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Online Education in India: Market Drivers and Challenges

Senior journalist and communication strategist, A subject matter expert on bureaucracy, governance, PSUs, start-ups and policy matter.
Apr 5, 2018 12:30 PM 5 min read

Online education in India according to KPMG, is the second-largest after the US and likely to grow to USD 1.96 billion by 2021. Over last two years, the online education sector in India has seen several big-ticket investments from global players such as Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Google, Netflix founder Reed Hastings, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Bertelsmann India and Kaizen Management Advisors. The future of the online education market in India appears bright. However, at the same time, the sector is fraught with several challenges like the absence of proper digital infrastructure and lack of standardisation of online programmes amongst others.

 Revolutionising E Learning and Online Education System in India

A television commercial highlighting parents gleaming with pride when they watch their children learn concepts of Mathematics and Biology through an educational mobile app best describes the paradigm shift in the Indian education sector which has come a long way and is no longer bound to just classrooms.


This changing landscape is expected to grow the paid user base of India’s online education market by six times to 9.6 million users by 2021. The sector can balloon up to USD 48 billion by 2020.





Low education coverage, growing mobile and internet penetration, increasing government participation, the growing need to re-skill professional fields and convenience are some of the key factors that are spurring the growth of online education in India


In a welcome move, the Modi Government is also formulating policies related to technology adoption and online education delivery infrastructure to extensively incorporate digital literacy in India.

 Revolutionising E-Learning and Online Education System in India

The opportunities and the Government support via Digital India and Skill India programmes have seen a huge momentum in the growth of online education in India. So much so that in the last two years, the sector, which is estimated to grow as big as e-commerce in the country, has drawn marquee investors from across the globe. With approximately USD 240 million investments in its kitty in the last two years, Bangalore-based e-learning start-up BYJU is a leading example of the global market’s interest in this sector.


All Is Not Well


However, in spite of the seemingly positive environment, there exist several challenges for online education in India.


“The lack of access to Internet Infrastructure has been a major nagging issue for the sector,” opines Vipin Aggarwal, Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of an online education platform, OnlineTyari.


Even as the Indian Government is making efforts to improve the digital infrastructure across the country, the World Economic Forum (WEF) reveals that the majority of India lacks the required digital bandwidth. As per the WEF, only 15 out of 100 households in India have access to internet. With only 5.5 subscriptions for every 100 people, the mobile broadband also remains for a privileged few. Also, the broadband reaches just about 600 corridors, that too in the top 50-100 cities, leaving the rural areas with dismal net connectivity.

Revolutionising E-Learning and Online Education System in India

Added to this, frequent power cuts and voltage fluctuations causing network issues in rural and semi-urban areas are an impediment to deeper penetration of e-learning in India.


Another major problem, experts feel is the lack of standardisation, credibility and quality of online programmes. Experts point that since e-learning players offer multiple courses on the same subjects, the curricula of which are designed and imparted by different instructors, the quality of courses may vary across different online learning platforms. Also, due to lack of definite Government guidelines, most of the online courses are either not considered credible or are not recognised in the traditional educational ecosystem.


Lack of proper infrastructure is also impeding the digital growth of education. As Professor Dinesh Nair of Mumbai University explains, “There has to be a definite government policy in place. Technology should be readily available in schools, colleges and institutions of higher learning.”

Revolutionising E-Learning and Online Education System in India 

Also, in India, cloud-based learning solutions are not being readily used. Cloud-based solutions enable new reading material to be made available to people on the go rather than “loading” computer systems with very heavy learning management software. Updating cloud-based systems and changing the training content can be done centrally and much faster.


Experts also feel that there is an issue with the language of the online courses. Most of the online courses focus on English content and as a result, non-English speaking students who come from non-urban areas struggle with the availability of vernacular content.


Another challenge is the reluctance of a section of teachers to be trained in using e-learning tools as they feel that “these disruptive technologies will replace them permanently”.


Experts also express concern on lack of face-to-face interaction in e-learning. They feel that since online courses are self-paced learning, there is poor student-teacher and peer-to-peer engagement which in many cases result in negligible motivation leading to their low completion rates.


The Path Ahead


There is not an iota of doubt that online education in India has a promising future and is on its way to becoming the next sunrise industry in the country. However, as Aggarwal says, “To improve the digital education sector in India, the Government needs to create a system that should encourage multilateral participation of private and public sector players thus relying on more tech-enabled solutions and involving more experts in creating the pedagogy and rolling-out solutions for the masses.”