As I close in on a year and a half at Prayag, I find that the journey, like any, has at times taken unexpected paths, had highs and lows, and surprises too. But one thing I know for sure – I have learned a whole lot, and gotten involved in a variety of activities/clients and extended my writing to areas I never knew much about. One of the aspects of working for Prayag that makes it different from my previous jobs (and I have been working for over a decade now, and in two different countries) is the sheer diversity. One of the stated goals for us this year, as a small and niche company, has been to engage with different sectors and clients, and not get bogged down by thinking that might typecast us into just IT or market research. Yes, a lot of our clients are indeed IT players, but over the last one year, I have also worked on accounts and pitches ranging from a personal care products start up to a travel and tickets booking website, as well as a bespoke, responsible tourism company.
So, what is to be gained from the variety? Well, first off, invaluable experience. By dipping our toes into new sectors and showing willingness to work with smaller and less developed (in terms of ideology as well as methodology) startups, we’re opening ourselves up to learning and evolving, both as individuals and as a company, and enhancing our business knowledge. And, along the way, we learn more about our team and are more often than not, pleasantly surprised by what our collective knowledge and individual thought processes can yield. Branding and logo development, I learned, is not work done in a silo, by the designers alone. For, hand in hand with a logo design, come a name, and a tagline. We’re not an advertising agency but, at these moments, we get the experience of thinking and working like one, and it enlivens things!
Take for example, a pitch we did last year for a budding online travel firm that wanted to compete with the big names like Cleartrip and MakeMyTrip. It was the first time at Prayag that I got to work on something so creative and outside the box (we planned for a big bang launch and related events, came up with collaterals for the pitch presentation) and I got to see the talent that our designers possessed. Though we didn’t end up winning the account, the learning we got from the experience emboldened us to take on a different travel client later in the year. A small, niche company that offers responsible and ethical travel experiences, for whom we created a website, content and a range of collaterals. In the process, I researched and wrote about activities, foods, culture, and places of interest in a couple of different countries, including India. I have been left with such a yearning to visit and explore each and every one of those places; it has just furthered my wanderlust!
We have also been working with companies in the field of education. From a special needs school that wants to create a new logo, revamp its website and come up with a tagline, to a startup assessing the market for a niche service they wish to offer via market research, to another startup that offers certification courses that help to bridge the campus to corporate gap, we’ve expanded our understanding and knowledge of the behind-the-scenes workings in the education sector. We’ve all been students, but the nitty gritty that goes into the business of education – now that is a whole other ballgame!
For the personal care products pitch we did recently, so much research and reading up presented us with different perspectives, and a view of the vast number of players around, in what is still an evolving and growing market. People are forever interested in skin care, hair care and the like. We learned to differentiate between natural, organic and handmade, and we came upon some interesting facts about the soap market. For example, did you know that our good old Mysore Sandal Soap has recently got a serious upgrade? There is now a variety of this soap, called Mysore Sandal Millennium Soap, that retails for over INR 700 a bar! And while I always had a passing interest in using natural products for my hair and skin, the research I did made me realize how little I actually knew, and how one needs to read and understand labels and claims by companies before accepting claims of “organic”, etc.
So, this has indeed been a year of meeting interesting startups and learning about new and varied businesses in non-mainstream (for us!) sectors. It has also been a year of growth and understanding and spreading of wings, professionally. Startup branding is an exciting and growing world, and one we are sure glad to be a part of!
Living as I do in an Ivy League university town, one tends to take for granted the way the institution dominates the ebb and flow of life here. Fall is defined not just by the browning leaves, but by the return of bright-faced students, inter-collegiate football games and the regatta on the river. The old and venerable college buildings have been here for nearly three hundred years, and look like they will easily last another three hundred more. But will the institution last? Or will it be another casualty of the internet, just as brick-and-mortar retail, or the publishing industry?
According to Nathan Harden of American Interest, Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, will dominate the education of the future, and “in fifty years, if not much sooner, half of the roughly 4,500 colleges and universities now operating in the United States will have ceased to exist.” As we have seen, the internet is a great destroyer of any industry whose traditional business model is based on the sale of information — witness what is happening to the publishing industry, for instance — and the university system might next in line for annihilation.
Stuart Butler, a Brookings scholar, who has written extensively on MOOCs, is not so harsh. He feels that the effect of MOOCs will be transformational, and change the business model of higher education as we know it. There is much scrutiny of the higher education model, with many questioning its value in today’s day and age, especially since the rate of increase of tuition is now outstripping inflation. With cost of tuition rising exponentially, and students not finding jobs at the level required to pay back the cost of tuition/student loans, we could soon find ourselves in a higher education bubble, akin to the recent housing bubble. MOOCs could be a way out, giving students access to high quality teaching at a much cheaper rate. This has the potential to break open the existing traditional market, Butler says, and on a larger scale, form an existential threat to the traditional business model of higher education that has been in existence for almost 2,000 years.
