NEW DELHI, September 26
The scramble is on.
As broadband comes to the country, and the Internet becomes part of daily life, new markets are emerging. IT education majors are already trying to grab a slice of one of the pies in the making — the online education market.
Sensing the lay of the market, Aptech, the IT education major, is planning to invest heavily on online education in the next two years. Company officials declined to give exact figures. But its plans include introduction of up to 150 courses in the next three months. Company officials say that they plan to have a presence in all parts of the online education market segment by early next year.
"Our aim is to provide value-added content enrichment for traditional courses, as well as to provide our own courses online," says R. Krishnan, senior vice-president & head of the New Products Division, Aptech. Krishnan was instrumental in making the company's ARENA multimedia programme a huge success, and is now part of the crack team hammering out the market strategy for Aptech's foray into online business education market.
It is a strategy that has the backing of the market. According to NASSCOM, the overall market for IT-enabled services will amount to approximately $142 billion by the year 2008. Remote education is one of the top five opportunities with the market estimated to be $15 billion. The corporate e-learning market is estimated to be worth $11.2 billion.
Though the emphasis will be on technological courses like e-learning, technology and Internet, Aptech is also looking at fields like marketing, finance, HRD and even social science subjects like polity.
Such marketing plans have acquired a new urgency with other dotcoms like eguruool already cashing in on the demand for online education. What inhibits the market now is the difficulty to have all three kinds of media — audio, video, and text at one place and to transmit it. This will change rapidly as optic fibre cables are laid in all major cities.
However, Aptech is not worried that the advent of online education will hit its traditional classroom market. "We feel that we are targeting an entirely new market. The people who will study online are not students, but mid-career professionals. And they need a constant upgrading of their skills. That's where the market is," says Krishnan.
The feeling is growing across the corporate world. Many managers are worried that their skills, once good for a lifetime, are now rapidly getting redundant. Learning is now a lifetime process. Agrees Sudip Sen, vice-president, operations, Karrox Technologies Ltd, "Life-long learning is mandatory. The market is changing. Technology is changing. Learning is now an ongoing process."
While Aptech has a strong brick-and-mortar presence, portals like egurucool are "born on the web." This is where Aptech sees its advantage. Aptech already has a strong brand name in the Internet market, and it claims to be the market leader with nearly 50 per cent share of the IT educational market in its hands. To bolster its presence, in August this year, it launched Internet access service through a wholly-owned subsidiary and hoped to have a subscriber base of 150,000 within a year.
The company is also planning to expand its operations into other countries. E-learning will first be introduced in the Far East, move on to the Middle East, and then on to Europe and the United States, where, company officials admit, the competition is really tough.
The key to success in the online education market will be, as Sen puts it, "anytime, anywhere" learning. He adds, "E-learning is about learning on demand. It is a rich blend of experimental and transnational exposure." One of the key advantages that education majors are touting as the attraction of e-learning is the ability to interact with masters in the field and with CEOs etc as classmates in a virtual learning classroom that stretches across the world.
Columbia University was the first to introduce E2C, or Education to Consumer - a multiple university that would offer its own courses as well as those from other colleges and universities. The idea could be replicated here.
Industry sources also say that Aptech and other majors are now talking to academic institutions to fine-tune their e-learning and e-teaching strategies, and that the next few months could see the announcing of tie-ups between computer education majors and established universities.
However, the main hurdles to the growth of online education in India are the last mile problems like availability of bandwidth and Internet spread in the country. Besides, the high cost of computers is a prohibitive factor for many to seriously attempt Internet-based training in India.
Yet, with the coming of convergence, the move will be to effectively link the classroom, the television screen and the power of the Internet and thereby create a new learning methodology.
And that is where the market lies.