Imagine this is 2004, and you’re an engineering student aspiring to clear the GATE exam. What would your first instinct be? It would undoubtedly involve looking for a nearby institute or consulting your college seniors about how hefty a fee you should be expected to pay for the course.
The year 2017 alone projected the growth of EduTech market at about $255 billion. This number is likely to grow at an exponential rate because more and more students are deciding to enrol for online courses. But what are the circumstances that contributed to this enormous growth? What are the factors that dominate this market niche?
An underlying sense of how online education works is dependent on the goal of the learner. The primary category of learners come to earn certifications which when added to their resumes, boost their career portfolios. The second category of learners come with a sole goal to improve their professional skill set and thus to establish expertise in that area.
Gaining an online degree was earlier not respected or considered credible. But all that is rapidly changing with the drastic increase in the number of students opting to study online and also the number of quality education providers online. While the availability of high-speed internet is one major factor, ease in accessing this technology, economical pricing, superior quality of education and the flexibility it provides form the other significant factors which contribute to the growth of students opting to learn online.
How does affordable internet contribute to this growth?
India and Internet:
The origin of the seed for digital education in India is a bit hazy, but the presence of E-Learning has been prevalent thanks to the educational programmes done by Doordarshan and Aakashwani in the previous decades. Though the internet was a common phenomenon in the early 2000’s, learning wasn’t the main takeaway from any of it. It was primarily used to communicate and not an everyday household luxury because of its expensive setup costs.
With the advent of affordable and high-speed bandwidths, the penetration of internet increased, and with it, the user base surged. The highest surge in the number of users in India was probably towards the end of 2016 when Reliance Jio made affordable and cheap 4G internet a reality while the Indian Currency Demonetisation forced digital literacy in the country.
Rural Penetration and Indic Languages:
The internet has opened up a wide range of possibilities in rural India. Students who previously travelled hundreds of kilometres and paid thousands of rupees at coaching institutes for GATE, UPSC, CAT etc. examination preparation, can now prepare from the comfort of their homes. All they need is a laptop or a smartphone with a small internet pack or access to a community WiFi network.
Sreenath K, a railway coolie from Kerala has cleared the UPSC examination by using the free WiFi available at the railway station. Every day, while he moved the luggage around the station, he used to listen to classes via his earphones on his smartphone. While this is an epitome of ‘how affordable internet has empowered the common man and thus helped in evolving the education in India’, the question of content and trust issues still exist.
A Yourstory article indicates that a majority of the Indian population prefer and trust content in their native languages. This opens up an excellent opportunity for regional content creators.
Thus teachers from anywhere in the country can upload their content in their native languages, and peer-reviewed content ratings help students choose the best of the lot and learn from them.
Accessing Content and types of Content:
While there is an abundance of text-based content available for students to consume, the most preferred content type is video. Video-based content has made it easy for students to understand complex topics from a primary school level to even GATE, CAT or UPSC.
While this stands, audio and image-based content rank next to video content. This is so because before the advent of 4G, accessing a video file was a difficult task but affordable 4G and free WiFi has made video streaming easier and faster.
While there are numerable video tutorials and audio tutorials available for free on youtube and other podcasting mediums, there are many other paid course portals available which provide various certification courses. The increase in the demand for skilled certification has increased the number of contenders in this category. This healthy competition, in turn, has contributed to improving the quality of the course content available.
Educational content is not just confined to the limits of the formats mentioned above. There has been a significant surge in content being generated for Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality too. Gamifying the material has helped it, but at the same time, the pricing and the costs involved in including these technologies in a daily learner’s life are huge as of now.
It is not just this new technology, India is ranked 67th by Ookla’s internet speed test, the average internet speed in India is 18Mbps. Though this is an acceptable speed, it is not enough to cater to the ever-growing digital population.
With an estimated growth in the edtech industry to about $1.6 Billion by 2021, the best way to achieve this is by complete rural penetration of the internet, promotion of Indic and regional languages based content, affordable higher bandwidth and integration of new technologies into e-learning modules.