With online learning rapidly changing the education-services landscape, it shouldn’t seem surprising that Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan’s Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, that aims to “advance human potential”, should make its first investment in Asia in Bangalore-based Byju’s, a mobile-based online learning company. The $50-million round of funding for Byju’s that Initiative co-led along with Sequoia Capital and Sofina, among other investors, should provide a clue of how online learning services are going to be perceived. With the increasing need to upskill, there has been a palpable surge of interest in online learning, as formal, institutional learning simply can’t accommodate all—between 2014 and 2015, enrollment for massive open online courses (MOOCs) more than doubled, from 14 million to 35 million. Growing internet access and the sheer number of educational institutions joining the open online learning have led to market-leader Coursera—with some 1.3 million students in India in 2015—lining up nearly 1,500 courses from universities and schools around the world. Take the other leaders in the space, like edX and Khan Academy, and the sheer spread of online learning, in terms of both numbers enrolled and the choice of courses offered is phenomenal (though the demand is the highest for computer science and engineering courses).
Though Byju’s has a different model than a MOOCs platform—it generates the content for the video classes and tests offered on its Learning App on its own—it has already crossed 5.5 million downloads and has over 250,000 annual paid subscriptions. One reason for this could be the breadth of students that it targets, from the school level, with tutorials and tests for the general sciences and mathematics curricula for Classes VI-XII, to the university level, with CAT, GRE, GMAT and JEE tutorials and tests. And, in between, preparatory tutorials for IAS-aspirants have also been thrown in.
Part of the reason why online learning has caught on, according to a Forbes analysis, is the success of the freemium model—users can take a few classes/tutorials for free, and those that realise the value of the course would opt for a paid subscription for higher-end content or more integrated learning with tests, personal interactions with subject experts/teachers. Byju’s has a conversion rate of 5-6%, with 90% of these renewing subscriptions, as per a report in The Economic Times. A Harvard Business Review analysis finds that students from non-OECD countries had better academic and professional benefits from MOOCs than their OECD counterparts. For India, where the existing institutional education infrastructure is nowhere near adequate—and teaching standards in public-funded schooling are quite poor—online learning could prove an effective alternative. Which is why, even as the government talks of a SWAYAM, a MOOCs platform envisaged to serve some 3 crore students, a Byju’s receiving the kind of funding it has is great news indeed.