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Trends in the Online Education sector in 2014


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The online education sector saw a lot of investments this year in the country, along with the entry of new players through acquisitions, new initiatives or partnerships. Additionally, various government policies to encourage e-learning, various MOOC initiatives by universities and the digitization of books underscored the growing importance of e-learning in the country. Let us take a look at some of the key developments in this sector in 2014:

1. Funding raised:

Mobile-focused education marketplace GradeStack has raised an undisclosed amount of investment from Times Internet Limited in March, while Learning Edge Academy of Professionals Pvt Ltd (LEAP), an e-Learning & educational technology platform, had raised an undisclosed amount of angel funding from Sarthi Angel Venture Foundation (SAVF) in April.

The same month, collaboration and learning network for students and researchers Function Space, had raised seed funding from Nexus Venture Partners. The company had said then, it would use the funding to improve content, develop tools, and expand its contributor and user base that creates content related to the fields of mathematics and science.

Chennai-based Everest Edusys which offers science education solutions to schools through QED brand, raised Rs 5.7 crore from Lok Capital and Chennai Angels in March, while the Bangalore-based education products and services company Skyfi Labs also raised undisclosed amount of investment from Chennai Angels and the investment bank Spark Capital, the same month.

In May, Foradian Technologies, an ed-tech startup that provides software for administration, management and learning related activities, announced it received a $2 million funding from angel investor William Bissell, while online education platform Embibe, that helps students prepare for entrance tests, had received a $4 million funding from Kalaari Capital and Lightbox Ventures. The same month, school educational services start-up Zaya Learning Labs also raised an undisclosed amount in funding from Pearson Affordable Learning Fund (PALF), an education fund run by UK-based Pearson.

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In October, Bangalore-based online-offline higher education services provider iNurture Education Solutions, raised Rs 30 crore investment from Bertelsmann India Investments (BII), the Indian investment arm of the German media conglomerate Bertelsmann. Earlier this month, video-based learning solutions Linkstreet, had raised an undisclosed amount in a Series A round of funding from Faering Capital India Evolving Fund.

2. New players on the block:

As a run-up to its Indian launch, edutainment TV channel, Da Vinci Learning had partnered with Airtel Digital TV, Siticable and Digicable to broadcast its content in January this year. The channel said it will be showcasing different set of shows through these MSOs.

In March, IBM entered into a five-year agreement with Pearson India for its program to offer e-learning solutions to more than 22,000 classrooms across India. As part of the agreement, Pearson India will create digital classrooms for K2 students, while IBM will supply, install and maintain of the IT infrastructure in these classrooms.

ASK Pravi Private Equity Opportunities Fund had acquired Gateforum Educational Services Pvt Ltd from Educomp Solutions Limited in August, to leverage Gateforum’s GATE preparation platform and scale it to other test preparation spaces.

The next month, electronics company Samsung had launched an online education store under its Media Solutions Centre division called the Smart Learning solution. The company said its solution is currently exclusive to India and will be launched to other countries after assessing its performance here.

The same month, person-to-person (P2P) online messaging service provider Way2SMS’ founder Raju Vanapala, launched an e-learning marketplace called LearnSocial, which claims to offer live instructor-led online courses through streamed sessions in topics such as technology, languages, business management, and robotics among others.

3. Initiatives to differentiate:

In February, HT Media owned job listing website Shine.com had signed an MoU with e-learning website EasySkillz, so that job hunters can take up certified courses and improve their CV. EasySkillz was offering life time access to course material, government certification and 100% money pay back guarantee as part of the deal.

Later that month, Snapdeal had launched its online learning vertical, listing certificate courses, tests and other courses from EduKart, Simplilearn and MeritNation.

Similarly, in July, e-commerce major Flipkart also introduced an e-learning category on its website with study materials from brands like Career Launcher, Edurite, EduKart, EasySkillz, Meritnation, TCY Online and Practice Guru among others.

4. Universities go online through MOOCs:

In July, Birla Institute of Technology and Sciences (BITS) Pilani partnered with the MIT & Harvard’s massive open online course (MOOC) platform edX to offer MOOCs to its own on-campus and off-campus students as well as students outside BITS. The following month, Indian Institute of Management Bangalore also joined edX, to provide several of its courses on the edX platform for free. Several other Indian institutes — including IIT Bombay and BITS Pilani already offer their video lectures and notes to edX.

Earlier this month, IIT Kanpur revealed it was developing its own platform for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) called MOOKIT, under which the institution said it will develop MOOCs around verticals like agriculture and computer science among others.

5. Digitization of books:

In March, Tamil writers N.Chokkan, Payon and Pa.Raghavan released their ebooks for free on freetamilebooks.com, in ePUB and mobi format, under the creative commons BY-SA licence, choosing to seek support through donations.

The next month, Encyclopedia Britannica, the oldest English-language encyclopaedia in production, tied up with Indian publisher Katha to take Indian stories to children across India and worldwide.

More than 13,000 pages across 150 Malayalam books have been digitized by school students as part of digitisation competition held by the Malayalam Wikipedia community, IT@School, Kerala Sahitya Akademi, Centre for Internet and Society and Swathanthra Malayalam computing in August.

In November, Yashwantrao Chavan Maharashtra Open University (YCMOU) started digitizing its curriculum books and making it available online to students. YCMOU vice chancellor Manikrao Salunkhe had said then that they initially plan to offer around 350 books online. The same month, the Director of Libraries (DoL), Gujarat decided to digitize more than 70,000 books over the next 2-3 months and make them available online. Around 55 books written by the Indian author and activist Niranjana in Kannada were also to be digitized and made available on Kannada Wikisource, the same month.

6. Government initiatives:

The National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL) had launched a new e-learning course in association with IIT and IISc in March this year. The programme is an initiative by the Ministry of Human Resource Development and it has tied-up with several other companies in the online education field such as btechguru.com, myopencourses, and Classle.

The Indian Government is planning to set up virtual classrooms and online courses for school education, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley told during his budget speech for the year 2014-15, in July. He had then proposed an allocation of Rs 100 crore for this initiative.

In September this year, the Union HRD Ministry had initiated its Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) platform called SWAYAM that is expected to go live within this year. It had mentioned that professors of centrally funded institutions like IITs, IIMs and Central Universities will offer online courses that will be accessible by all Indians free of cost.

Later in the month, Union Cabinet had also approved the signing of a Joint Declaration of Intent between the HRD Ministry and the U.S. Department of State, following which US universities were expected to offer post-graduate academic programs with certification on the SWAYAM platform.

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