E-commerce is an industry which, over the course of last few years, has changed the way we shop, eat, travel, network and, possibly very soon, learn. India is a young nation with more than 65% of its population below 35 years of age. The demand-supply mismatch for quality education in the country has reached massive proportions, with thousands of applications being received for a few college seats. Further, the quality of education imparted in most of our institutions has been found lacking in various national and international surveys.
As a result, the use of technology has now become inevitable to address the aspirations of our youth. In recent times, online education courses seem to have caught the attention of our student and professional community. The ever-increasing internet and smartphone penetration in the country is expected to further fuel this growth. Indians constituting the second-largest student community on Coursera, the US-based Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) aggregator, vindicates the growing appetite for online courses.
The current scenario
According to various estimates, the size of the e-learning industry in India is currently pegged at $2-3 billion. To meet the sudden spurt in demand, a number of education technology companies and start-ups have come up in recent times, offering online courses.
As the industry is still at a nascent stage, there are certain companies which are currently operating across the three service categories identified in the accompanying chart. Over time, we expect specialised companies bucketed in each of these categories.
In order to capitalise on the huge traffic generated on their websites and apps, some large e-commerce companies have already started testing waters. The initial service offerings of these companies include online professional certificate courses which are aimed at up-skilling or re-skilling students in streams such as technology, finance, engineering, banking, management, among others. They are also offering vanilla training courses without any certification. Recently, Flipkart collaborated with TCYonline, an India-based testing platform, to offer test preparation tools and coaching materials for over 90 examination categories. Interestingly, consistent with their discount strategy, certificate courses are also being offered at massive discounts ranging up to 90%.
Advantages and challenges
There is no doubt that online courses offer a wide array of benefits to students. These benefits include cost, convenience, customised pace of progress, anywhere/anytime access, benchmarked quality of course material, unrestricted reach to faculty/mentors online, amongst others. On the other hand, the list of challenges include lack of recognition of online certificates by employers/educational institutions, no accrediting/certifying agency to stamp quality on certifying company, dearth of options for cost benchmarking and comparing various programmes, and absence of personal touch. The retailers are also aware that students are wary to spend on such programmes due to loads of freely available information on the internet.
Although Indians constitute the second highest student community on Coursera, over 90% do not complete the course in which they have enrolled out of choice. This may be a matter of concern for the entire retailing industry as students do not seem to attach a lot of value to online certifications. Enrolment in online programmes seem to be for reference purposes (probably to complete projects/assignments) or temporary knowledge attainment.
The way forward
Given the uniqueness of this sector and the inherent challenges it faces, we believe that retailing of online education courses will be a tough nut to crack for retailing companies. Although with a huge student population translating into a multi-billion dollar industry, the opportunity seems to be too large to ignore. A well-articulated and focused strategy to understand and effectively meet the current demands of the market is required.
The need of the hour is a uniform recognised accrediting agency which rates the various online certification programmes so that students can easily compare and choose the most suited learning option. This will also lend credibility to such programmes, increasing the chance of acceptance by the employers and educational institutions. We believe that the online certification market is here to stay and we foresee the market evolving with the changing demands of the industry.
Rohin Kapoor is a director with Deloitte in India