Every year more than 3 crore aspirants prepare for competitive exams like JEE, NEET, GATE, SSC and banking. Armed with great aspirations, these students pin their hopes on offline coaching institutions for exam preparation in the face of stifling competition. While students in Tier I cities have access to good quality content and faculty, students in Tier II and Tier III cities are short-changed due to a lack of competitive study materials and tutorials.
To understand the changing trend in edtech, Gradeup, India’s largest online preparation platform for competition exams, recently conducted research to identify what students prefer in their online learning experience, with a specific focus on live classes. The findings are discussed later in the column.
The prevailing situation
Due to a lack of availability in offline coaching, a growing demand for online sources is prevalent in smaller cities. The increase in mobile phone penetration at around 85 percent in rural India, has facilitated and encouraged this edtech revolution. As a result, there has been a wave in the edtech space with many new entrants in the past five years. Existing ones have expanded to smaller cities with an agenda of addressing primary concerns like accessibility, cost efficiency and an improved quality of education.
Accessibility of good content and effective preparation
The accessibility of content in Tier II and Tier III cities had been addressed to a large extent by a combination of edtech players. Providing recorded videos and modifying offline content onto the online space to enhance learning (an area which has largely remained a complimentary medium of studying) has been pivotal.
While it broadened edtech’s purview, effective and measurable learning outcomes were still miles away. Greater engagement to motivate students with continuous and mentored learning was required.
Thus, ‘live’ classes began, and have made a significant impact on Tier II, III and IV cities where there is limited access to coaching centres with online live classes. Today, they offer access to the best teachers and courses. Location is no longer a constraint in exam preparation with access to effective tools like live classes.
Cost aspect: Providing affordable solutions
Every year, more than 25 lakh students appear for JEE and NEET entrance exams, and there are multiple offline coaching options in the market. However, only 15-25 percent of the student population in this segment can afford the cost of coaching. Further, it is challenging and expensive for a 16-year-old to relocate to a larger city to live and prepare for such entrances. Online preparation enables access to expert faculty at home, at an affordable cost. This benefits numerous students in Tier II and Tier III cities, who can’t afford premium fees yet want to sit for competitive exams.
Quality/effective learning outcome
There was a dire need for a solution focused specifically on effective learning outcomes. With the advancement in edtech, online live classes have been a game changer. They offer a virtual classroom learning experience which includes interactive live classes and a structured study plan methodology. These have proven to be effective in driving student activity, with a 4X higher engagement compared to recorded videos and lectures. This is a formidable model when combined with structured planning and methodology for a day-wise study plan.
Now, students from anywhere in India can prepare effectively for competitive exams. Online study gives aspirants access to exam-wise classes, and preparation material by expert faculty. All in the comfort of one’s home at almost half the cost of offline methods.
What Gradeup’s study on online learning and live classes found?
The study revealed that of the students currently using offline modes, about 70 percent are open to shifting to online learning if given access to live online classes. (Among Tier II and Tier III cities, this number is much higher, with 80 percent of aspirants from these cities preferring online learning) Of these, over 80 percent cited “access to expert faculty” as the primary reason for the shift.
Additionally, over 90 per cent of the participating students would opt for online modes. This figure is 95 percent for aspirants (from Tier III and IV cities). “Convenience” in preparing from home, “access to live classes,” and “cost-benefit” are the top three drivers.
Further, 20 percent of the participants were willing to pay extra to access live classes.
The survey also found that 63 percent amongst the students who prefer online learning would choose live classes, while a much lower proportion, 29 percent, would choose recorded lectures.
Further, students opted for live classes due to the “interactive nature that helped in doubt resolution” and “proper planning through a day-wise study plan.” These findings are clear indicators that students are increasingly realising the benefits of online coaching, and opening up to live classrooms.
The survey concluded that live online classes is the way forward, and the latest online test preparation strategy. Among the edtech companies that offer live online tutorials to students are Unacademy and Vedantu.
Primary benefits of a virtual classroom model
Preparing with the best in class faculty
Gradeup also observed a new trend emerging in the ed-tech industry – Teachers now prefer to teach online, with the overall demand rapidly increasing. With Internet access and a mobile, students in smaller cities can prepare with some of India’s best teachers. Teachers are delivering knowledge to 10X more students as compared to offline modes, giving students even in remote areas access to high quality study material.
Community learning with peer-to-peer interaction
Students prepare better when they prepare together; by questioning, helping and challenging each other. Hence, a community of co-preparers and expert mentors enhances the preparation journey. There has been a lack of peer-to-peer interaction in Tier II or Tier III cities, as often not many students from a particular city prepare for the same exam, or are connected to each other. With the online community model in edtech apps, peer-to-peer learning has solved many problems. The community also adds a degree of effectiveness, as students are able to guide each other, avoid studying topics not in the exam curriculum, etc. The community enables students to discuss, pose questions, have quizzes, solve doubts and foster peer-to-peer learning.