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Innovation in Indian Learning Industry

Will Thalheimer wonders what is the state of innovation in the Indian learning and performance industry in his recent blog post. He comments on the NY Times report on India’s anxiety over the slow pace of innovation and wonders what the situation is in the learning industry. Will Thalheimer is a learning-and-performance consultant and researcher who specializes in helping clients build more effective learning interventions.

I guess it depends on what we call innovation. No I am not getting into an academic debate on what is innovation, primarily because I am not good at it. I do believe there is innovation happening in the Indian learning industry. Much of the innovation is focused on solving problems closer to home. These may not always be visible to the world. Some examples:

  • NIIT and TIS win Brandon Hall and CLO Magazine awards regularly. Other Indian companies in this year’s award list were Aptara and Servetium.
  • Harbinger and Upside Learning have learning products that are competing with the best and are now quite visible in the US.
  • NIIT’s Hole in the Wall is a key innovation in how children learn and has the potential to solve the India’s huge problem of educating the masses. The model is now being adopted and implemented in many developing countries, not just India.
  • NIIT, Educomp, Edurite, Everonn are making significant inroads in introducing ICT and elearning in school education system.
  • NIIT has been using innovation in curriculum and technology to overcome the problem of shortage of faculty in smaller towns and villages as part of its, not so publicized, affirmative action.
  • It is hard for companies like Infosys, Wipro, HCL etc. to hire and train tens of thousands each year and put them on the job without innovating in training practices. Some awards by these companies:
    • Wipro: 2009 ASTD BEST Award
    • Satyam: 2008 ASTD Training Management
    • Infosys BPO: 2007 ASTD Training Management
    • Reliance Industries Limited: 2007 ASTD Organizational Learning

Of course, Indian companies aren’t innovating as much as they can or should. Why?

  • We did start with ‘low cost’ advantage, a tag that’s hard to shake. One, Indian companies need to learn how to demand more from customers. And two, at the end of the day, low cost is indeed an advantage they will continue to play on it.
  • Indian industry is traditionally a service industry and has grown significantly doing exactly that. So product development has not been a priority for long. If companies continue grow doing one thing, there’s less of a motivation for change.
  • We don’t know how to package things well. That means presenting ideas, creating white papers etc. For some reason we don’t seem to pay enough attention to creating a really good document or presentation. This lack of packaging is visible in everything, from emails to project reports.
  • Indian industry has been focused on volumes. You could debate that there is process innovation. I mean whatever said and done, there is jugaad* required to get large volumes done. But yes, we haven’t quite been focused on product innovation until recently.
  • We aren’t really focused on academic research (at least I am not aware of it). There is very little connect between academic research and workplace implementation, though I suspect that’s the case in most other countries too.
  • We don’t know how to sell consulting, research and innovation well. We also don’t have high profile visible individual consultants/experts. I guess Thiagi and CK Prahalad are Indians innovating but don’t quite count as India innovating. It may be some time before an Indian from India is awarded the CLO of the year award.

Innovation is happening in India, definitely. Can more happen? Of course! Should Indian learning industry be worried? I don't know. There will be companies that will continue to push our low cost envelope to the western world. But with the western economies slowing down, and the opportunities now becoming visible within India, I am guessing we will be seeing much more innovation focused on the domestic industry. Not all will be visible to the western world. We are a shy lot and still learning to market ourselves better.

* Jugaad n. /jü-'ga-d&/ (जुगाड़): an improvised or jury-rigged solution; inventiveness, ingenuity, cleverness.


Vinod Chand said...

I take serious objection to calling the education arena as an industry.

All our problems stem from this flawed approach. We are treating teaching and learning as a mechanical process that can be implemented as a process or product that can be bought and enjoyed by the users.

We need to get out of this mindset. We need to understand that learning and teaching are not mechanical skills that can be imparted by using smart tools and technology. At best technology can aid the learning process through tools such as multimedia, etc.

