‘Tuitions’ take on new meaning as kids log on to learn

Khyati Dharamsi

Time was when ‘tuitions’ was the bane of every school-going child and his or her parents. But a new breed of edupreneurs is changing all that, with more and more students logging on for extra coaching. So whether it’s ‘extra classes’ in Maths, Science and Marathi or preparation for the IIT-JEE, it’s all being consumed online.

And it didn’t take a lot of homework for these edupreneurs to figure out how to make e-coaching work. The key, they reveal, lies in affordable price points and customised content, which is well nigh impossible in a brick-and-mortar coaching class.

‘E’ For Excellence

Meritnation.com assesses the student’s requirements and customises online content for millions of students. And for students who still want the brand, Teacherni.com uploads videos of private coaching classes such as Mahesh Tutorials and Bhola’s Classes, etc. Another website, 24x7Guru, helps students assess their problem areas and work on them.

Considering the upsurge in the e-learning space, Arpit Badjatiya, CEO, Serosoft Solutions, an IT products provider in the e-learning space, says, “Companies are creating a virtual environment in the learning space, whether B2B or B2C.” And the timing is just right. According to the 66th National Sample Survey Office's survey, expenditure (inflation-adjusted) on education increased by 162 per cent in rural areas and 148 per cent in urban areas during the decade that ended in 2010.

Tailored For You

Pavan Chauhan, founder and CEO, Meritnation, which launched January 2009, already has 4 million users. “Typically in a classroom of 30-40 students, teaching is a one-size-fits-all model. However, each student has different strengths and weakness. Our aim is to find a system that can detect these weaknesses and address them through technology.”

For most e-learning portals, the platform is an entire learning ecosystem. “Students are tired of running from one coaching class to another after school. Besides, brick-and-mortar classes cannot accommodate more than 25 to 50 students. Through live online teaching, the teacher can reach out to a larger audience, ask questions and multiple students can ‘attend class’ at one go,” explains Dhaval Mehta, Managing Partner, Teacherni.com.

Doing The Math

The opportunity for online tutorials is huge. Meritnation claims to have 1.78 lakh students visiting its site daily and a thriving community where 3 million questions are asked daily. “Around 17 lakh students take the SSC exam in Maharashtra every year. Reputed coaching classes reach out to about 75,000 students while 10 lakh others don’t attend classes,” points out Mehta of Teacherni.

Affordable Content

Considering the obscene sums of money coaching classes demand, affordability is a huge plus for online tutorials. “There are many students who are willing to spend Rs 10,000 a year on online tutorials vis-à-vis Rs 50,000 to a brick-and-mortar coaching class. Moreover, on our portal, students can learn through videos from the comfort of their homes – at less than half the cost,” Mehta points out.

Chauhan says keeping it affordable is possible as servicing costs are less for online tutorials. An annual subscription of Meritnation costs Rs 2,500 for a Maths and Science package for Std I, and ranges from Rs 2,500 to Rs 5,500, depending on the study package selected, for Std X.  Packages include 12 months of videos on all subjects and preparatory material for exams like Olympiad and general knowledge.

High-End Technology

With students from kindergarten to Std XII being targeted, isn’t data overload a problem for portals? “We use Cloud computing and hence there is no bandwidth issue. We have our own functional server and data overload is not a problem,” says Mehta. He claims Teacherni is so popular with students that the portal is tying up with Samsung, which will bundle Teacherni.com’s app on four of its new smart phone models.

Technology is also helping online tutorials enlarge their footprint to smaller towns. “As broadband penetration improves further, we will experience wonderful growth in much smaller towns,” says Chauhan. Mehta agrees, “There is rise in mobile Internet, especially in rural areas, which have witnessed a 70-per cent increase in mobile Internet usage. Also, smart phones are growing at the rate of 80 per cent.”

Catching Them Young

The target market for e-learning edupreneurs starts at kindergarten and Chauhan says, “We initially focused on XI-XII and later added the lower grades. Smaller kids have exposure to technology and they learn very differently than we did. We expect a fair bit of traction from this age group.” Badjatiya, CEO of Serosoft Solutions adds, “The iPad and mobile apps have introduced interactive learning. Parents of pre-schoolers are more likely to spend on e-learning than those of an eleventh grader”

Classroms Getting Smarter

But here’s a tough question: With more and more schools incorporating interactive learning solutions sourced from content providers into the curriculum, would students still be interesting in e-learning? “Even though schools are now using e-learning aids, they are still using a classroom-based approach. We can assess a student’s weaknesses and help them get a good grounding by offering appropriate content to do this,” reasons Chauhan.

Also, as Badjatiya points out, there is no end to learning and many students are interesting in learning content outside the classroom. He says the learning experience is a deciding factor. “It is not always the content that is the differentiator, but the way it is presented.”

You can send your feedback to smementor@moneycontrol.com or simply post comments below