Edtech players go hybrid as online growth slows

Bangalore: Edtech players are turning their focus on a hybrid model amid a slowing down in the sector after two years of hypergrowth as easing Covid-19 curbs and reopening of offline institutions make more students go back to traditional modes of learning.

Companies including PhysicsWallah, Byju’s, Imarticus Learning, Cuemath, Vedantu and Unacademy are all in the process of either expanding or building an offline presence.

Edtech players say going hybrid is part of a natural transition as education transforms with the rise of digitization and emerging technologies. While rapid adoption of online learning will continue, classroom programs will enhance learning, student-teacher in-person interaction and project work, they said.

“Students and parents have understood the comfort that online mode offers, hence a hybrid model is how edification will be accessed going forward,” said Alakh Pandey, founder of PhysicsWallah, which raised $100 million to become the country’s 101st unicorn earlier this week.

It plans to open 20 offline hybrid classrooms or paths across the country to bridge the accessibility gap, and has already inaugurated a few of them with around 7,000 students. PW is implementing concepts such as gamification along with adaptive learning techniques to make learning engaging at all levels.

Byju’s, the country’s largest edtech firm, has announced plans to invest $200 million in offline tuition centres, scaling up to 500 of them across 200 cities this year.

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Imarticus Learning, one of the first to adopt the hybrid model before the pandemic, is planning to open more offline centers as it expands to tier 2 and 3 cities, its CEO Nikhil Barshikar said.

Vivek Sundar, CEO of Cuemath, said, “Some of the reversion to offline is natural given the opening up of schools and no lockdowns post-pandemic, which is what many edtech players are seeing.” Cuemath is working on offline plans.

“Most students can’t learn as effectively in online,” said Vivek Varshney, founder of SpeEdLabs, which powers a hybrid learning model. “During the pandemic, it was a forced choice; but now, most want the lecture component to be through offline classes.”

Pivoting towards a hybrid model seems a natural strategy for the sector that after a period of unprecedented highs, is now facing a funding crunch and a spate of layoffs this year by the likes of Unacademy, Vedantu, Lido Learning, Udayy, and FrontRow.

Not surprisingly, Vedantu, which laid off 600-plus employees this year, is evaluating the ‘hybrid model’ as one of the initiatives to spur the next phase of growth.

“The hybrid model offers certain advantages like multiple learning products for different audiences, and access to quality teachers and learning methodologies in underserved cities,” Vedantu CEO Vamsi Krishna said. “It also delivers a solid learning experience for students, covering the best of offline and online capabilities.”

Unacademy, which also saw recent layoffs, forayed into offline learning in May. Its Unacademy Centers – coming up in Kota, Jaipur, Bengaluru, Chandigarh, Ahmedabad, Patna, Pune and Delhi – will facilitate offline classes for learners and will extend the access to educators in the NEET UG, IIT JEE, and foundation (9-12) course categories.

Imarticus plans to give learners the option to choose a mode of learning that suits their needs. “There are numerous advantages of the hybrid model,” its CEO Barshikar said. “You can cater to a larger audience and often give learners an option to pick what suits them best.”

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