We need to think about the taught more than anyone else when talking about the learning process. Teaching as a former colleague explained is a process of going from the known to the unknown. Does the so called learning industry involve the taught in its learning designs? If not, then we are doomed to have mediocre students.

We, in the learning industry, feel that the student will take whatever we dish out. We do not encourage questioning, we suppress creativity at all junctions and then we expect that the student will actually learn. How stupid of us.

What we need is a holistic approach towards learning and teaching. Teachers are taught this approach in their teacher training programs but then they come to a school and forget all of that.

Till we recognize and acknowledge the fact that each child is unique and learns in a unique manner, we as a learning industry may innovate but all innovations will fail

Sahana Chattopadhyay said...

I started writing my response here but it got too long...so turned it into a blog post instead. I have put in my thoughts in the post...

In Response: Innovation in Indian Learning Industry

Vinay Singh (on LinkedIn) said...

There is hardly any innovation in Indian Learning industry. If you exclude NIIT hole in wall and Educomp , there is not anything new for masses.
Creating an innovative solution and selling to US customers would not call innovation in learning for India.
There is a lot of activities happening in FIITJEE , Career Launcher but that is all business wise
I would call innovation in learning happening when there is a new approach to teach students, when engg and MCA colleges stop churning out parrots, when colleges and schools along with students can deliver something meaningful.
Posted by vinay singh

M Sasikumar (via LinkedIn) said...

It is a good topic - but you are not mentioning any innovation. Getting an award does not necessarily mean innovating. Can you elaborate on the kind of innovations that Indian e-learning industry has tried (even if they have failed)? Largely I feel, Indian e-learning industry has been just aping the western trends, and focussing on the western markets. Correct me, if I am wrong.

Manish Mohan (on LinkedIn) said...

Thanks for the comment Vinay. As I wrote in my post, "I guess it depends on what we call innovation. No I am not getting into an academic debate on what is innovation, primarily because I am not good at it."

I agree as an industry we need to do more innovation. As I said in my last paragraph, "with the western economies slowing down, and the opportunities now becoming visible within India, I am guessing we will be seeing much more innovation focused on the domestic industry." So hopefully we should see companies start to focus more on innovating for the masses.

I notice your company has created some interesting products for education. Would you consider these as innovations? Would love to know more about them.

Manish Mohan (on LinkedIn) said...

Thanks for your comment Sasikumar. As I wrote in my post, "I guess it depends on what we call innovation. No I am not getting into an academic debate on what is innovation, primarily because I am not good at it."

I can think of Hole in the Wall as an innovation that can impact the masses. However I do agree with you that getting awards does not necessarily mean innovating. But then awards are a public recognition of things that might be new, or perhaps better than others.

I would love to hear about a scientists view and get more insights into research related happenings in India. I am not in touch with other people who are doing core research and it would be great if you could share your insights.

Manish Mohan said...

Hi Vinod

Found an interesting debate on whether education is a service or an industry (opens PDF). However it is common to refer to education as an industry and that doesn't necessarily demean it.

Actually the process of learning design does include thinking about the taught or the learners, usually called audience analysis and task analysis.

I guess the fundamental cause of some of the problems you highlight in your comment (not encouraging questioning, suppressing creativity, not taking holistic approach, not acknowledging each child is unique etc.) is India's population. We have too many people striving for too few resources. We have too few teachers, very limited schools and teaching aids for the large number of students who need to be taught.

I guess this problem will not be solved by any one person or one company, and it definitely won't be solved in one generation's time. Each of us will need to do our part and keep doing our small bits of innovation. I am sure things have improved in the last few decades. While there is much more to do, let's appreciate the progress made so far. Thoughts?

Vinay Singh (on LinkedIn) said...

