Digitalisation is transforming the landscape of learning and education. With the advent of online tutorial platforms, the massive in-roads made by MOOCS, shift to more and more mobile devices for learning is removing the limitation of time and place for learning. The learners can now access the institutions and universities on their mobile screens. India, home to more than 1.4 billion people with a sizeable young population is a goldmine of opportunity. This article explores the digital transformation of learning in India.

Online learning or e-learning had its origins close to two decades ago in the corporate sector and has achieved varying degrees of success. These are largely skill based courses that employees with access to a laptop or desktop have used for cognitive learning. E-learning has also been used in the corporate sector for compliance courses on ethics and so on where a large number of employees need to be oriented to decision making in situations. Beyond the corporate sector, the arrival of MOOCs has revolutionised student centric learning and has gained significant momentum with a large number of accredited universities offering their own flagship courses and star faculty programs online. A student in, say, Sri Lanka can thus earn a certificate of completion, or even a certification while not stepping out of his own country. All these instances have largely been adult learning centric.

With the advent of mobile phones, there has been a massive socio cultural impact of the same in a country like India. Certain operators like Jio have created a massive data availability opportunity for masses of individuals, with other operators following suit. This has led to fast data connections a common place occurrence instead of an exception. While this has given space to quite a few cartoons around family time getting eroded and children getting addicted to screen time, all does not seem to be dark and dingy. Start-ups in India focussed on learning for school students, have combined learning, teaching, app expertise and rapid penetration of the net, with the encouraging start-ups ecosystem to create a win-win for students across different segments. These segments are the regular board exams that students appear for as well as specific test preparation exams.

Students in classes X to XII in India enroll into coaching classes to help them prepare and successfully crack extremely competitive (read 2 mn applicants to 10k selects) tests for admission into engineering and similar courses. Such learning is usually after class hours and involves daily travel and extra hours at such coaching centres. There are towns such as Kota in Rajasthan, an Indian state, where the entire town has 200,000 students staying and preparing for such exams. Being away from family and also in their adolescent years, this system often leads to extreme stressful situations, sub optimal learning (not every student can be a front bencher!) and even suicides at a tender age. Not to mention, not staying at home also has its downsides of health being impacted due to lack of food and propensity to indulge in smoking and alcohol consumption to alleviate the stress from a high cognitive load and intense competition from peers.

Digital learning has evolved in India from being content providers, to doubt solving platforms to the most evolved, experience centric learning providers. A prominent player in this sector is Vedantu, whose founders ran brick and mortar centres for test preparation before innovating with technology.

Such a shift has changed the focus of the businesses from content to delivery for teachers working in such businesses. The change is much like a print journalist to a television news anchor. Teachers on digital platforms that deliver live teaching are highly engaging, speak fast (RJs?), have planned and programmed content, including examples, and run doubt solving sessions on chat! This has meant a movement at the self-image level for teachers who teach on such platforms. Not only is the traditional power-distance in the classroom not present, the student is now at the centre of the learning effort. Students no longer would have hesitation in walking out of a classroom if the teacher is not engaging, or unprepared, since, all it takes is effort to close the internet window on their devices! Teachers also are required to develop cognitive and affective empathy to deal with the fact that hundreds of students on the other side of the camera could have different experiences and hence would need to be facilitated to learn. This has sometimes meant that individuals have had to go through intense personal learning experiences to shift their own self-image and being, so as to be able to express themselves spontaneously and authentically to connect with a large audience. Talk about teachers needing training for presentation!

In addition to the capability and capacity building among teachers, such an ecosystem floats on an intensively designed tech platform that needs to be sensitive to the milieu’s design preferences. This has meant use of gamified approaches such as leader boards, hotspots and quizzes for learning assessments and engagement. Vamsi Krishna, Vedantu’s CEO and Co-Founder says that, “there is a lot that can be done in terms of affordability, availability and specialisation in this segment. It’s important to understand the requirements of the child inside the classroom along with what content and support does a child really require. This is what we do.”

Such a learning focussed market has evolved from being a service provider to a learning outcomes creator  due to the blue ocean of digital and ubiquitous reach of mobile devices. Digital learning in the student market also helps reduce travel time for students, increase home time, improve health from home food and of course family time! It has a societal impact that could have a positive impact for generations to come.

So, the next time your kid wants a mobile phone or tablet, you might eagerly want to get them one to help them learn more effectively.

S. Naga Siddharth

About the author

S. Naga Siddharth is a C-level HR leader and an executive coach based in Bangalore. His book HR Analytics was forwarded by Dr. Marshall Goldsmith as being “revolutionary and ground breaking”. His personal email id is Sid@measure.plus.