Choice, channel, and collaboration will lead the future of learning, say edtech panellists at TechSparks 2021

During a panel discussion at TechSparks 2021, edtech leaders from Cuemath, Great Learning, Simplilearn, Vedantu, and Lenovo, discussed how to enable students, educators, and businesses to access technology to innovate and enhance the learning experience.
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About 18 months ago, the world had to rethink learning overnight. According to UNESCO, about 63 million teachers in 165 countries were affected. About 1.3 billion learners could not go to schools or universities, with close to 320 million learners affected in India alone.

Today, there's an increased need for a structured approach to ensure digital accessibility and enhanced learning experiences.

"We envision a world where every student, educator, and business has access to technology that allows them to achieve their intelligent transformation," said Rohit Midha, Director - Service Sales, Lenovo, while opening the panel 'To teach the learners of tomorrow, technology needs to evolve today' at TechSparks 2021, the 12th edition of YourStory’s flagship startup tech conference. 

Lenovo is a $60 billion global technology organisation, which acts more like a partner than a hardware vendor to its customers. With its end-to-end solutions, Lenovo has over two decades of in-depth understanding of the education sector, is a top education PC provider in the world, and has strong tie-ups with tech giants and ISVs.

The panel had leaders from the edtech space in India, including Manan Kurma, CEO and Founder, CueMath; Mohan Lakhamraju, CEO and Founder, Great Learning; Krishna Kumar, CEO and Founder, Simplilearn; and Anand Prakash, Co-founder, Vedantu.

Embracing innovation to thrive

The COVID-19 crisis has been a major catalyst in encouraging innovation in the education space to enhance the learning and teaching experience. 

In 2014, Vedantu forayed into online learning when the world wasn't even thinking about it. When the pandemic started last year, the edtech unicorn had most of it figured out. However, it had to innovate around community management and improve student-teacher interaction. 

On the other hand, Simplilearn had to convince non-believers why an upskilling programme would benefit them. To reduce friction, it came up with SkillUp — a platform where learners can take free online courses. Today, Simplilearn has managed to convert some of them into paid customers.

When Cuemath started, it initially aimed at creating a new curriculum to engage students in a subject typically seen as boring. It built custom tools and models to help K-12 students learn Math the same way they did offline. 

Great Learning has provided its platform to universities that haven't adopted any technology. "Leaning as an experience involves absorbing material, applying it, knowing where you stand, getting motivated, handling peer pressure, and so on," explained Mohan.

He added COVID-19 brought down the cost of experimentation as people were willing to try new things. 

Last year, Lenovo launched SmarterEd to bridge the student-teacher ratio using technology.

Rohit said it's not just about providing devices, rather seamlessly integrating technology into existing infrastructure to address all stakeholders' needs. Be it to engage students, equip teachers to handle new styles of teaching, help parents with the right usage of devices, and more.

Solving the digital divide

While online learning is open and equitable, challenges like patchy internet connectivity, access to devices, etc., are still realities in remote towns.

Vedantu provides free learning content on YouTube, and most features on its app are free to use. In fact, its paid services are priced lower than the offline courses. 

Simplilearn is trying to create awareness around digital technology and the career opportunities it presents. 

Manan said Tier II and III towns are close to the Cuemath team’s heart. For this reason, the edtech startup is putting a lot of free content on YouTube, making sure its platform and live classes work on low bandwidth and all kinds of devices. In fact, it is working towards rolling out content in regional languages.

Great Learning, too, is foraying into a similar path by providing multiple free courses in regional languages.

At present, where digitalisation has become an integral component in the learning journey, edtech providers need to incorporate technology right at the design stage.

Rohit said Lenovo provides tailored technology that can be adapted in the early stages of the startup’s lifecycle.

"We work with private and public organisations on a plethora of devices. Depending on the course, geography, and other factors, the method of learning changes. With our TruScale service, affordability is a key parameter, and all stakeholders have peace of mind while leaving us subject matter experts to take care of the technology," he explained.

Online versus offline versus hybrid

While offline has its advantages, edtech startups are trying to bring a 10X better experience to online learning. Anand said, “At Vedantu, we’ve integrated a feature where a teacher can take a look at the student's copies online and correct mistakes.” 

However, Krishna begs to differ. According to him, COVID-19 has shown if there is a willingness to learn, offline or online doesn't matter. 

For Mohan, ultimately, it's a choice that learners make. "For younger students who have time on their hands and want the accelerated experience, offline works well. But professionals prefer online or hybrid mode," he added.

Future-gazing into education

Today, with the large influx of data, panellists think a personalised learning experience will be the future of the education sector. This will not just be in terms of content calibration but engagement methods and more.

"We follow the Godlicokcs Zone concept at Cuemath, where we keep learners in a narrow band of challenge level where it's not too hard or too easy," said Manan.

Krishna expects to see learning become a habit rather than event-based. "Today, learning and upskilling are going to be an important aspect of survival,” he added.

Peer learning will also take centre stage as communities help increase interaction, attendance, student stickiness, and recognition. The shared experience, in turn, increases motivation and accountability. 

Rohit concluded by saying, "We believe tech can be a big disruptor and equaliser. Lenovo's ability to play a part in the transformation with our hardware, software, and solutions in the education space is what excited us."

To log in to our virtual events platform and experience TechSparks 2021 with thousands of other startup-tech enthusiasts from around the world, join here. Don't forget to tag #TechSparks2021 when you share your experience, learnings and favourite moments from TechSparks 2021.

For a line-up of all the action-packed sessions at YourStory's flagship startup-tech conference, check out TechSparks 2021 website.

Edited by Suman Singh

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