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.

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.