Edtech firms make hay amid Covid-19 as blended learning becomes new normal

Ed-tech platforms began offering many products for free in a race to pull in new and to convince existing users to stay with their platforms
  • In 2015, Bengaluru edtech company Vedantu launched Wave, an live online classes platform. While learners on Wave had been growing at a regular clip since, the lockdown since end-March led to a surge. The platform claims one million students attended Vedantu’s live online classes, making it the leader in this segment.
  • On April 3 this year, India’s largest player in edtech, Byju's, too jumped onto the live online classes bandwagon for real-time learning, offered free for now. "Our plan was to introduce live classes on our platform at a later date, but we accelerated the launch because we realised that now is the time students can really benefit from it," says Mrinal Mohit, chief operating officer, Byju’s.
  • Unacademy and Toppr are others offering free live classes during the pandemic although Vedantu with its head-start leads the pack.

For a few quarters right before the pandemic-induced lockdown, the ed-tech industry in India was growing at a pace faster than several other sectors. Analysts projected that the size of the ed-tech software market will touch $2 billion and the number of paid subscribers will grow to around 9.6 million by 2021 from 1.6 million in 2016. The closure of schools and educational institutions in March sparked a frenzy. Ed-tech platforms began offering many products for free in a race to pull in new and to convince existing users to stay with their platforms. Some launched new products and a few vernacular offerings entered the market for the first time. Shorter duration courses at lower price points were introduced as well, pulling in previously reluctant customers.

The industry now appears to be on a new growth trajectory with free and unique users on platforms doubling within a month, a 83 per cent increase in paid users, a sharp rise in engagement and a new willingness to pay for products (see chart, EdTech readiness framework). While most see the industry growth rate accelerating, they also expect a certain step back from the current sharp spikes. “I expect there to be a pull back once life returns to brick and mortar but the plateau at which things settle will be higher,” says Sandeep Aneja, founder, Kaizen Private Equity, a private equity firm that invests in education start-ups in Asia.

Analysts and experts say that a few clear trends have emerged in the first few weeks of the lockdown. One, there is a far greater awareness and willingness to try out new platforms to enhance learning. This awareness and willingness cuts across parents, educational institutions and even governments.

The new willingness stems partly from the fact that nobody expects things to revert to the way they were on the other side of the pandemic. Schools and educational institutions are gearing up for blended learning models once schools start welcoming back students. “Companies and education institutions are, across the board, coming up with blended and pure online learning offerings working under the assumption that the new normal will be blended learning for several months,” adds Aneja. 

 

 
Global online giants like Coursera have brought new higher education institutions and colleges on their platform, many of which are likely to stay on even after the easing of pandemic restrictions as the advantages of blended learning become clearer to all. Segments like physical tutoring may never recover in some senses as students and parents begin to appreciate the ease of online learning, saving on time and effort in reaching coaching institutes.

Director for ed-tech for Central Square Foundation Gouri Gupta says government encouragement and parental engagement are also key factors pushing the sector's growth. “If children are at home, free all day, somebody has to do something. Parents are therefore far more willing now to consider options,” she adds. 

“The percentage of parents downloading our app has drastically increased... Additionally, teachers, who were otherwise hesitant to use online tools, are also becoming digitally empowered,” says Mohit of Byju's.

This greater awareness and willingness is reflected in the numbers. According to data compiled by RedSeer in the end of April, there is a doubling in the number of users across platforms. Companies like Byju's claim that they have seen a 3X rise in the numbers using its app. In one month alone, the company says 6 million new users have registered with usage time going up to 100 minutes a day. Most platforms including Byju's say that many users are coming from previously unexpected quarters like Tier 3 and 4 cities.

If there is a clear willingness to try, there is also greater willingness to pay. Companies are offering shorter duration products at lower prices which previously reluctant customers are now willing to try. In another instance, courses that were previously offline have gone online and are being offered at a discounted price.

RedSeer’s ed-tech report claims that there is a 30 per cent increase in the willingness to pay but we still have a long way to go if we compare the market in India and that globally.

There are certain clear gaps that experts see. Gupta says that English or Hindi product offerings can make a dent only to an extent and many more companies will have to go vernacular to make a serious headway. Moreover, products have to cater to state boards and curriculums instead of being restricted primarily to CBSE and ICSE-aligned syllabi. 

While most of what has happened for the sector during this unfortunate time is positive, what is also clear is that the Covid crisis has given birth to a new, savvier and more aware customer, one who may demand more bang for his or her buck. Only those who deliver will survive the pandemic.


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