I agree with you Manish. The system has to stop using the cookie cutter approach and churn out of value. But the private colleges are more focused on making money than being bothered what the students learn.
No doubts IT company face an uphill task when they want to hire college graduates.
Thanks for showing interest in our products.
Our first product geekevaluation is a web based skill assessment platform. This is not an unique solution but I am trying to differentiate by features and pricing. Next year it would have some new features.
Skill-Guru is an innovative platform which bring together teachers and trainers. It allows the teachers to create and sell the tests and to market themselves with free test.

Bhishm Singh on LinkedIn said...

We are a E-learning startup- TechSense Labs Private Limited (www.techsenselabs.com), primarily focusing on engineering students.

I totally agree, that there is hardly any innovation in E-learning industry (in fact in every industry in India), but blaming and talking alone will not help.Taking some steps to solve it may help the industry.

If you guys think you have any innovative approach for this industry, and if I can help you in developing your product or service, then feel free to contact me at bhishm.singh@__.com, or call me at 096########.


Learning Collage- By Sonia Sant said...

An interesting article.. and an interesting perspective..

Do visit the blog

Anil Mammen said...

Comprehensive post, Manish! Although you say you don’t want to get into a debate on the meaning of innovation, if we need to have a constructive discussion, we should at least have a broad agreement on what we mean by innovation. For one, we need to distinguish between innovation in the utilitarian space (any place where we expect innovation to deliver a practically useful result) and innovation in the not-strictly-utilitarian space(aesthetics, performing arts and literature). I believe training certainly belongs to the former category—some part of education too is supposed to deliver useful results (as in enabling students to apply learning in realistic contexts—but not all of education is directly practical and it needn’t be so). If so, all our effort at thinking up original ideas, implementing novel methods or creating new tools will need to yield useful results, not just awards or industry recognition. And that’s precisely where innovations in the e-learning space seem to falter. We often hear conversations from users on the usefulness of g-talk, blogger, You Tube, etc. But how often do we hear enthusiastic learners discussing great e-learning programs that transformed the way they approach learning or that helped them do something really useful?

Rashid Mahmood (on LinkedIn) said...


Thanks for coming out with this wonderful post!!!

I tell you innovation is happening - irrespective of pace. Only those people will know it who are attached to it, company you mentioned are well known companies but some start up companies are on their way to penetrate the "education Industry" with their Innovative products.

Check out Helix Technology Solution's

Pradyumna Chaudhuri (on LinkedIn) said...

Hi Manish,
That was a very interesting post and the discussion has been thought provoking...
So... my thoughts... :)
The domestic market is starving for innovation and innovation is happening definitely. The learning industry is growing and the requirement for training is so huge that innovation is the only way the pent-up demand can be met effectively.
I have been studying the domestic market and find innovation is happening, but in pockets. And these are far from frequent.
Innovative products, innovative approaches, innovative methodologies to deliver effective learning content to target audience... is happening but only when there is a confluence of interest, demand, and need in the client. Where cookie cutting solutions work... for the client, why innovate? There are no free lunches!
Innovation happens only when it is demanded and of course paid for too! :)
The domestic industry is maturing very quickly and the demand for innovation is picking up significantly. But the percentage, to my mind, is still very insignificant compared with the cookie cutting requirement (not that I agree to the semantics of this phrase... a different round of discussion required on this!).
As suppliers to the world of learning, Indian companies are innovating as they are expected to and the clients demand their Indian partners to innovate in their offering and solutioning... This too highlights that client maturity is crucial for innovation to succeed.
An award and recognition goes a considerable way to say that the innovation/product/..., in whichever field, is appreciated and recognized globally. I, for one, will always say the "Oscars" are important else I would tell myself that the "grapes are sour!"
Nothing succeeds like success!
Thanks Manish for giving me this opportunity to air my thoughts...
Will await contrarian views too!

Pratibha Devegowda (on LinkedIn) said...

Today there are various options & tools available for learning,e-learning industry is doing a great ob in this.

Akshay Iyer said...

