“The Indian K-12 market has not only arrived late to the edtech party, but has arrived drunk,” said Charu Noheria, cofounder of 3rdFlix, pointing at the behavioral shift of Indian schools in terms of technology adoption amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Noheria told Inc42 that the Covid-19 has awakened K-12 schools from their slumbers, and they are now claiming to become tech-savvy in a matter of weeks, which was typically unheard of before the pandemic. Recalling the pre-Covid-19 times, she said that most K-12 schools in India were conservative when it came to technology adoption. The pandemic has jolted the entire process as they have nowhere else to go, she added.
Further, she said that the entire conversation has now shifted to which product is better in the market so that they can continue teaching students, without any hassle. “That is something which has worked in edtech favour in the last few months,” highlighted Noheria.
Hyderabad-based B2B2C edtech startup 3rdFlix’s ‘Practically’ platform used to offer experiential and immersive learning experience to K-12 schools in a physical classroom environment using augmented, virtual and mixed reality (AR/VR/MR). But it has now pivoted to providing virtual classroom experience to teachers and students that focuses on futuristic content, gamification and distraction-free classes.
In the present day Covid-19 episode, edtech startups have clearly emerged as a go-to option for schools to kickstart education. According to DataLabs by Inc42+ report ‘The Future Of India’s $2 Bn Edtech Opportunity Report 2020,” the test prep and K-12 edtech startups combined are estimated to be worth $1.3 Bn by 2021. This clearly shows the slower growth of the segment. Hopefully, post-Covid, the segment will get accelerated as more and more K-12 schools start adapting to technology.
In addition to this, the education sector is forecasted to spend more than $6 Bn annually on augmented and virtual reality by 2023. According to ABI research, the funding for the technology has remained a major hurdle to adoption, coupled with price drop of equipments. In another report, augmented reality in education is expected to hit $5.3 Bn in 2023, with the market for virtual reality trailing at $640 Mn.
Leveraging advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, AR/VR/MR, big data among others in the Indian edtech landscape, a lot of startups have emerged in the space, which includes 3rdFlix, WhiteHat Jr, Playshifu, Lido Learning, Pesto, Kings Learning, Cuemath, Classplus and Impactall among others.
Founded in 2016, 3rdFlix’s journey towards edtech began on an interesting note. The cofounders Subbarao Siddabattula, Ilangovel Thulasimani and Noheria met at Lumeris, which is one the leading value based care, population health and healthcare data analytics firm in the US, headed by W. Michael Long, who is also the founder of WebMD, a popular healthcare portal.
Within a short span of time, the company launched its first of a kind AR/VR/MR platform called Practically for K-12 schools. The startup has come a long way from where it all started. Initially started with 3 people, the company has grown to having 250 members. Last year, it also raised pre-Series A round of $5 Mn led by Exfinity Ventures, YourNest, IDFC Parampara, HNIs and angel investors. The fund helped the company to facilitate content development and increase its market penetration.
“If we look at the education landscape, the market is vast. There is so much opportunity for everybody. For instance, a student who is buying BYJU’S today, is also using Practically. The appetite is huge. Since we are a one-stop-shop solution for schools, we have been compared differently in the market. But one thing for sure, there is no player in the market who can create an immersive, gamified and experiential learning content like us,” avered Noheria, confidently.
Solving Edtech’s Attention Deficit
Recalling the lockdown phase, 3rdFlix told Inc42 that it initially started to figure out various ways to replicate the existing physical model into an interactive virtual classroom setup. “Today, teachers’ roles are getting redefined. They are not just a facilitator, mentor or a guide, they are also an entertainer and an innovator,” said Noheria.
How do you hold the attention of students in a virtual kind of environment — This is one of the most challenging aspects, not only for us, but also for teachers, Noheria said.
Keeping this in mind, 3rdFlix’s Practically learning platform has come up with a unique tool which gives teachers the AI-based insights and real-time data analytics of students attentiveness in the virtual classroom, and helps them to come up with alternative teaching solutions such as a pop-quiz or playing a subject related, simulation videos, thereby making learning fun, interactive and distraction-free.