There is certainly strong and growing interest in MOOCs — an average MOOC enrolls about 43,000 students, and MOOCs now enroll students at a faster rate than traditional higher ed enrollment. Enrollment in online college courses of all kinds increased by 29 percent to more than 7.1 million between 2010 and 2013, the latest period for which the fast-changing figures are available, according to the Babson Survey Research Group. However, only 10% of those enrolling in MOOCs complete the course. MOOCs are still a novelty, and probably that is why no one has as yet quantified the value of a MOOC, as they have traditional higher ed degrees.
Today, employers look at MOOC certificates as resume boosters only. I think the tipping point will happen when employers accept MOOCs in lieu of traditional universities courses. Recently, Udacity (a for-profit educational organization offering MOOCs) teamed up with AT&T to create a new online program, the nanodegree. This Udacity program can be completed in less than a year for 200 dollars a month. While in most ways similar to a regular MOOC, the biggest difference is that AT&T honors its partnership with Udacity by offering 100 paid internships to those who receive the degrees. AT&T has collaborated with Udacity to guide course materials and tailor the degree towards company needs.
If MOOCs replace traditional classroom teaching, whither the traditional university then? Maybe they will replicate the above AT&T-Udacity model, tying up with industries and companies to develop very customized, industry-specific or even company-specific courses that will be honored by the industry or company concerned. In addition to transforming traditional information-based industries, the internet is also very good at unbundling services, so maybe colleges will shift their focus to providing customized ‘learning’ packages for their students — a mix of MOOCs and traditional campus experiences.
Several scenarios are being bandied about the future of the traditional university. Some experts believe that most average universities will collapse, and only the few best ones survive.
Another probable scenario could be MOOCs and traditional college education co-existing side by side, each fulfilling its separate role.
As has happened in several other industries, a transformation of the traditional university model will have both victors and victims. And as in other industries, only those who see the writing on the wall and change their business model to suit the new requirements will survive.
And now, excuse me while I go enjoy the broad leafy walks of my university town while the venerable institution still stands
I was doing my usual online scan of business mags when I came upon this intriguingly titled article in Fortune.com ” Bill Gates’ favorite teacher”. I read on to discover www.khanacademy.org, an amazing site full of tutorial videos on math and science- all for free.
Set up by Sal Khan, the son of an Indo-Bangladeshi immigrant couple and a highly accomplished professional ( double major from MIT and MBA from Harvard), Sal Khan has given up what could have been a highly lucrative career to create these teaching materials full time at his California home.
Even as you doff your hat for such a noble idea, you would have to do that several times over for its implementation. The teaching material, to put it simply, is brilliant. It has been long since I have come across such lucid articulation of math and science concepts, and both my 9th grader daughter and I really enjoyed the few that we checked out immediately.
Do take time out to check out www.khanacademy.org. If you do have kids who are in middle or high school, this is a great resource. Or, if you are looking to refresh your own fundamentals, you don’t need to look further.
Yes, increasingly it is Math and not Maths. It is not just the nomenclature that has changed for this subject (that is close to most Indians), there is a complete transformation in the way the subject is being learnt and taught.
When we grew up, you were on either side of the Lakshman Rekha – either you hated Maths (and you sucked at Maths) or you loved Maths (and of course you were great at it). Maths classes were all about rigor – lot of nos. written all over the blackboard and a 100 problems assigned for you to practice.
Today there is a lot of emphasis on application and hands on learning, right from the kindergarten level. So patterns are taught with colored blocks, geometrical shapes with shape sorters and what not. There is a plethora of games and interactive content, both free on the Internet and paid for on CDs.
About 2 1/2 years ago, we at Prayag Consulting worked on an interesting assignment with HeyMath, who offer animated content that is interactive and interesting. HeyMath offers content from Kindergarten to Class 12. They offer online access and also work with schools for content to be used in the classroom.
Recently, I met a company called iMath, that focuses on content for kids upto age 7 – they feel that the predisposition to the subject is largely governed by how the child is exposed to it early on. The method is fun based, and again material based so that abstract concepts are imparted effectively. iMath has franchisees – so children go to these centers to access the content.
Right on the heels of my meeting with iMath, I came across another interesting company – 10/10 (actually they came to the place where I live). Again, they focus on primary classes. Former IITians have joined forces with cartoonists to create worksheets that are engaging and yet impart rigor. 10/10 sends worksheets by courier to the doorstep.
It is great that there are so many options for children and parents today. Maybe the Laxman Rekha is slowly being erased and we will see Math being not just learnt, but also enjoyed.
With the right to education becoming a fundamental right in India a few days go, and the Indian government permitting foreign universities to operate in India, there is a lot of focus on the Indian education system and the need to make it world class.
India’s education minister, Kapil Sibal, has himself been educated in the best of US schools and has made several statements alluding to transplanting best practices.
Personally I have just gone through the process of helping my son with his undergrad education in the US and it has been a tremendous learning.
