The Future of Education in India - Personalized Online Coaching

Anirudh Swarnkar, Co-Founder, UPSC Pathshala
Anirudh Swarnkar, Co-Founder, UPSC Pathshala
UPSC Pathshala is India's largest online preparation platform which specializes in personalized and complete coaching for UPSC examinations.

Anirudh, a 25-year-old working professional from Mumbai receives a Whatsapp message from his trainer asking him to revise what they learnt a day before. He quickly logs on his mobile, plugs in the earphone, all while commuting from work and starts the video lecture his mentor just asked him to go through. He has a few doubts which he plans to ask during the Skype session scheduled later that day. This little episode that I just described, perfectly epitomizes the future of education in India – personalized online coaching.

Over the last few years, the education landscape in India has been changing significantly, with traditional form of supplementary learning, which is classroom-based group coaching giving way to a more personalized form of training, made possible by the growth of startups in the online education space. A report by Google & KPMG says that, by 2021, the online education market in India is set to grow to $1.96 billion with around 9.6 million users. The number of educational online content users was just 1.6 million in 2016. It’s a whopping 500 percent increase in just five years.

Why the Drastic Shift?
There are two main reasons for this. One is the change in the medium of coaching. And the second is change in the pedagogical style. With rising internet penetration and faster data networks, accessing content online is no longer a privilege in India. Watching a video on the move or having a Skype call with anyone from anywhere is pretty much the norm today. The ecosystem to facilitate online education had already been created.Online coaching also tore down many barriers, specifically location-based dependencies. Not every city in India has the infrastructure or the access to good coaching classes. This forces students to migrate to educational hubs, like Kota for IIT preparation or Old Rajender Nagar and Mukherjee Nagar in Delhi for UPSC coaching. There is a catch here though - these residential courses are heavy on the wallet. Besides that, not every student is in a life stage where he/she can
drop everything and shift to these centers of mass training - working professionals are being a case in point. Online coaching works like a charm in these cases. The convenience of taking a course anytime and any where you want is just the icing on the cake.

" It is clear that online education is here to stay. That brings us to the next question - what is the future of online education in India? It is no guess that online education will permeate the K12 segment as well "

The second reason for this paradigm shift has more to do with the style of teaching itself. Whether classroom coaching is really effective has been a subject of debate since a long time. It is a well-known fact that every student has a different learning style and a different rate of absorption. The traditional mode of coaching forces you into a passive learning routine where students grasp concepts in a patchy manner, which keeps building over time. The program is just not designed to be self-paced. In a classroom, one-to-one coaching is quite difficult, so unless you are proactive who interacts with your professors and gets your doubts resolved, you are going to remain one among the herd of clueless students.

What is the answer to this problem? Is it personalized coaching? The answer is a resounding yes. Is it affordable for everyone? In an offline scenario it may not be, but it is possible with the help of technology, as proved by various innovative startups. The early adopters in this space started with a content heavy focus, where they provided world-class online content. But, here the onus was on the student to consume and absorb that material. Then there are firms who tried to solve the problem using adaptive testing. This again, was only a part of the solution. The real problem solvers took a three-pronged approach to gain the edge - diagnostic testing, video-based lectures, and the most important component of all, personal mentorship.

Early success for companies using this model proves that this holistic approach is the way to go. However, it is not devoid of challenges. The biggest one is scaling-up, with a need to recruit thousands of qualified tutors. But as China’s Tutorgroup, with over 2000 teachers has proved, it can be fixed with a managed marketplace for trainers. So have students bought into this form of learning? The answer to this depends on the kind of course they are doing. It is common these days for working professional to take-up career advancement courses in digital marketing, finance and technology. These are predominantly under taken online. As per a report by live mint, re-skilling and online certification is the dominant category in India, with a 38 percent share.

There are companies offering full-fledged online courses for exams like IELTS, which is a language-based exam. This is no contest actually. There is a dearth of good quality offline teachers and secondly, a large section of these test-takers are working professionals, for whom online courses work just perfectly. Students are also opting for online courses to prepare for exams like GATE & IAS.

It is clear that online education is here to stay. That brings us to the next question - what is the future of online education in India? It is no guess that online education will permeate the K12 segment as well. As per the EY-FICCI report, the K12 segment has a staggering size of 250+ million students. The quality of education imparted at this level is questionable, to say the least. The rote-based learning system doesn’t make it any better either. This opens the door to a world of opportunities. So, once these early movers solve the challenge of scalability, there is nothing to stop them from venturing into this space.