“Previously, schools had no insights into what the students did after the class or if they actually understood the lesson or went back and did their homework. Now, with the help of our platform, teachers will be able to validate the outcomes, thereby making teaching much more engaging, rather than teaching to a confused class,” said Noheria.
Besides AI-monitored attentiveness, Practically also offers automated attendance tracking, quick virtual class launch (2 minutes), questions via poll options and publish results, in-built free access to world class content, record and playback options, and multi-user whiteboard among others. In addition to this, the 3rdFlix is also coming up with a broadcast feature called ‘Practically Live,’ which can accommodate a maximum number of participants, and an AR chatbot that assists students in their learning.
However, today, a lot of schools are turning to communication tools such as Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Team to ensure the classes are not getting interrupted for students amid the Covid-19 lockdown. “Since our core focus is education, we have built a comprehensive teaching platform that understands the concerns of the teachers, students and parents. These communication tools might serve the purpose, but when it comes to delivering results, there are a lot of grey areas in terms of keeping the class engaging and interactive” she added.
At present, Practically’s ‘virtual classroom platform’ has registered close to 10K teachers. “This is just the tip of the iceberg,” avered Noheria, “the schools have not yet started.” In the next one month, the company expects to onboard close to 15K teachers, 3 Lakh students. It has partnered with over 85+ schools and educational institutions, including Glendale Education, Rishikul Vidyapeeth, and Royal Global School among others.
Making Virtual Classrooms Affordable
“Quality products come with a price tag attached to it. Today, a majority of the K-12 schools in India run on a very limited shoestring budget. Hence, it becomes highly difficult for them to afford one,” said Noheria. In other words, schools have an aspiration to get quality products, but they cannot afford it, she added.
Making it accessible for K-12 schools, 3rdFlix’s Practically said that its platform is currently free for all teachers and schools. But, only the virtual classroom is a paid feature. Apart from this, teachers have complete access to world class content that uses real-life applications, 4K+ immersive or 3D content, 1.5K+ simulations or AR videos, 200K questions, various learning models that enables flipped or blended learning models, easy shareable reference material, test-prep with five-level question bank, detailed reporting and analytics, and most importantly, they can teach students anywhere, anytime on any devices, be it smartphone, tablet or laptop.
For students, on the other hand, Practically has come up with a freemium subscription model, where they will have to pay a small pocket level entry amount of INR 299 per month. Once the subscription is activated, based on the usage of the platform, the student has the option to upgrade and downgrade depending on the access to content on the platform.
“The entire industry is moving towards bundling today, where they sign up students for three-five years, particularly in the B2C model. But we are doing exactly opposite as we recommend students to use the product on the basis of what they need, when they need it for a very small price,” shared Noheria. For example, if a student wants to buy a test prep assignment, they can just upgrade it for INR 99 per month, Noheria added.
This way, the company plans to provide access to high quality, immersive content for students in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. “They can at least get a flavour of what is available. If they are interested, they can continue to use the platform, just with monthly payments, and top up recharge as per their usage on the platform,” she said.
It has to be noted that this model is only for India. However, for other countries, the company offers unlimited access to students at a premium price of $19.99 per month. “We believe that this strategy will serve the purpose for Indian audience because the entry size has to be lower to get them started. Once they are in, they will obviously see value and we are confident with our product, and the kind of quality content that we deliver on our platform,” she explained.
Talking about the future roadmap, she added that in the next few months, the startup will be completing its 3D content for math and science. It will also be focusing on localisation of content, where they will be adding more languages, including Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Gujarati and Arabic among others. Currently, the company is present in India, UAE, Japan and Thailand and plans to expand into other areas like the US, Europe, Africa and Australia by next year.
“Our platform is geography agnostic. Since most of the simulation and 3D contents are already available for K-12 students on our platform, we just have to do voiceover and change on-screen text based on the language preference,” she said, “at this point in time, we are thinking local, but we will be going global soon.”