Anytime an analysis is made about what ails our education system, the focus immediately shifts to lack of funds. However, I think it is not just about money. The whole approach and attitude to creating and sustaining excellence is something worth understanding and emulating from the US system.
During the application process for instance, many of the so called selective schools arrange for an interview of the student with an alumnus of their college available locally. The purpose of this interview is two-fold- one to understand a student who is applying to their college who otherwise they have no opportunity to meet and two, to articulate the advantages of their institute as they assume that a good candidate will have choices. From the student’s perspective, it is a great learning and they feel good that the university is taking so much trouble. They in turn do a lot of research on the college etc and become more well informed. Net, net, it is a win win both ways. The key takeaways here are that colleges/ universities, and the best of them, do not rest on their laurels and two, they make use of their alumni network very well. Is that so hard for us to emulate in India, with loads of students passing out of institutes of higher education every year?
Another aspect that i found really interesting is how universities go all out to attract students they want. They have a process called early decision where they encourage students to apply early, they have selective programs within their college for the so called better students and they even send out something called a likely letter to students who they believe are strong candidates.
Some colleges even go to the extent of marketing other programs to students who have applied to their university for a different reason- for example, my son had applied for engineering to a university which also has an interesting (but under marketed) integrated science program. After reviewing his application, the science program coordinator wrote to my son urging him to apply to that program too, explaining its merits. Can you imagine any good school in India reaching out similarly? One, the attitude is not there and two, the systems needed to share such information is also missing.
As you can see, there is so much we can do, starting today, to improve our education system. Are we willing to? That’s the moot point…………
At Prayag we have been working with educational institutions for a couple of years now and it is interesting to observe the landscape.
On the one hand higher educational institutes such as MBA colleges face challenges such as meaningful differentiation. On the other hand, even schools that enjoy an enviable demand-exceeding-supply scenario are looking at enhancing their offerings, be it international curriculum such as IGCSE and IB or additional facilities such as digitized learning. Consequently, we see educational institutions evincing interest in market studies, branding exercises, research and so on.
We also see many professionals from traditional marketing organizations such as FMCG companies either venturing out on their own to start schools/training institutions or joining such entities.
There is more openness to trying marketing initiatives and this is definitely an encouraging and interesting scenario. With reforms promised by the government, there is only one direction this sector is headed – one of growth and innovation.
It feels good to be part of this change.
I read an interesting article about how many of the large US universities, like MIT, Yale and Amherst, are featuring student blogs on their websites. Like companies, these educational institutions have also begun to recognize the blogs as a powerful marketing tool to lure their customers, who in these cases, are high school students. MIT has been the most accommodating, posting its unedited admissions-related blogs prominently on the home page, even when the blogs have painted the university in an unflattering light. Not all educational institutions have blogs on their websites though, feeling that prospective students will not be able to get a truly unbiased view of the university from the blog.
However, as more educational institutions realize that this is how the world works, especially among their young and high-school-age target audience, they will also learn what companies have learnt – frank and unedited reviews of the organization are one of the best kinds of advertising – on a blog or elsewhere.
All the portals and newspapers today were full of Indian School of Business’s newly launched CEO auction program. It works like this- students bid for 1 among 16 CEOs to spend a day at work with them. The money raised through the auction will go to charity, while the budding professionals get to rub shoulders with the likes of Narayana Murthy, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw and Kumara Mangalam Birla. The idea is interesting and innovative. However, ISB stands to gain the most- through the PR. I do not really know how much the students will learn from the one day- though I am sure they will cherish it for a long time to come. Those interested in the full article can check out http://business.rediff.com/report/2009/sep/08/isb-launches-ceo-auction-for-students.htm
While there have been many attempts to marry the new technologies like the Internet, computers etc. with the age-old process of teaching, there hasn’t been much change in the basic method of educating, or what is known as ‘chalk and talk.’ The paraphernalia might have evolved, from chalk and blackboard to interactive whiteboards, computers etc, but the basic tenets of pedagogy continues, where a teacher leads his/her pupils through periods of study of recognisable disciplines, such as Math, Science, etc.
I read recently about Quest to Learn, a school in NY that uses video games as the primary method to teach/learn. The video game does much of the teaching, with the teacher being an advisor. Instead of study periods, the day is divided into ‘domains’ such as Code-worlds (Math and English), and Being, Space and Place (English and Social Studies). In one of the units of Being, Space and Place, pupils take on the role of an ancient Spartan who has to assess the Athenian strengths and recommend a course of action – thus learning history, geography and public policy. Each domain ends with a two-week examination called a ‘Boss-Level,’ similar to the highest level of video games.
The first batch of this school will not graduate until 2016, so it is still too early to say whether this method is successful or not. However, for a generation that derives a lot of its entertainment from video games, this might be an easier way of learning – and definitely more interesting and interactive than passively listening to a teacher drone on and on.
If this experiment succeeds, it will show that in education, as in other fields, the benefits of technology can be twofold – one, the application of technology to existing processes, and secondly, the use of technology in new and imaginative ways.