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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Some Startup Ideas For India

Jammu (North India)
Jammu (North India) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The startup ecosystem in India is evolving and we are seeing phenomenal increase in number of startups founded. Although my history in the startup world is very short, I can see that some of these startups are very mature and are solving some real good problems. However, I have also noticed a pattern – startups copying ideas from other countries, more specifically, the US. Well, no harm in copying good businesses but sometimes there is a clear product-market misfit seen in such startups. The problems in India are different from those in the other developed countries. And the main reason we (including me) forget this is because of the literature we consume – TechCrunch, VentureBeat, YC, blogs etc

Here I have listed some problems that are specific to India and hence some possible startup ideas around them. I would keep this a live post and add more ideas. Obviously, I have not given a lot of thought to these ideas so would love to hear from people who are already working on any of these.

Learning English – Already see some startups trying to solve this problem. In offline world, Veta has already been doing lot of work. There are different target markets – graduates looking for jobs but lack good english speaking skills, english learning for school kids, english learning for adults to keep up with their kids etc.

Toy Sets build around Indian stories – Kids (2-5 years) love imagining the stories they hear. There are a lot of toys available on western themes, be it Spiderman, Ben 10 etc. Why aren’t there many toys around Indian stories?

MOOC supported higher Ed – The massive open online courses have been huge success with lot of students enrolling from India. However, there is a large section of students who are not qualified enough to understand what is taught in courses from Udacity, Coursera etc. May be a more structured system can help, where there are real instructor curating the courses from MOOCs and helping out Indian students with more personalized attention.

Real job training inside college – This idea of finishing schools in India is not new. There are a lot of them functioning, however, none of these have been hugely successful in scaling up. Can technology be leveraged along with existing college infrastructure?

Distraction free working and tracking – With so many social networks and other distractions available online, employers follow one of the two things – they either live with the employees wasting time on internet or they do a blanket ban on all the websites. Can a system be created to enable better self-discipline among employees without this blanket ban?

Teacher training – We are facing a severe shortage of teachers in our schools today. The B.Ed program has become very popular but still not keeping up in supplying the teachers.

Preventing from cold / Homeless – Every year hundreds of people die in India because of the cold, specially in the north India. And there are thousands of homeless people all over India. Is it possible to solve this problem with a profitable or non-profitable business?

Shitty idea – I wrote about this idea a few years back. With more than half of the Indians shitting out in open grounds, brings some uncomfortable problems like lack of hygiene, health problems and compromise with women safety.

Women safety – Inspite of so much uproar over women safety because of unfortunate Delhi rape case, I havent seen any major attempts at solving this problem (the hypocrites got busy with their lives and media got something more sensational to report, some genuine ppl are still involved though). With mobile penetration so high in India, I am sure there are possible solutions using mobile or internet.

Human Computer Interface –  The number of computer users in India are growing but I still see the problem in usability across some sections. More specifically, I have seen elder people having tough time using the computer.

Hospital beds in india – I don’t have much insight in healthcare in India, but this very alarming – for every 1000 people in India, there isn’t even a single bed. The number according to World Health Statistics is .9 per 1000 population.

Hope to see some good startups coming out of India solving these problems.

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

At Eduflix: Lessons From Video Learning (may we call it V-Learning)

Lessons From Video Learning (may we call it V-Learning).

[Reproduced in entirety]

While preparing various courses for Eduflix, we get a chance to go through video lessons from many teachers. While doing so, apart from learning from the content of videos, we learn a lot about the methods used by these content owners to prepare these lessons. While going through many such videos, we noticed these three points –

1. Duration of the lessons – Our normal classroom lectures are generally an hour-long. However, we are bound to sit in the classroom for this duration. In this one hour, our thoughts wander away from lecture multiple times. Even if we stop following the teacher, we are supposed to sit in the classroom. These constraints do not apply when we watch videos – you can walk out anytime, you can pause, rewind or fast forward. Further, In the age of multi-tasking – browsing, instant messaging, social networking – our attention span for one particular video is nowhere near that one hour allotted for physical classroom. All these imply that video lessons should be of considerably shorter duration. Or longer lessons be broken down into smaller chunks so that students can take breaks. Although it is very subjective, but my guess is this duration should be around 10 mins. Making a lesson interesting for more than 10 mins would be an uphill task. Check these two videos (both are awesome videos – but which one would you watch)

2. Recording of the lessons – Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of video lessons based on how they are recorded. One kind is classroom recording where there is a 
high-resolution camera recording the activities of a teacher on the blackboard. This gives a true feeling of a classroom. Students get to see gestures and facial expressions of the teacher – some of the key tools in imparting lessons. However, there are few problems with this method. Most of the time, what students see is the back of the teacher while she is scribbling on the board. Also teacher hinders the view of the blackboard. The other method is imparting the lesson on a PC screen using some drawing tool and capturing the screen with teachers voice-over. There are three main advantages of this method – Firstly, students can see the scribblings very clearly. Secondly, the costs involved in setting up this method are minimal – you don’t need a high quality camera. And thirdly, the bit rate needed to transmit this kind of video or the size required to store is very low. This makes the video accessible to students having low-bandwidth connections. The choice of which of these method to use would also greatly depend on the kind of lessons. Examples of both types –

3. Contextual information – Classroom lessons work mainly because the teacher has control over the class. Teacher knows the 30-odd students sitting in her class. She understands the kind of level she needs to go to sync up with the kids. Over that, kids can always raise their hands and ask questions. However in video learning, students lose these advantages. There are ways in which we can circumvent these problems and we are working on some of these. But one of the best solutions is to create the video lessons such that students have minimum doubts while going through them. This can be done by making the videos very elaborate and as contextual as possible. Five minus two is three – is fine. But what about you go to a shop and buy a candy for two bucks, but you have no change. So you pay five bucks and get three rupees in back in change. It will not work all the time, but will definitely provide better learning experience to students. Heres one video on simple equations –

These are just few insights, and there is high probability that some of these might be wrong. Nevertheless, I hope that we will keep learning more about this powerful weapon that can educate millions of students.