditional lecture setting, 33 minutes after a lecture is completed, attendees only retain 58% of the material presented.  By the second day, only 33% is retained,  and three weeks after the course is completed, only 15% is remembered. (via ref 1 below)

This does not mean that classroom education has failed us. From the age of Gurukuls, classrooms have played a crucial role in the development of mankind. As noted in my previous article, classrooms provide ultimate learning experience by enabling live interaction with teachers and fellow students. However the fact that only 15% is retained, does mean that there is a need for self-learning to retain remaining 85% of what is learnt in the class . Not just that, in countries like India where availability of teachers is a grave concern, self learning starts playing even a bigger role. Add to that, poor infrastructure or system connecting students and teachers in a classroom environment.

That is where blended learning comes into play. Blended learning (sometimes called hybrid learning) is nothing but combination of traditional classroom form of learning and technology-assisted self-learning. Classroom environment provides the live interactive experience while technology-assisted learning (e-learning/ video learning) provides course content accessible any time, any number of times. Best of both the worlds.

According to reference no. 2 below,  Studies conducted by Harvard Business School  have shown that a blended learning approach enables students to learn five times as much material at one-third the cost of a classroom-only approach. Surveys indicate that students overwhelmingly liked the blended approach better.

Blended learning has not really taken off in India yet. The primary reason for this has been the low technology penetration –

1. The price of point of computer has not yet reached the affordability range of average Indian parent
2. Broadband penetration is very low.

Besides these, physiologically, technology assisted learning is not perceived of equal importance to classroom learning. However, things are changing now. With mobile revolution taking over India, the day is not far when these mobile devices and tablets will start playing key role in Indian Education. In addition, with advent of 3G and Broadband, the digital barrier would keep getting lower. And hopefully, with blended learning approach, people will also start realizing the importance of video learning or e-learning.

Blended learning will take time, but will start moving soon. As Victor Hugo said “Nothing can stop an idea whose time has come”

References:
Jones, M. (2002) . “Building and Managing E-Learning Programmes: Why E-Learning Makes Sense”.
Mullich J. (2004). .A Second Act for E-Learning., Workforce Management February 1st  2004 ,Vol 83 No. 2
Shafqat Hameed et al. (2008) “Effective E-Learning Integration with Traditional Learning in a Blended Learning Environment”

Education In India – Is It Just About Getting A Degree Or Cracking Entrance Exams?

Needless to say, Indian Education needs a lot of work. There are problems aplenty and these are clearly visible. On the other hand, there is already lot of work undergoing – new schools, engineering colleges, MBA colleges, eLearning companies coming up every day… hard to believe that it is not a bubble. In addition, it appears there is a terrible mismatch between the excitement in this sector and the problems that plague currently.

If we list down some of the problems –
– Lack of schools offering quality education at less than Rs 100/month
– Lack of teachers in schools
– Students passing out of engineering schools/ MBA schools are not employable
– Divide between urban and rural India

While, most of the investments we are seeing today, for instance, are in –

– Test prep, coaching classes, JEE and other entrance exams: more than $billion market catering to just around a million students
– eLearning companies making sub-standard content to crack K-12 exams (sometimes, in the name of animated content, it is just set of Powerpoint slides with a voiceover)
– Opening of schools in cities (charging more than Rs 1000/month)
– Opening of b-schools in India (now there are around 3000 B-schools in India)

And the reason for the above pattern is simple – making money is easy for these businesses. Parents are shit-scared to lose out not sending their kids to IIT coaching classes. Schools need to tick-mark if they support Audio-Visuals in their premises. People need B-school tag to get a job. What appears is that these businesses are built around opportunities that take advantage of the problems. However, in no way, they are solving the real problems.  To be fair, making money in solving the education problems in India holistically is very difficult. How many people in India will pay in the name of learning? It has to be some entrance exam or some degree or certification when people pay. Why does someone have to consider opening a school providing low-cost education when there’s already huge demand in upmarket? And probably I would do the same thing – exploit the system unless you find a sustainable model. You need to survive and only then you can make a difference.  Again to be fair, some people/companies are actually trying to solve real problems and have come with successful business models.

So what is the way forward? In the long-term, market is a weighing machine. Supply and demand keep swinging but converge in long-term. And if the current investment is not solving the real problem, the bubble will burst. But it can also become bigger than what it is now. It is also possible that I am terrible wrong here. Only time will tell.

At Eduflix: Advantages of Video Learning (and Eduflix)

Advantages of Video Learning (and Eduflix).

[Reproduced in entirety]

For Students – Learn anywhere, anytime, at your own speed. Customize your learning.

Imagine the best teacher of algebra coming to your study room and teaching you exactly the same concept that you are finding difficult. You can ask her to repeat umpteen number of times and even rush through stuff that you have already understood. And then, in case you don’t like the methods used by this teacher, you call another one – also one of the best teachers – to teach the same concept in a different way. You can also choose three different teachers for three different courses in mathematics, say for algebra, trigonometry and calculus. Needless to say, video learning enables learning from the best teachers unconstrained by the time and place.

For Teachers –  Create lessons once. Save time for more productive sessions.

Depending on the timings of Schools, one subject typically gets around 150 to 200 hours of time slot. This time is not sufficient for the vast syllabus covered by our education boards (The other day, I almost fainted looking at the syllabus of 12th grade Chemistry and kept wondering how I managed to get through it). As a result, most of the time in classroom is spent in just going through the lessons, leaving very little time or no time for interactions and doubt clearing sessions. Good goes the saying – “What I hear, I forget. What I see, I remember. What I do, I understand”. Basically, enough of time is spent in hearing and seeing that there is no time for doing. Video-learning provides a solution. What about completing this hearing part and seeing part through videos and reserve the classroom time for doing stuff?

In addition, teachers would find their tasks more fulfilling, which in current system involves delivering the same lecture again and again to many batched of students. So why not record the lecture once [the best of the best lecture you have ever delivered] and let as many kids watch it, any time and for any number of years?

Video Learning and Eduflix

Eduflix is about video learning. However, Eduflix is not just about video learning. Eduflix attempts to fill the gaps that exist in video learning and tries to bring out the best of classroom experience and self learning. To get the best of classroom learning, we enable social learning among students. Students can ask questions to their teacher or to fellow students.  They can poke their friends the same way, share their favorite lessons and exercises, form groups to work on an assignment and do many more things. The only difference is that teacher is not in the room and the fellow students are not sitting beside. Besides social learning, Eduflix also brings accountability by enabling students to keep track of their progress through their lessons – how are they performing across various courses, what are their weak points and where do they need to spend more time? All this in real time, as and when they test themselves after taking lessons.

In brief Eduflix is “video learning + social learning + progress tracking” all in one application. And it does not end there. Eduflix also hosts a discovery engine that enable kids to find the right lesson they should watch. Being inspired by the recommendation experience one goes through while shopping on Amazon, we try to bring the similar experience to kids while learning.

All said, there is no alternative to Classroom learning. There is no alternative to reading books as well. However, we believe that traditional learning supplemented with this new form of learning can do wonders for students. Here is a table that compares Eduflix and Video learning with other forms of learning.

Video Learning