Why India’s ed-tech stars are going all in on offline education

India’s hot ed-tech market seems to be cooling down with companies ramping up their offline play. Test preparation major Aakash Educational Services, owned by ed-tech major Byju’s, will expand its countrywide network of branches by 100 over the next year from the 300 now. It will add up to 60 more later.

Tiger Global-backed Vedantu, facing losses and layoffs, plans to take a similar path. PhysicsWallah, a recent unicorn, will follow suit. Online learning platform Unacademy will have 15 offline centres in nine cities by mid-July.

Industry experts do not view this rush to build offline as the end of the rope for ed-tech whose value proposition remains intact. Some rationalisation and normalisation were long due, though, following the pandemic-time boom.

“What ed-tech solves for is access to a high-quality teacher and quality learning, especially in remote places at a lower cost. In offline (classes), you are restricted to a geography around your place. And if you are lucky you will find a good teacher,” Vamsi Krishna, CEO and CO-founder of Vedantu, told Quartz.

“As long as there is a need for quality education, there is no way offline can solve the access to the quality problem at scale and, hence, ed-tech will only continue to grow.”

But it won’t exist in a vacuum. The way forward for ed-tech is to complement offline learning.

Hybrid learning is the future

Online-only learning environments have several limitations, according to Himanshu Dandotiya, business head at Edureka’s learning platform Veranda Acacia. These include reduced peer-to-peer or group-based learning, hampered social-skill development, a lack of in-person interaction with faculty, low availability of per capita devices and internet bandwidth, and weak quality control.

However, there are advantages, too. For one, it aids in personalising the learning process. E-learning can also “help improve quality, bring differentiation, promote inclusiveness, and bring down costs,” Shantanu Rooj, founder and CEO of learning solutions firm TeamLease EdTech, said.

The best way forward would be a combination of online and offline.

That “will enable ed-tech companies to provide flexible learning options to students based on factors like course type, student profile, learning habits, etc., thereby, improving the overall learning experience as well as learning outcomes,” Amit Ratanpal, founder and managing director of venture capital firm BLinC Invest, told Quartz.

Who wants ed-tech companies to set up offline centres?

While working adults prefer online-only courses given the flexibility involved, children need in-person hand-holding.

“Things are different in JEE and NEET (Joint Entrance Exam for engineering and National Eligibility Entrance Test for medicine). Learners want to go out. Parents want them to go out,” Unacademy CEO Gaurav Munjal tweeted.

The younger lot needs “more discipline,” Munjal suggests, unlike the case of the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (postgraduate), typically taken by professionals who are a little older and more motivated to self-learn.

Parents of K-12 kids believe that “to study purely at home without supervision is challenging. Hence they were keen on sending (them) to an offline centre,” Vedantu’s Krishna said.

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