Ed-tech platforms reap gains during lockdown

The global pandemic has brought online education into the mainstream

MUMBAI: When you are cooped up in your home courtesy the Covid-19 lockdown, you can spend your time cribbing or carping or learning a new skill by signing up with an online platform to make up for a gap you did not learn in university or school. It looks like Indians are preferring the latter, if one goes by the flurry of signups with education or edtech platforms. Signups aside, learners are also getting glued for longer on online courses daily at about 45 minutes as against 20 minutes prior to the explosive spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Take the case of the Ronnie Screwvala-backed upGrad which took front page ads in mainline newspapers earlier this year.  According to its co-founder & chairman Mayank Kumar, the inflection point commenced in the second last week of February. Says he: “From that week (17-24 February) onwards, we started witnessing exponential traction towards our platform. In the last week of February, leads (interested learners / prospects) increased by around 34 per cent compared to the week before. In the first week of March, our interest went up by 75 per cent as well.”

Additionally, discloses Kumar, the programme completion rate at upGrad is 80 per cent as of now, which is relatively high and he is quite certain that it is going to increase, as online education is no longer an option but becoming mainstream.

Unacademy too has seen an eye popping uptake of its services. It recorded a whopping one billion minutes of watch time in the month of March across its platforms and YouTube channels.

“We announced over 20,000 free live classes on the platform to ensure learners’ education is not obstructed amidst the COVID-19 crisis. We also opened up our platform for all educational institutions such as schools and colleges to conduct live classes for their respective students,” says Unacademy VP marketing Karan Shroff. “The number of new enrollments increased considerably during the month of March. We witnessed an increase of 110 per cent in new subscribers leading to over 1.5 million learners learning on the Unacademy platform, since the beginning of March.”

Karan highlights that even searches for competitive courses like SSC, bank and railway entrance exams, UPSC have multiplied manifold.  Users are logging on to the platform to improve their knowledge of subjects and learn how to improve their exam scores through mock tests, quizzes, and feedback from educators.

Schoolguru Eduserve founder & CEO Shantanu Rooj noticed some behavioural changes amongst the students as the daily logins have gone up by 2.5 times. He also highlighted that the app downloads have gone up, an indication that those who had earlier procrastinated their studies are completing them now. The participation in the virtual sessions has gone up. Course completion rates have also increased.

He adds: “We have onboarded about 4000 new paid students for the degree programmes in March over and above our current 200,000 students. We have seen about 12-15 per cent of daily active users to monthly active user ratio."

Simplilearn CEO Krishna  Kumar says the subjects which are traditionally popular like  data science and cyber security have gained importance during this lockdown.  There is a lot of uptake in the enquiries. “We have close to 10,000 enrolments in regular months. March was also pretty much the same. The real testing time is going to be April when the lockdown was extended. The last few weeks of March were challenging as people were still adjusting to the reality. April onwards we are hoping for an increase as people are sitting at homes they have more time.”

At upGrad the domain of data science is the most popular, followed by digital marketing. Areas of machine learning (ML) and natural language processing (NLP) are also popular considering the current workforce. According to Mayank Kumar, the digital macro-trend, coupled with an increase in usage of data, is going to now drive the workplace ecosystem.

He further adds: “We had brought global MBA programmes to India towards the end of February with Deakin University and Liverpool Business School, which eventually got popular in the following month. Both the programmes are seeing interest amongst working professionals, and around 50,000 individuals and counting have shown interest so far.”

Experts believe that the current environment is a net positive for online education. It took a global pandemic to bring online education into the mainstream, which has otherwise played second fiddle to the offline model.

Upgrad's Kumar elaborates: “Two to three weeks ago (in March), we used to get 2,500 enquiries a day, but there has been a 50 per cent upside with over 3,800 enquiries per day.”

“Additionally, in Q4 upGrad recorded over 100 per cent Q-0-Q jump, as it expanded its portfolio twofold in the last quarter by adding new programmes under its management and data verticals. With our outcome-based learning approach, which comprises deep subject knowledge, finest university credentials, strong mentorship and finally steadfast placement support, upGrad is in a position to command the highest ARPU of Rs 2.4 lakh in the Indian online education sector,” he adds.

In March Unacademy witnessed a significant rise in the number of daily active users and also a sharp increase in the views per week. The daily active users increased to around 500,000 per day and viewers per week for the free special classes increased by 150 per cent.

At Simplilearn enquiries have grown by 30 to 40 per cent. On a quarterly basis they have 50,000 monthly active users. However, at present 75,000 monthly active users are scouring the platform for upskiling themselves.

Simplilearn and Schoolguru are opting for LinkedIn and other social media sites as the best medium to promote their content. Schoolguru is also using direct e-mail marketing and PR as marketing platforms. This apart, the edtech platforms are also using events (both physical and digital) sporadically and participating in several industry events and rolling out  reports and whitepapers from time to time.

Shroff says: “Our marketing efforts are focused on supporting this business vision and helping learners stay focused and prepare for their dream exams, even during this crisis. As part of these efforts to help build awareness that learning never stops with Unacademy, we are running our "Let’s Crack It" campaign on TV and other digital formats.”

Unacademy recently launched the second edition of Legends on Unacademy - a programme for   learners where they bring well-known personalities to teach live classes on the platform. In this edition, they have Shashi Tharoor, Kiran Bedi, Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma who will teach about international relations, crisis management, motivation, and determination, among other topics. In the first edition, that took place in early March, they had legendary cricketers such as Brian Lara, Bret Lee and Jonty Rhodes who took live classes on mental strength, dealing with failure, etc.

In order to create awareness during the lockdown period Schoolguru has offered its learning experience platform (Lurningo) free of cost for the first three months across various colleges and universities in the country.

Indeed, Covid-19 has left deep scars across many sectors which have been locked down. But, for the edtech industry, it has been a boon of sorts. And the men behind it are probably glad, as it has helped accelerate their business plans. Which is clearly good news for the promoters and their investors.

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