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Virtual Gurus

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DQI Bureau
New Update

Thanks to the ever-increasing quality of Indias telecom network, coupled

with the availability of a quality teaching pool, companies are successfully

able to provide state-of-the-art online tutoring services from India to both

outside and within India. This can safely be termed as broadband-enabled service

(BES) without discounting the IT component of it. Offline tutoring is a very old

concept in India, but its online version has now started to make a small

beginning. This is a relatively new concept even in advanced countries like the

US and the UK. According to statistics, there are 70 mn children in the US alone

which explains the bullishness of online tutoring companies both in the US and

India.

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According to Shantanu Prakash, founder and CEO of Educomp, Tutoring has been

around for some decades, but online tutoring is a new concept even in the US. It

is a new intervention where face-to-face tutoring has been made possible, thanks

to the proliferation of high-speed Internet. It is still in its infancy but

growing rapidly.

Enough Scope



The addressable market, according to estimates, is 21 mn out of a total of

70 mn students in the US alone. According to Mahalingam Vaidyanadhan, chief

operating officer, Tutors Worldwide, a Chennai-based company, The concept of

online tutoring is still a subject of debate in the US; something similar to the

Obama-Hillary race for presidential nomination. The main concern is; how far

will students stand to gain from tutors outside the US, and what would be the

standards of tutors?

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The Indian market is still very small. According to Vaidyanadhan, As far as

India is concerned, the online tutoring market is still in a neo-natal stage,

and is yet to make a breakthrough. While the concept is something like Greek and

Latin for some institutions, some do not wish to be the first in testing this

concept. We have to go miles before we say we have done something in this

regard. According to Atul Kulshreshta, CEO, Extramarks, There is a strong

tendency of parents to spend money on tuition, as it impacts their childrens

careers.

What it Takes



Broadband connectivity is the primary consideration for teachers and

students, and seamless high-speed connectivity is the backbone on which the

entire online tutoring business works. Teachers willing to take up online

teaching opportunities are screened by prospective tutoring companies, and are

given training. Most tutoring providers have created a whiteboard chat platform

on the website where students and teachers log in and there are supervisors

monitoring their sessions. Some companies also offer video support for teachers

and students to see each other. The other accessory required for teachers and

students is the digitizer that enables handwriting to be visible on the

whiteboard, accessible by both the student and the teacher.

Teachers Woes



It might sound like an easy task but there are some hurdles. Accent is one

of the challenges but not a big issue considering the expertise gained through

BPO training. The more important challenge is the reliability and quality of the

broadband connectivity at the teachers end wherein most of them rely on state

telcosBSNL and MTNLfor their connectivity. Not all teachers have access to

broadband simply because the services are not available everywhere. According to

K Ganesh of TutorVista, We recruit teachers only from places where broadband

services are available. We have teachers from as far as Agra, Kunnor, Varanasi,

and Coimbatore but maximum teachers are from Chennai.

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There is a strong tendency of

parents to spend money on tuition as it impacts their childrens career

Atul Kulshreshta, CEO, Extramarks.com

Tutoring has been around for

some decades, but online tutoring is a new concept even in the US

Shantanu Prakash, founder and CEO,

Educomp

Burck Smith, CEO, Smarthinking.com, a leading provider of online tutoring in

the US, says, The biggest challenge is defining the market and the buyer. For

instance, tutoring for kindergarten to sixth class students is usually paid for

by parents. The buying channel for high school is less clear. The buying channel

for college students is typically the college. Each of these markets also needs

different types of tutoring programs. Learning through online is still not much

heard of in most parts of India. So an important challenge, which Educomp is

grappling with, is awareness.

Talking in detail about the challenges, Vaidyanadhan of Tutors Worldwide,

says, Teaching challenges are about the curriculum of the student, his/her

state standards, assessment and understanding of the weakness areas, including

the prerequisites for teaching a given topic, and strong content aligned to

state standards, multimedia enriched. He also mentions that challenges at the

student level will arise due to reluctance in learning through computer usage.

