EdTech in India: The need to look beyond video learning

The outburst of mobile internet has led to an explosion of online video consumption in India. YouTube today is almost an inseparable part of online presence of nearly 225 million people. So, what does this tell us? 

Nearly 80 percent of the mobile users in India rely on video content to learn something new – be it a life hack, a food recipe or even classroom science experiments. There is a video online today for every learning interest – from crazy science experiments to quick money-making tips.  

While videos of all kinds are being consumed for entertainment and self-learning, illustrative or animated videos have emerged as a game changer for academic learning and general understanding of concepts. For instance, CBSE Class 10 Physics concepts such as Electromagnetic fields or Working of an Induction Motor is better understood through explainer videos than from chunky textbooks or dull classroom lectures.  

So clearly, 2018 has been a year of growth for EdTech in India, with higher reliance on video content. Though smart learning companies such as Educomp have managed to brighten dull classrooms with video content, companies such as Byjus, Toppr and other YouTube content creators have played an important part in the widespread distribution of video-based learning content outside the classrooms.  

With all the money being put in video-based learning, there’s no denying that videos trump regular classroom or tuition lessons in captivating the audience. But, before we get carried away by this revolution in the ed-tech industry, it’s important to ask if students are getting the desirable outcome by just watching or learning from videos

Let’s look at the first desirable outcome – good grades in exams. 

In board exams students are evaluated on their application and analysis skills just as much as their understanding and remembering skills. Application can be understood by two means – one is through practical application to day-to-day things and second through theoretical application to dummy contexts and problems. That’s not it. Application and analysis skills are further improved by building the core skills that form the basis of the correct application. 

This discussion basically steers us to look beyond Video learning and ask what lies ahead for a student to get the desirable outcome – one of which is good grades and the other is strong grasp over concepts.  

Think of it this way – We see a video to understand Pythagoras Theorem. If we simply leave it at that and come back to it after a month – we probably won’t be able to apply that understanding to a problem too well. But, if we follow spaced-repetition patterns and constantly apply that equation to other problems, in one form or another, we’ll have a lasting understanding and memory of it. Along with this, if we’re given a tool to brush up our basic skills – then we leave room for no error and our foundation for Pythagoras becomes rock solid! 

One method that can prove to be effective to achieve the first outcome is adaptive-sequence based practice. For example, for a student practicing a problem on calculating Velocity (V) given the Distance (d) and the Time (t), it would just require practicing with two sets of values when the student gets them right. Then the student should graduate to questions of a higher difficulty and not practice on same problem set. Khan Academy had been a pioneer in Adaptive Sequencing of Maths problems. Among Indian EdTech companies, Embibe has done great deal of work in this area leveraging its content and student intelligence.  

In addition to continuous practice, a key element of learning is information retention which happens through revision. Just like how most of us forget the recipe from a video we watched yesterday, nearly 40% of the students forget what they understood in class or from a video in the same week of learning. A great amount of scientific study and research has been done in this area in the last few decades. One pattern that is identified through this research is called the “Forgetting Curve”, which shows that most of our general memory decays over time exponentially.   

Constant revision at appropriate intervals work as an antidote for the forgetting curve. But for a student to figure out what to revise and when to revise particular concepts is easier said than done. This is because, time interval between subsequent revisions varies with subjects, chapters and also the depending on the level of student’s excitement about concepts in the chapter. So, majority of students do not know what they should be revising at all. They simply go with the chapter that is being taught in classrooms or tuitions! 

But leveraging Artificial Intelligence can help change this to a great extent. QuizNext, a gamified learning app uses AI along with repetition algorithms to ensure students spend appropriate time in revising the chapters and concepts that need their attention.  

Another thing that aids video-based learning is regular assessments. We all know that schools do a great job in conducting summative and formative assessments. However, the very mention of these scare the kids away. Tech-enabled companies like MeritNation, myCBSE Guide, and QuizNext make these assessments less scary and taxing for students by provide pre- generated question sets that help students identify their weak and strong areas. Apart from offering chapter- wise quizzes, which serve as a great formative assessment tool, ed-tech companies like QuizNext, gamifies the whole assessment and revision experience and motivates students to partake in these tests without being forced to do so.  

 That said, EdTech in India has paid a lot of attention to the “grades” aspect of a student’s desirability, but has paid very little attention to general skill building – which is why apps such as Elevate and Lumosity haven’t witnessed great traction in India yet. According to the recent NCERT’s National Achievement Survey, most of the Class 5 students lack basic reading comprehension and mathematics skills, having scored 0- 50% in a survey. However, apps such as QuizNext and Playablo are making inroads in this direction. While Playablo is focused on offering skill-based English training for Indian students, QuizNext has quizzes that help students in building spelling capabilities and quizzes to improve mental math skills, with a variety of concept-specific skill-building activities underway.   

While majority of EdTech in India has been around video content, it is good to see start-ups emerging with a focus on solving niche problems such as revision and skill building that often get overshadowed by the glamour of video-based learning. Disruptive EdTech in India is in its nascent stages and all these investments in EdTech would start to make a lot more sense if we don’t isolate basic problems of skill building and information retention with comprehension.