EdTech in post Covid era- OMO (Online Merge Offline)
As Covid lockdowns have eased out, education industry is on a soul searching journey again. After spending a year learning online, students are excited to go back to schools & offline tuition centres
Covid 19 accelerated growth of online-first education platforms and EdTech received massive interest from investors, in India as well as globally. During March-June 2020, when lockdowns, were imposed, the annual revenue run-rate of online first EdTech companies grew by manifolds and they were able to raise capital at high valuations.
Now as Covid is easing out, schools and offline centres are opening up, traction of these online first players (especially in K12) have been seeing a downward trend; and revenue is also declining.
The post-lockdown reduction in the traction of online EdTech players brings me to the billion-dollar question- Is online first EdTech a trend or a fad? Short answer: It lies somewhere in the middle. Let’s explore this further.
Advantages of online education for students/ parents (3As):
Students can access best teachers across the world and study subjects which they might not be able to study in their neighborhood. It can be done at their time of convenience and location, given a good internet connection.
With plethora of choices available, parents can choose the education platform based on their paying capacity and association with the value proposition.
There are several data points which can be generated with ease for the students to identify the gaps and focus on those areas. Moreover, there is potential for companies to use this data and build personalised learning modules.
Problems with online education (4As):
Because of poor internet connectivity in certain parts of the country, it is seemingly difficult for the students there to access online education. Given the low GDP per capita, not all households can afford to buy laptop/ tablet/ mobile phones for their children.
Given the virtual nature of classes, it’s difficult for majority of the students to concentrate in large format lectures. Network outage also leads to broken experience and impact attention and eventually learning outcomes.
Although smart phones are becoming more prevalent in India, but most of it is low cost smartphones, which might not support heavy apps. Tabs/ laptops/ PCs have a better experience for education but penetration in the country is very low.
Due to screen time, students have been complaining of head ache and fatigue. Parents are also concerned about physical and mental health of students and sitting in front of PC for hours is not helpful.
Since there was no other choice, students and parents had to rely on online education but the NPS is low!
Operational Issues with EdTech: High CAC!
Due to increasing competition in the online education industry, all the companies are bidding for same audience, which is making it very difficult to acquire customers at sustainable costs. In the offline world, schools could cater to hyperlocal demand, which still kept CAC in check.
I discuss more problems with EdTech here
Back to offline?
As Covid restrictions ease out, students and parents are flocking back to schools and offline institutes. (you only realise the value of something when it’s taken away 😉).
I believe that online medium for education is unsustainable, especially in after-school K12 tutoring and test prep. How can we combine the advantages of both online and offline? Here comes Online Merge Offline (OMO).
PS: In my opinion, it’s not correct to use ‘omnichannel’ for OMO, since that refers to the sales process and not delivery of product/ service.
Online Merge Offline- OMO
Combining elements of online education with elements of traditional offline education leads to a blended learning model- Online Merge Offline. There can be several models that can be curated in OMO fashion in order to provide for scale, personalisation (online education) and real, effective learning experience (offline education).
Dual Teacher Model
A reputable teacher is live-streamed from remote location, teaching on the broadcast screen and a classroom teacher is monitoring the students and assisting them with doubts. The live-streamed teacher can view the students and receive feedback from the classroom teacher. This model increases access in remote cities where educational top-notch teachers are not available in abundance.
Smart Classrooms 2.0
As an extension to ‘Dual Teacher Model’, there are various ways of increasing the effectiveness of the offline classroom. TAL Education provides for an interesting case study as they have been working with an exciting model:
Magic Mirror System: With cameras in the class, system identifies the attention level of students by their facial expressions and provides real time feedback to teachers in remote classrooms.
It also uses voice recognition technology, assisting teachers, solving for high quality supply and ensuring students’ interest in the classroom. Below is an illustration of the class:
Learning Management Systems like Google Classroom are mainstream now, thanks to Covid 19. Adoption on teacher’s side and student’s side have been positive. In China, platforms like 17ZuoYe (一起作业), Xiao Yuan Kou Suan (小猿口算) help teachers correct homework using OCR.
We are also seeing some positive signals of OCR tech, where teachers can correct homework using technology, in India. Here are some Indian companies in this space: Solvio, Real Learning, Questt, Homework App, etc.
Extrapolation of this could be- Students solving sums in classroom on a tablet which auto corrects and personalises the experience for student with faster feedback loop and also allows the teacher to focus on teaching rather than just correcting homework.
In near future, data will be the driver of education. Offline classrooms can be leveraged to capture data points for students and personalise classroom experiences. As mentioned in the previous article: EdTech- What to expect in 2021 & coming years?, Squirrel AI is one of my favourite companies enabling this throughout China.
As we are getting out of Covid, hybrid class model is very exciting. Confidence level with regards to Covid depends on individuals, hence some might like to take a class online whereas some would want to return to classrooms. Teachers, using a multi camera set up can project a live class online along with students in the real (offline classroom). This way, students can decide which mode they prefer and teacher can also increase the access to remote parts and still remain hyper local.
Below is an example from my Mother’s yoga class which has now turned Hybrid. With help of Zoom, teacher has been able to provide great experience for offline and online students. Being in Delhi, he is able to cater to students from Dubai, US, etc and enable better economics per class. It could get even better if there is an assistant helping with students online.
Addendum: Recently discovered digitisation of NCERT books with help of QR technology.
BYJU’s plan to acquire Aakash for $1B is a strong signal for the relevance of offline space for the long haul. There is a lot more that can be done under the OMO umbrella. Feel free to reach out for a chat: firstname.lastname@example.org, in case you are building/ thinking in that direction.