Edtech players go hybrid as online growth slows

Edtech companies are focusing on a hybrid strategy as the sector slows after two years of hypergrowth, as softening Covid-19 restrictions and the reopening of offline institutions encourage more students to return to traditional learning methods.

PhysicsWallah, Byju’s, Imarticus Learning, Cuemath, Vedantu, and Unacademy are all in the process of expanding or establishing a physical presence.

Going hybrid, according to edtech firms, is a logical move as education alters as a result of digitisation and developing technology. While online learning will continue to grow in popularity, classroom programmes will improve learning, in-person connection between students and teachers, and project work, they stated.

“Students and parents have understood the comfort that online mode offers, hence a hybrid model is how edification will be accessed going forward,” said Alakh Pandey, founder of PhysicsWallah, which raised $100 million to become the country’s 101st unicorn earlier this week.

To address the accessibility gap, it wants to build 20 offline hybrid classrooms or pathshalas across the country, and has already opened a couple with roughly 7,000 students. To make learning more engaging at all levels, PW is incorporating gamification and adaptive learning techniques.

Byju’s, the country’s largest edtech company, has revealed plans to invest $200 million in offline tutoring centres this year, with plans to expand to 500 locations across 200 cities.

Imarticus Learning, one of the first to adopt the hybrid model before the pandemic, is planning to open more offline centres as it expands to tier 2 and 3 cities, its CEO Nikhil Barshikar said.

Vivek Sundar, CEO of Cuemath, said, “Some of the reversion to offline is natural given the opening up of schools and no lockdowns post-pandemic, which is what many edtech players are seeing.” Cuemath is working on offline plans.

“Most students can’t learn as effectively in online,” said Vivek Varshney, founder of SpeEdLabs, which powers a hybrid learning model. “During the pandemic, it was a forced choice; but now, most want the lecture component to be through offline classes.”

After a period of exceptional highs, the sector is now experiencing a funding shortage, with companies including Unacademy, Vedantu, Lido Learning, Udayy, and FrontRow laying off employees this year.

Vedantu is evaluating the ‘hybrid model’ as one of the strategies to spur the next phase of growth, despite having laid off 600+ staff this year.

“The hybrid model offers certain advantages like multiple learning products for different audiences, and access to quality teachers and learning methodologies in underserved cities,” Vedantu CEO Vamsi Krishna said. “It also delivers a solid learning experience for students, covering the best of offline and online capabilities.”

Unacademy, which was also hit by layoffs recently, branched out into offline learning in May. Its Unacademy Centres, which will open in Kota, Jaipur, Bengaluru, Chandigarh, Ahmedabad, Patna, Pune, and Delhi, will allow learners to take offline classes while also giving educators access to the NEET UG, IIT JEE, and foundation (9-12) course categories.

Imarticus intends to provide learners with the choice of selecting a learning mode that best meets their needs. “The hybrid approach has multiple advantages,” said Barshikar, the company’s CEO. “You can appeal to a bigger audience, and you can often give learners the choice of choosing what works best for them.”

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