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.