Posted the same in Linked In:
Everyone loves innovation but i think sometimes the drive for innovation blinds us to optimally utilizing whatever we currently have. We have graduated to learning 2.0 and even Web 3.0 without even wondering if we have effectively implemented Learning 1.0 properly. Forgive me for being bit critical but most instances of what everyone calls innovation seems to me like strategies to increase revenue and margins to boost up a companies finances. Hole in the Wall was a great experiment and innovation primarily because Saugata did not do it with the aim of maximizing revenue or boosting margins on projects. For anyone not familiar with hole in the wall here is a link to it. http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/sugata_mitra_shows_how_kids_teach_themselves.html

We will always have small improvements in what we currently do from service and product companies because they will always concentrate on the finances and build not what might be best for audiences but what is best for finances.

As with the Wiki or the invention of mountain bikes or many such cases the innovation will be driven by demand in will happen is some small corner of the world which would then be modified and implemented by corporate companies.

Rashid Mahmood (on LinkedIn) said...

Hi Akshay,

I see eye to eye with your view about - "effectively implemented of any innovation".

Your Statement : Innovation seems to me like strategies to increase revenue and margins to boost up a companies finances. (Its having substance)

We know that companies like microsoft come's out with new version of Windows or Office every three years - Even though they know it very well that, the older version was not been used to its optimum level.

amit zaveri said...

Hi Manish,
I think we are doing some very interesting work on how to reach the masses through a mobile learning channel.
Already covering a huge base with users being added rapidly.
I think its the next wave !
Amit Zaveri

Manish Mohan said...

EnableM definitely looks like an interesting proposition. I've never been too sure about m-learning but I also know that more people will have a mobile in India than a computer. Would love to know more. We can connect on email at manishmo2007 at gmail.

Akshay said...


Found a nice example of what i think is real innovation:

Its not related to e-learning but amazing how its ideas that are only constraint to true innovation.

Warm Regards

Manish Mohan said...

Thanks for sharing this Akshay.

Vivek Pandey (on LinkedIn) said...

@ Manish

Innovation is a cofactor of demand. When demand and consumption increases, so will Industry Players start innovation to differentiate amongst the likes and equals.

I think the movement is on and its only going to better and hence the e-Learning Industry in India will see a lot of innovation (hopefully) in the years to come.

Impact of west cannot be underpinned - however, the way companies like Tata Interactive Services have marketed innovative services to the west is one example that proves that we have a lot of talent and ability to innovate consistently.

Uday Nair (on LinkedIn) said...

Hello Manish, Although i myself work in eLerning field i was also in search of this question and i decided to attend some conference to see what is happening. I attended a conference called MTEP in bangalore which showcases indegenious technology enabled learning solutions in collages and universtites in India. I went with a lot of hope and almost came out disgusted. People were just talking about open source technology and how it can help and blah blah on black and white ppts. After almost 50 presentation and two days of torture i realised even today nothing has moved ahead of Microsoft PPT in terms of learning. It was an irony that the event was sponsered by Product companies and found none of the colleges interested in their products. How can innovation happen when people are not ready to explore new things? Innovation do happen in India but its difficult to sell that in India. Many of the US based company which sell their products in Indian Learning market are made by Indian engineers..its an irony again. These same customer would never buy the same type of product from indian companies...

Bipin Kesharwani on LinkedIn said...

hi Manish,
NIce post. I totally agree with Mr. Uday's point of view. Even we have created a solution for replicating traditional classroom in standard Indian scenario. Screenshot: http://www.watchwitz.com/vcscreen/ .
Most of the customers buying the same technology and system from our foreign associates doesn't seems to be that interested when approached directly at initial level even after successful demonstrations. I also feel that decision making about technology and innovative things are too slow in India.

Sherry Lobo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sherry Lobo said...

Nice post Manish!
Could you please elaborate on certain e-learning innovations that you see for 2011-2012 in the Indian Education sector...Thanks

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are my personal opinions. Content published here is not read or approved in advance by my employers and does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of my employers.

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