The Online Education Industry in India –Present and Future

The Indian education system is often the subject of debate over outdated curriculum, rote learning, cost of education, quality of teachers and lack of infrastructure. On the positive side, our country boasts of world-class institutes such as Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Indian institute of Technology (IIT), All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). We are also one of the largest and oldest education systems in the world.
The formal education in India still constitutes of traditional model or the brick-and-mortar classes. Students have to attend schools and colleges to complete their education. While the conventional model is the commonly accepted mode of formal education across the world, the education fraternity is opening up to online education or e-learning as it is also referred otherwise.
Everything is going online. And, so is education.

Scope of E-learning

Online education goes beyond the realms of secondary, post secondary and tertiary education. It also includes courses and modules for competitive exam preparation, professional skill enhancement, and other non-academic subjects.

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E-learning is Big in India

According to a latest report, the Indian e-learning market size was USD247 million, comprising 1.6 million users in 2016. It is expected witness an 8X growth to reach USD1.96 billion and the current user base will grow at 44 percent CAGR to 9.6 million users by 2021.
In fact, India’s e-learning market is the second largest after the US which is forecasted to grow by 15.64 percent and exceed $48 billion by 2020.

Key Drivers of E-learning Growth in India

The online education in India is evolving at a swift pace owing to the following factors:
1. Growth in internet and smartphone penetration
The number of internet users is expected to reach 730 million by 2020, almost double from what it is today at 432 million. India may replace China to have the second largest users after the US.

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Similarly, India is also the world’s third largest smartphone market with a number of users expected to reach 369 million by 2018. It is also estimated that mobile internet users will cross 300 million by the end of 2017 from 159 million users at present.

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The internet offers huge accessibility to enrol for distance courses for the young demographic (15-40 years). They are the most active consumers of smartphones and internet, and it is they who will be looking for online learning modules to fulfil their educational requirements without having to move out of home, office or city, and spending exorbitantly. The internet also makes diverse courses, degrees and certifications from around the world easily accessible to urban as well as rural, and mentally or physically restrained population.

2. Cost of online education is low

A survey reveals that there has been a 175 % rise in the average annual private expenditure for general education (primary level to post graduation and above) between 2008 and 2014. During the same period, the annual cost of professional and technical education has increased by 96%. Parents spend Rs36,000 on secondary education in government school for six years, and Rs3,96,000 in private schools. If the kids are studying in boarding, the cost is close to Rs 18 lakhs. The graduation and post graduation degrees in engineering, medicine, science and commerce are unusually expensive.

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Online education providers can reach out to the masses without setting up a physical infrastructure or incurring administrative costs such as staff salaries, stationery, books, etc. Hence, the cost savings are passed to the users.
3. Traditional model unable to fulfil the additional capacity
The aim of the government is to raise its current gross enrolment ratio to 30% by 2020. India will have the world’s largest tertiary-age population and second largest graduate talent pipeline globally by the end of 2020. However, the existing educational infrastructure is not equipped to meet the additional capacity. The e-learning can supplement the conventional model, and bridge the gap to a considerable extent.

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4. Digital-friendly government policies
The ruling government has launched several programmes under the initiatives such as ‘Digital India’ and ‘Skill India’ to spread digital literacy, create a knowledge-based society in India, and implement three principles ‘access, equity and quality’ of the Education Policy.
• e-Basta (schools books in digital form)
• e-Education (all schools connected with broadband and free wifi in all schools and develop MOOCs – develop pilot Massive Online Open Courses)
• Nand Ghars (digital tools as teaching aids)
• SWAYAM (MOOCs based on curriculum taught in classrooms from 9th class till post-graduation)
• India Skills Online (learning portal for skill training)
In order to establish digital infrastructure, the government has also launched National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) which aims to expand broadband connectivity and faster network.

5. Demand among working professionals and job-seekers

The Indian job scenario is currently reeling under the twin pressure of layoffs and job paucity, especially due to automation and slow-down in the global economy. According to a World Bank report, automation is threatening 69% of jobs in India. There have been massive layoffs in IT, BFSI, Telecom and Manufacturing sectors, and people are being replaced by technology driven by machine learning and artificial intelligence.

The current unemployment rate is 5%, which is the highest in the last five years. With around 1 million Indians enter workforce every month and India’s working age population expected to reach 64% of the total population by 2021, there is a dire need of job creation. However, a report warns that India is likely to face job shortage in the next 35 years.

