The learning and skill development industry is witnessing a dynamic shift in this digital age. Classrooms are moving to the online world in real-time and businesses are trying to map the offline experience to the online world. With a $40 billion Indian online education market size, startups are aggressively eying the space to grab a bigger pie.
Serial entrepreneur, Raju Vanapala is known for his earlier success with a large consumer product way2sms.com under the company ‘Way2Online Interactive India Pvt Ltd’. While Raju was building way2sms, he also observed that eCommerce in the country has picked up in leaps and bounds. Earlier the market was not conducive; people were apprehensive in the country that only had the likes of Rediff or Indiatimes.
Speaking over the telephone, Raju tells me that with Indian success stories like Flipkart and global players like Amazon coming into the market, the business has now picked up pace. “The problem was that earlier companies in the eCommerce business could not build trust among users. Today the stories are different and they are becoming success stories since the new companies have taken a real commerce route by migrating the offline experience to online.”
Raju sensed that a similar approach could be implemented in learning. He tells me that there isn’t a large player in the learning category and that there is a great opportunity in this business where the offline experience needs to be migrated to online. “With SocialLearning our attempt is to make online learning real. We want to bring the user trust of offline learning to online backed by live instructor led courses,” shared Raju on the idea behind his new startup.
LearnSocial is an eCommerce product at its core which is offering various online learning courses backed by live industry experts. Right now if you log into the portal, you would find courses on various fields like Digital Marketing, Big Data, Spoken English for Beginners, Android Development, to name a few. Click on any course, you get the course details, curriculum, reviews and the enrollment fees. The below screen grab is the preview of the home page of LearnSocial.
For a user to be a part of the courses, the company claims that anyone with a PC or a laptop and a 1Mbps or more internet connection can attend the live sessions. It also claims that an expert support team will be available 24*7 through email, phone or live chat to clarify any queries the learner might have regarding the course.
Talking more on the USP of the product, Raju points at a simple but interesting feature – seven day money back guarantee for users if they are not happy with a certain course. The user gets her money without any questions asked. Besides, features like re-scheduling batches is possible and all the classes are recorded so even if a user misses out she can always get access to the recorded session. “These are some of the ways by which we are making learning experience real in the country.”
The startup is also investing and curating experts for these courses. He shared that at their end they are investing a lot of time in getting the best brains on particular subjects rather than traditional instructors. LearnSocial also allows working professionals who are passionate about teaching to nominate themselves as an instructor. Based on the qualifications and experience, the startup will take the process further. The instructor led crowdsourced model is working well for the startup making it a social learning product.
Learning is a social activity offline and to make that possible the product has features that provide an opportunity for learners to engage amongst them so that they get the most out of the learning programs. Reviews is a section that will gather open feedback for different learning programs making the experience and product better.
But the biggest challenge for LearnSocial is with it being online. India despite being a growing economy in Asia, still faces a broadband infrastructure issue. India continues to have the lowest average internet speeds in APAC. The average Internet speed in India was 1.7 Mbps after an increase of 8.4% from the previous quarter and 34% from Q1 2013, ranking it 117 internationally in terms of average broadband speed.
Raju is well aware of the hindrance and does accept it as one of the challenge but initial tests have shown that to attend courses one needs a minimum of 1 Mbps speed. “So far we have had 300 enrollments in the last fifty days and I am yet to see any internet related issues. While accessibility is a problem in the country, we have users from non-metros like Ranchi, Vizag, and connectivity still isn’t a big challenge.”
Connectivity isn’t a big problem for LearnSocial so the focus would be on the quality of the content and learning experience for the users. Referring to the latest TC article on Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), Raju shares that the learning experience was the reason for MOOC not being a big success as it is perceived. “At our end we are trying to bring each and every offline classroom aspect to online so that users can get the same value from being at their comfort zone. I think this will matter a lot for an online learner.”
Moving on from here, Raju wants to introduce 10-12 courses every month depending on user demand. “For us now the quality matters and not the quantity so we are being choosy about the courses and the instructors that we introduce to LearnSocial.”
Image credit: Facebook