Some students from countries like the US and the UK tend to wanter out of topic

by asking unrelated questions and personal information. The solution, according

to him, is to make sessions interactive with multimedia-enriched content because

students seldom maintain the interest level through out the sessions. According

to Shantanu Prakash of Educomp, Beyond broadband, awareness is very important

considering that this is a new concept. Students and teachers need to experience

and understand this concept. Word of mouth will have a very important role to

play in spreading this concept.

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Business Models



There are multiple business models. The one used by Bangalore-based

TutorVista is a subscription model where students pay $100 per month for

unlimited access to tutors across any subject and at any point in time.

TutorVista has leveraged technology to ensure the dynamic availability of

teachers for students as and when they need. As opposed to this, Tutor.com, one

of the leading players in the US, has a pay-per-use model where it charges about

$30 per hour. Extramarks.com, a Noida-based online tutoring company, has an

innovative model where students share subject matter.

The main concern is, how far

the students will stand to gain from tutors outside the US, and what the

standard of the tutors would be



Mahalingam Vaidyanadhan, COO, Tutors Worldwide

The biggest challenge is

defining the market and the buyer



Burck Smith, CEO, Smartthinking.com

K Ganesh, CEO of TutorVista.com, says, We have changed the business model

altogether leveraging the Internet and expertise of Indian teachers by

introducing the monthly model giving convenience to the students. It is not

that all companies are targeting the lucrative market. Educomps Learning Hour (www.learninghour.com)

surprisingly targets students based in India which number around 2,000. Citing

reasons for its domestic focus, Shantanu Prakash of Educomp says, Educomp as a

company has a very good mindshare among about one million students in private

schools and 3 mn in government schools in India. It is this pool that we are

trying to capture through our online initiative, learninghour.com. He also adds

that the tuition center enables students to see the face of teachers and

interact with their peers, which is a very important part of the entire learning

process. Educomp has plans to set up around 150 tutoring centers across the

country from the existing eight. The Indian market is largely driven by an

offline model where there are tuition or coaching centers across cities and

towns in India. TutorVista, sensing this opportunity, got into this offline

model through its acquisition of Edurite Technologies.

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Spreading Knowledge



This is one great avenue for teachers, who have to be at home due to various

reasons and who can use technology and earn some money. In fact, TutorVista

offers full-time employment to teachers who work from home and pays them around

Rs 15,000 per month. But Extramarks.com has thirty teachers working full-time

from their Noida office and offers teaching services from the premises. This,

according to Kulshrestha of Extramarks.com, ensures that good quality is taken

care of and is better than home environment. Extramarks.com has set up virtual

classrooms like any other formal face-to-face class, where students log on to a

companys server and teachers conduct lessons on subject chosen by students.

The minimum qualification for this is a Masters degree in the subject opted

to teach and some teaching experience. Companies also offer training to these

teachers in computer and other tools required for online tutoring besides some

accent-related training. Per hour charges are also in place for teachers who are

not full-time employees, and this ranges anywhere between Rs 200 to Rs 500 per

hour, depending on the subject s/he teaches. Listing advantages of learning from

home, Prakash of Educomp says, For students, it is a dream come true because

they can access teaching facilities sitting in the comfort of their home and at

a time of his or her choice. They can learn from some of the best teachers,

which is more true of students from small cities and towns.

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Career Launcher, Educomp (learninghour.com), Extramarks.com, TutorVista.com,

Trastutors.com, and Tutors Worldwide are some of the companies in India that are

starting to make their presence felt in the online tutoring market. Leading

global players include Tutor.com and Smarthinking.com.

The broadband connection, hovering around 3 mn, has to reach the government

deadline of 120 mn by 2010; this looks impossible due to various factors. Even

with the current growth rate, some market potentials can be realized by tutoring

companies if they are able to create awareness.

Sudesh Prasad



sudeshp@cybermedia.co.in

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