By Himanshu Manglik
The future will never be the same again. Especially for the education industry that has been completely disrupted by the current pandemic and lockdowns. It is facing an immediate challenge to education marketing and product delivery. In recent years as competition intensified, the education industry did evolve a little, but marketing planning efforts and product development initiatives have remained limited. Its flirtation with technology and its experiments with pedagogy have been slow and much too gradual.
Suddenly, it is faced with a crisis that is threatening to transform the industry. The severity of market disruption is completely unexpected and unprecedented. Although, to be fair, no one could have anticipated this Covid-19 pandemic scenario of lockdowns and social distancing or prepared their business continuity plans for such a crisis. The planning and academic cycles are disoriented and the market is like a new battlefield, a new frontier. The consumer expectation has changed. The product itself may need to change and the delivery channels will need to evolve. The future is a new market all together.
To succeed in this extraordinary and challenging situation, marketers will have to rapidly rethink and focus on strong consumer insight-led innovation and renovation that can effectively replace the traditional face to face student teacher engagement. Existing businesses and prospective entrepreneurs are reconsidering resources and reviewing their business models. Ajay Mittal, Director at ‘Vision iKnowledge Solutions’ and an entrepreneur who has been studying the education market is already thinking differently. He says, “The sector needs to place greater emphasis on education outreach. We had hit a speed breaker with the traditional pre-Covid models and education has been struggling because there is a huge chasm between the availability and requirement of trained teachers. This was a serious constraint because we were thinking largely in terms of the traditional schooling models, of brick and mortar classrooms and were not challenging ourselves sufficiently. The current crisis is forcing us to reduce our emphasis on the brick and mortar classroom teaching. We now have no option but to develop the online model rapidly. In fact, the opportunity is now staring at us. Our best response has to be to go back to basics.” Clearly, ‘Back to basics’ in education is about being able to make high quality teaching and workshops accessible. For marketers who have the right product and strategy, the market is huge.
Educationists and entrepreneurs are already grappling with this concern globally. Recently, Niraj Kumar a Management Grad from MIT in the USA developed, tested and kickstarted a strong online education model “Negotiateup.com”, which is a platform for live seminars and training from the world’s best professors. A rather unique model, it functions as an aggregator as well as platform for customised delivery of high quality online education.
In an email discussion, Niraj said, “Even though online education has been around for a while now, we have not been able to leverage it sufficiently. I believe that we have only been looking at the very basic product and functional convenience, rather than how the product can be modified to scale up on value addition.” He elaborated that the challenge in education is really to add value to people in a manner that makes them more relevant as managers and entrepreneurs. “Imagine that you had the opportunity to experience what a class at Harvard, MIT, Wharton is like. You can now do that via our platform. I thought about negotiateup.com while attending business school at MIT. I have now created this platform to bring live classes from the world’s best professors directly to everyone, using technology to run interactive role-plays/simulations/exercises for large classes.”
Niraj maintains that his platform has the flexibility and bandwidth to create high quality sessions. A typical class could include reading material, role play videos, lectures and even personalised feedback depending on the objective and size of the module. Clearly, Niraj is positioning his online delivery platform well. He is differentiating negotiateup.com from other existing online courses on three key counts. One, his platform is perhaps the only one today that functions as an organised aggregator where people can sign up for multiple courses on a single platform, while also providing them the flexibility to ask for a customised and tailored course. Two, the stress is on the authenticity of session delivery by professors from top rung business schools. Three, it guarantees convenience and a high value added product online.
The concept behind negotiateup.com is innovative, since live interactions online with top university professors have not been tried like this earlier. It opens up greater opportunities for existing management schools, faculty, students and even corporates to ramp up their resource base and move up their learning curves. They can leverage this platform to up-skill their employees and provide them training from the world’s best professors without incurring the high travel and time costs of going to these universities. A very powerful concept if marketed well. In fact, it has the potential to be quite a breakthrough. Time will tell.
Sunita Bose who runs an educational and academic support agency ‘Let’s Talk’ for helping aspiring students identify future academic pursuits believes this concept has immense potential in the coming years and is planning to explore such concepts. She says, “We urgently need these innovations and value additions in Indian education today. There is immense need for exposure and access to really high quality education. I would like to explore a similar concept for the students that I mentor and help them to raise the bar.”
The model under consideration for India is evaluating various pricing options, including providing monthly subscriptions to an existing calendar of sessions, opportunity to register for individual sessions, or the flexibility to ask for tailored workshops and sessions. Negotiateup.com is currently in discussion with potential partners in India for a strategic tie-up.
(Himanshu Manglik is Founder and President WALNUTCAP Consulting LLP)