Spending hours solving a math problem while I prepare for an exam, I was unable to figure out where I am faltering! I wish I had an app that not only told me where I am going wrong, but also prepared a personalized path of learning to get me enough practice to master the concept!
This is exactly what Toppr is doing. The company, based in Mumbai, India is an EdTech company offering online tutoring services to learn, practice, clear doubts and practice papers for K-12 students. It enables supplemental practice and test preparation for competitive exams. The online tutoring market in India is expected to be almost US$9 billion by 2022. The opportunity is particularly huge in markets such as India, where students lack the access to quality education and teachers are often unable to identify the individual learning in a class of 50-60 students. Toppr offers customized leaning to students that covers their syllabus and the entrance exams they aspire to clear. As the company targets to acquire 8 million students on its platform, it is only scratching the surface of the 400 million school going children in India.
The company uses machine learning and data (collected from a millions of data points from every user activity) to continuously improve its algorithm to develop an adaptive learning platform. Machine Learning has made learning more structured as students can attempt questions according to their learning level. It can identify a student’s weakness down to the concept level and pop up questions that help them improve and giving them insights on their performance. The company has evolved its practice module and further improved by collecting more data from new students using the platform. The use of this technology has also granted them an edge over their competitors. The company has been hiring the right talent in its technology and engineering team to build an adaptive product that can evolve with the increase in the customer base. The company also hired experienced individuals from the sector Prabhdeep Bedi from the US (McKinsey), Niranjan Chavan from Canada (Compass Group); and Sudeep Mitra with over 20 years of experience at companies including Hummer, Reliance, Tata, Airtel and IBM. These professionals were hired to help with the next phase of growth and integrate technology in the growth process.
A challenge while using Machine learning technology is the lack of data points from new users. The company is facing problems in converting its users to paid users. The lack of conversion from the freemium model does not allow the company to collect quality data and help improve its algorithm. Therefore, the management team has been working on raising awareness about the product and helping the end consumer understand the benefits of technology in the education sector. Zishaan Hayath, CEO, is also an angel investor and has been very vocal about his opinion on the role of technology in opening transformative avenues in improving education outcomes. The increased internet penetration in the country and the inability of the legacy tuition providers to provide quality services has created the opportunity for the company to establish a strong product-market fit. It was about building trust within the student community by demonstrating that the app was worth their time. Further, learning involves developing a sense of discipline that is critical to self-paced learning. While computers can provide suggestions about what students should do, actual practice that ultimately lead to outcomes can only be executed by the student. The company had thus focused on engaging the students on the platform to enable them to take the test and practice materials and enable the machine learning algorithm to give the most optimum answer. The company has used design to create a platform that improves visibility and discovery. It gives the students insights from the machine learning algorithm that is easy to digest and uses gamification to make learning fun.
Challenges and engagement tools
Machine learning in education allows teaching to be differentiated and personalized. Computers can deliver customized lectures to each student, liberating the instructors to work on a one-on-one basis with students to help with more difficult problems in students’ understanding. It still begs the question on whether one day the machine will be sophisticated enough to completely replace the teacher and the student would be able to learn on their own? Or will we continue to value the human wisdom that has developed and passed down over generations in education?
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9. Banasree Purkayastha, “Toppr: This edtech platform caters to over 2.5 million registered students”, Feb 28, 2018, https://www.financialexpress.com/industry/toppr-this-edtech-platform-caters-to-over-2-5-million-registered-students/1082250/ , Accessed Nov 12, 2018
10. Disha Seth, “Completing a student’s learning cycle using technology”, Nov 5, 2018, https://blog.toppr.com/completing-a-students-learning-cycle-using-technology-9db8c391ddf6 , Accessed Nov 12, 2018
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