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Is Personalised Learning the future?

When we hear children in schools not able to count or read or write a sentence correctly or an engineer who does not have requisite skills, it is time to take notice. Gone are the days when children used to read good text books, understand long passages and seek out answers, to intelligently posed questions. A complete go by given to reading, a great stress laid on packaged and capsuled learning with both questions and answers pre-defined, has left teaching – learning, as an exercise in challenging only the memory cells, with the grey matter turning black. Rote learning has suck out the fun from the learning itself. Is this due to an expansion, a need to reach out to everyone or lack of teachers both in quality and quantity or a lack of adequate infrastructure? Certainly, has been a matter of debate among intellectuals and the sundry alike. As per a 2015 report by the UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS), about 74 countries face grave shortage of teachers, with India second on the list.

The Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD) has fixed the Parents-Teacher Ratio (PTR) for primary classes at 30:1 and for upper primary classes at 35:1. Although popular private schools demonstrate a better PTR as compared to public schools, a recent survey by ASSOCHAM revealed that many experienced teachers of reputed private schools leave their jobs to take up private coaching. On the other hand, as per the data tabled in the Lok Sabha by the MHRD in December 2016, 18% positions of teachers in government-run primary schools and 15% in secondary schools were vacant nationwide. A 30 to 50 percent short fall even in some of the best in higher education, especially technical, has pushed the student community to veer round private coaching. With both parents working and no one at home to handhold, coaching classes seem to fill the void.

Be that as it may, there is another story of competitive examinations held annually for engineering and medical studies, more so for engineering and its 22 odd IITs. In order to make it to the best, an unholy scramble precedes with several children going through the grill in the so-called professional coaching centres. Parents too endure the pressure with their wards who either perform or perish.

Indian Private Tuition market was estimated to be at $16 billion in the year 2017 and seems to be rapidly growing. It grew at a staggering 30-35 percent in last few years and is estimated to grow $30 billion by year 2020. Truly an Industry without actually being one.

A survey conducted by National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) states that one student out of every four takes private tuition. Different facets of the Indian private tuition market are the classroom coaching, small study groups, one-on-one home tuition and online live/content driven. 96 percent of this is face to face tutoring. Online content and live tutoring business is pegged at just Rs.3500 crore in a 1.2 Lakh Crore industry. With growing internet penetration in both urban and rural households, the market could metamorphose into a complete online version. Effective interactive content is a massive challenge that will need domain experts, who are strong communicators, are comfortable with technology and also are performers.

Education, disrupted as it is, is undergoing changes in delivery as never before. The most important challenge involves a shift in the way students perceive higher education. Instead of attending a single institution, students receive credit in multiple ways, including dual-degree programs, skill-based courses, online providers and from multiple universities. Students are embracing online courses and undermining core curricula, which served as a cash cow, by turning to alternate providers. As a result, colleges must now be more nimble, entrepreneurial, student-focused, and accountable for what students learn. New business models evolve for new start-ups, if we can combine the need of private coaching and online education for value addition. A flexible personalized platform connecting students to tutors, use of Analytics and AI to make learning effective and credible along with credentials-based evaluation, can impart cognitive skills apart from core competencies. Right pricing, quality tutors, and modern tools are the metrics. Currently the model is non interactive most of the time. Some enterprising educators in the business are trying out one to one coaching in the online space with experts to provide value added nuances.

Are online tutoring platforms where lessons are conducted via video chat and a virtual whiteboard with file sharing functions by various tutors / experts, the future? Will a session be targeted just at the specific questions that a student didn’t know, to his favourite teacher directly? One can replay the sessions later. Now the USP. Various tutors in different subject domains list their services on the platform and students select one who best suits their needs akin to various vehicles registering with travel aggregators like OLA, UBER or home aggregators like VRBO, HomeAway or Airbnb and customers opting for whichever is nearer for a pick up or stay. Payment for the online lessons will also be online. Students further have the option to leave a feedback or a review on their tutor’s online profile. Can this be the future disruptor in the billion-dollar coaching markets?

Technology and disruption of higher education includes details on MOOCs, blended, flipped and online classes and their role in transforming higher education. As much as they offer tremendous opportunities, they also threaten the traditional university. Radical change beyond what happens in the classroom is needed if our school or higher education system is to continue to flourish. The online tuition model is not meant to replace brick and mortar institutions or even the tuition centres. It should be viewed as an “additional solution” for parents and students. Unbundling credits, new certifications, universities will need to drive technology innovation, evolve academic pathways and include alternative credentials. Collaborations must happen not only for online resources but best practices.

For those struggling with the cost of higher education, it’s easy to see why internet-based learning opportunities, are such a big drawcard. Expanding the possibilities, if one can build a model that provides personalised learning online, be it for coaching or for competitive examinations, or for value added courses for working professionals, it could be a future game changer.

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