Mobile phones can play a significant role in imparting education in India. The importance of this medium is slowly but steadily being realised by players in the telecom industry, who are now developing the necessary applications to work towards mobile education (m-education or m-learning).
Since the mobile learning space is still evolving, there is no industry estimate on the size of the market, as it is too small. A report on mobile VAS in India by IAMAI and IMRB says that the value added services industry stood at Rs 5,780 crore annually in June 2008. Out of this, P2P (peer to peer) SMS contributes Rs 2,140 crore and this goes only to the operators (the balance Rs 3,640 crore is divided among the different stakeholders including the operators). The report estimates the VAS industry to reach Rs 16,520 crore by June.
Several telcos have started offering m-education services such as English lessons, dial-in tutorials, school syllabi, question sets, vocabulary general knowledge tutorials, exam tips, exam result alerts and education for the physically challenged. These operators usually partner with VAS companies to develop the applications.
At present, many leading operators are providing m-education services and applications to their subscribers. Aircel, the fifth largest GSM player in the country by subscribers, offers education related services through its mGurujee application. The app allows users access to content in areas of engineering, management, civil services and medicine; school syllabi of CBSE and ICSE boards as well as skill development, vocabulary and general knowledge tutorials. A user can subscribe to mGurujee and get access to learning content in practice, quiz, timed or tutorial mode. When the user completes a question set or the time is over, the results are displayed instantly. The operator charges Rs 5 per question set and Rs 30 per month for subscription to a question set.
Another GSM operator, Tata Docomo, provides an English Seekho service through its mobile portal, Tata Zone. It allows users to take conversational English language lessons on their mobiles through an interactive voice response (IVR) application that guides the user through audio clips. It offers short lessons followed by interactive lessons which enable users to practice what they have learnt through the mobile’s keys or through speech recognition. The subscription fee for this service is Rs 20 per month and call charges are 60 paise per minute. It is available in 24 cities.
Commenting on the potential of m-learning services, Lloyd Mathias, chief marketing officer, Tata Teleservices, says, “There is a definite appeal in game-based learning using mobile phones, though this has not been explored in India so far. Currently, we are experimenting with game-based learning technology on mobile phones. However, the feasibility of such an approach depends on the cost of development and deployment of such applications, which are quite high at this time. With increasingly-capable hardware and connectivity available and dropping costs, it’s only a matter of time before learning games on mobile become commonplace.”
Reliance Communications too has been doing some work on this front through its mobile portal, RWorld. The company first launched an m-education service in 2003 called m-school, where teachers and parents could access data bases of schools and register queries and complaints. RCom provides exam results, career counseling, etiquette and grooming sessions. It also provides English learning based on translations in rural areas through its Grameen VAS initiative. Krishna Durbha, head of value added services, mobile data and content at Reliance Communications, says, “Mobile is a viable medium for basic education. The mobile learning space is completely new and is waiting to grow. There is a lot of opportunity but there is a need to find the right content. Touch screen and large screen formats will do wonders and they need to be available at cheaper rates. With good network and connectivity we can do lots. We are promoting mobile learning with some large foreign organisations in social sector with roots in India.”
State-owned telco BSNL has also started offering an English learning service for its subscribers. It has launched a spoken English program, Learn English, which has been designed by Mumbai-based mobile content provider EnableM Technologies in association with Bangalore-based OnMobile Global. The program teaches spoken English through simple stories and everyday situations that a common man can relate to. Subscribers have the option of selecting their level of learning, based on their proficiency in the language. Daily SMS and practice tests are a part of the package, which is available in nine Indian languages. It also allows subscribers to receive a new word daily through SMS. The subscription cost for this is Rs 20 per month and call browsing charges are 30 paise per minute.
EnableM Technologies currently provides multiple m-learning solutions to five operators, including BSNL. Amit Zaveri, chief operating officer, EnableM, says, “We manage the entire learning portfolio for Nokia and also power some of the content. We are also planning to go to Bangladesh. We see a lot of opportunity in the emerging markets as there is low bandwidth and dissemination of content is not standardised. We have already seen a lot of traction. We have a two-pronged strategy – we work with telcos and Nokia, as well as with closed user groups such as corporates, publishers and government.”
Apart from telcos, institutions such as the Indira Gandhi National Open University ( IGNOU) have initiated basic mobile services for students spread across the country. IGNOU is using an SMS model for exam alerts, which is available in five regional sectors in India and has a network of 30,000 to 50,000 students.
At present, most companies offering m-learning directly or indirectly consider the industry to be very small but see a lot of opportunity in this space with newer applications coming in.
Speaking about how mobile learning can evolve further, Sangeet Chowfla, executive vice-president, Comviva, says, “The learning experience on mobile phones can change dramatically if interactivity comes in. With a higher bandwidth, m-learning has the opportunity to get much more interactive. Use of video clips to explain a procedure such as how to change a car tyre, training of employees and vocational stuff will be a big opportunity area. Companies will make use of mobiles for employee training. Enterprise learning is a huge opportunity.” Gurgaon-based Comviva is a provider of integrated VAS solutions for telecom operators worldwide.