Getting to the nitty gritty of e-learning – inception, growth, current scenario and many more!

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Mohit Upadhyay

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E-learning – a way of learning that has heaved into view in the recent times and a term used by many in education sphere especially these days. Though in a country like India, people have been scrambling over the online learning bandwagon, with pandemic outbreak that has led to halt of classes and employees working from home, the demands of remote learning apps have increased significantly. An existing trend that we have been witnessing a lot amid the pandemic, one question inevitably arises : How and when did the idea of e-learning originate? First of all, what exactly is e-learning?

The idea of e-learning represents an approach that focuses on providing open and unlimited access of learning to students without the bounds of time and space. In short, the concept of e-learning means learning anywhere and anytime without geographical, time and social restrictions.

E-learning can be divided into two types – synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous e-learning is when students and teacher are interact with each other in real-time, even though from different locations through chat, video conference, webinars, virtual classrooms, etc. On the other hand, asynchronous learning offers personalised learning experience. Through ebooks, video lectures, blogs, learners may learn at their preferred time without any daily time commitment. However, they may or may not get to chat with teachers.

The genesis of e-learning – Throwing way back to the 19th century

E-learning undoubtedly came into existence with the emergence of technology and internet, however, if it ever has a prototype, it is distance learning that was first enacted around the time Isaac Pitman taught shorthand in Great Britain in the 1840s. A teacher at a private school, Pitman started a distance course for his students and sent them assignments via mail which when completed, was sent back to him in the same way.

Following that, in early 1920s, a teaching machine was developed by Sidney Pressey, a professor at Ohio State University though the invention was not a great success in the then educational sphere. However, it was not until 1960 that the world witnessed the existence of computer based learning. Though developed for students of University of Illinois, the computer based training program (CBT program) was adopted by many schools across the area. The fully fledged computer and internet based learning emerged in the late 20th century when the first Macintosh was introduced that enabled people to have their own computers at home and learn on particular topic through internet. The decade following that, virtual learning began to thrive and even schools solely dedicated to delivering online courses were established and it is not until 21st century dawned that e-learning platform has been used to train corporate executives as well.

Tracing the history of e-learning in India

In India, distance education was introduced with the realisation of the need to access quality education to each and every strata of the society which traditional brick and mortar education system alone couldn’t fulfil. Distance learning in India dates back to the 1960s and two decades following that, several universities offering correspondence education were set up, the first being Dr B.R Ambedkar Open University in Andhra Pradesh followed by Indira Gandhi National Open University and many more. With time, online learning has greatly flourished and today, there are around 14 Open Learning Universities in India and add to that the regular universities that offer online courses as well as ed-tech companies that deliver courses and learning content through e-learning apps.

A great boon for learners of all kinds and the entire nation at large, e-learning has broken all the education barriers facing traditional education system – cost, infrastructure shortage, lack of skilled teachers, etc and today, India’s ed-tech industry stands the second in the world.

Current trends in India’s e-learning industry and key players in the ed-tech sphere

It is not only the K-12 students the e-learning industry caters to, working professionals who wish to up-skill themselves have also been greatly benefitted and in fact, a report by KPMG also stated that the sector has witnessed an unprecedented surge in the course of higher education as well including private universities offering undergraduate and post graduate e-learning programs. Owing to its unique delivery model and the contents that are made engaging and interesting for learners leveraging multimedia technology coupled by the boom in internet, e-learning has scaled up greatly in the past two years.

Having witnessed the increasing demands and the growth prospects of e-learning industry, the government has also been initiating new R&D projects as well as bolstering the existing ones through substantial funds that cover all the key areas of the sector. While India’s e-learning industry seemed to have flourished greatly, a substantial number of educational institutions and students alike have not yet embraced this approach. Then came covid-19 that led to nationwide lockdown thus resulting in suspension of classes. Result? Schools and colleges forced to switch to e-learning mode. But what started off as a ‘forced trial’ for many may soon become mainstream. Leveraging the crisis as an opportunity, many ed-tech start-ups have launched new online courses and some have rolled out free and full access to learning contents during the lockdown period.

Because of this, the very thing – pandemic outbreak, that has caused several industries to reel under tribulations have led the ed-tech industry to a boom. In fact, investments amounting to around $18 billion globally have been pouring in with multinational giants like Facebook, Matrix Partners and GGV Capital coming off as investors. Top ed-tech companies like Byju’s has witnessed a surge in 150 percent traffic to their learning platforms ever since the lockdown was imposed. Similarly, according to the founder of Unacademy, the number of their learners on their platform has increased 3 times. This corroborates the fact that there has been an increasing demand in e-learning options with the trend likely to continue in the coming times as well now that learners have adapted to this new yet convenient approach to learning.

The growth of the sector can be mainly attributed to those start-up unicorns and institutions that have been extensively promoting e-learning. Some of the top Indian ed-tech companies are listed below.

    1. Byju’s – The largest ed-tech company in India, it offers personalised learning solutions to K-12 students as well as those appearing for competitive exams like JEE, NEET, CAT, IAS, GRE and GMAT. Byju’s has also launched free live classes for students amid the lockdown to help students continue their studies.
    2. Edukart – This is a higher education e-learning platform. It offers over 2000 degree, diploma, certificate, entrance coaching and K12 courses. Programs like MBA, EMBA, PGDM, MCA, MSc, IT, MA, BBA, etc are provided. Short certificate courses in various areas such as retail, finance, IT, accounting, etc are also offered. The app also provides academic support, placement help as well as networking opportunities – something that is rarely offered by other ed-tech companies.
    3. Vedantu – Vedantu offers a platform for teachers to tutor students in a real-time virtual learning environment. Their main aim is to transform the way of teaching and learning through a unique amalgamation of up-skilled teachers, engaging content and cutting edge technology.
    4. Toppscholars – Developed by the ed-tech company Jaro Education, this smart learning app caters to K-12 students by offering a personalised learning experience through digital notes, animated video lectures, adaptive practice questions and many more. It also has a chat feature wherein students can chat with teachers in case of any doubt on academic matters.
    5. Cuemath – Mathematics being a relatively tough subject, Cuemath helps young learners learn it in a more interesting way. Harnessing the best technology, their in-house teachers deliver research-backed maths curriculum to students in such a way that, learning is fun as well as engaging.

If there is a positive disruption, coronavirus has brought about, it is the growth of this market that has remain untapped for long. Given the increasing focus on social distancing and therefore, e-learning, a massive revolution may brew in Indian education space led by the ed-tech companies.

 

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