It has been also found that 58% of unemployed graduates and 62% of unemployed post-graduates say that non-availability of jobs matching their skill and education is as a primary reason for their unemployment. The existing formal degree courses taught in India do not impart ‘on-the-job’ skills.

Owing to all these factors, both job-seekers and working professionals feel a need to gain, refresh or enhance skills through career advancement courses. They feel that such courses could increase their chances of landing better jobs, switch jobs, get promotions, negotiate better pay packages and stay industry-relevant. Online career courses are affordable, give hands-on knowledge, can be completed in one-fourth time that of an offline course, and offer flexibility in terms of personal schedule. They can be done anywhere, anytime at one’s convenience.

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But, Challenges are Still Many

Online education is definitely has a bright future in India, but the journey is fraught with several challenges.
1. Insufficient digital infrastructure
While the government has been making efforts to create and improve a digital infrastructure across the country, there hasn’t been any noteworthy progress. According to World Economic Forum, only 15 out of 100 households have access to the internet, and mobile broadband remains for a privileged few, with only 5.5 subscriptions for every 100 people. Further, currently broadband reaches just about 600 corridors, largely in and around the top 50-100 Indian cities, leaving rural areas with poor connectivity.
2. Poor learning engagement
In traditional classrooms, the student-teacher and peer-to-peer engagement is very high. Learners can approach the instructors and fellow students for feedback or discussions, and get their concerns addressed on-the-spot. E-learning is yet not developed to a level to stimulate open-ended or crowd learning, unless the courses are imparted live with the help of an online instructor.
3. Lack of standardization, credibility and quality
The lack of standardization of online programmes and their formal acceptability still remain a concern. The e-learning players offer multiple courses on the same subjects with different levels of certifications, methodology and assessment parameters. Online courses are designed and imparted by different instructors, who may be given autonomy to design the curriculum. So, the quality of courses may differ across different e-learning platforms. Most online courses do not get academic credits, credibility and recognition in the traditional educational eco-system.
4. Language of the courses
India is a multi-linguistic country, and a majority of the population comes from non-urban areas. The online courses, mostly focus on English content. Hence, non-English speaking students struggle with the availability of vernacular content.
5. Low completion rates
Online courses are self-paced learning. There is minimum or negligible motivation due to lack of face-to-face interaction. Hence, the completion rate of online courses is very low.

Future Trends

E-learning sector in India will witness the following trends in the next few years:

1. Hybrid model
There will be a convergence of online and offline education model. Online course providers will work actively on providing supplementary education, such as after-school coaching, e-tutorials, internships and live projects. They will also reach out to students at offline touch points like group discussions and labs. There will be virtual classrooms where traditional offline pedagogy will be aided by digital courses on practical knowledge and soft skills.
2. Addition of new and offbeat subjects
Apart from the popular subjects like data science, cloud computing and digital marketing, the e-learning curriculum will look to offer courses in unexpected subjects such as culinary management, forensic science, cyber law, etc.
3. Gamification
In order to make learning more interesting, competitive and rewarding for academic students and professionals, the digital courses will incorporate features such as badges, discounts and leader boards. Corporates, educational institutions and e-learning platforms will come together to co-develop content.
4. Peer-to-peer learning and profile mapping
E-learning providers will develop peer-to-peer model to establish collaborative learning between students through notes and idea sharing on a common platform. Technology such as artificial intelligence, big data, data analytics, facial recognition, etc., will be used to offer profile-based customized courses.
5. Investor interest will grow
Over the last three years, there have been several high ticket deals in the Indian e-learning sector. The Chang Zuckerberg Initiative has invested US$ 50 million in Byju’s; Bertelsmann India has put in $8.2 million in Eruditus; and Kaizen Management Advisors and DeVry Inc. have invested US$ 10 million in EduPristine. Not to forget, Khan Academy, which has so far received financial aid to the tunes of billions of rupees from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Google and Netflix founder Reed Hestings, among a few others. So, the sector will continue to spark more interest among the investors and attract funding.

E-learning has a promising future; it could be on its way to become the next sunrise industry. However, it is highly unlikely that it will replace traditional learning; rather both models will work in tandem. The trio of Content, Delivery and Access will act as a change-agent in shaping up online education.

This article was originally published in VCCircle.