Upgrad, Online Education Company Delivering Industry-Related Programs with World-Class Faculty

Founded in 2015, upGrad provides online programs for working professionals and has opened doors for career transitions for many. upGrad bring to them the convenience and flexibility of pursuing higher education from top Indian and Global universities, without having to leave their jobs. 

upGrad, under the leadership of Ronnie Screwvala, Executive chairman & co-founder, Mayank Kumar- co-founder & MD, and Phalgun Kompalli- co-founder, offers programs that cost around 60-70% of the cost of an offline course. This allows learners to get access to quality education at scale. However, the bigger impact is because professionals don’t have to leave their jobs while taking up an online program. 

Secondly, they offer certifications from IIT Madras, MICA, IIIT-B, Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU), Duke CE, amongst others. In India, validation of learning from a college/university continues to be a prerequisite for career movement. So, these degrees and certifications provided by upGrad enable learners to make quick transitions. upGrad believes in enhancing the employability quotient of its learners.

Furthermore, the salary-packages that learners are offered after their successful completion of the program, bears testimony to quality of education upGrad provides. The maximum hike witnessed at upGrad placement was 400%, with the highest jump in salary that was recorded at Rs 72 Lakh and Rs 68 Lakh for Data Science and Digital Marketing, respectively. Overall, the average salary hike for upGrad learners increased to 57% in 2019.

When it comes to the learning experience, ‘Blended learning’ (not an online – offline blend, but a synchronous and asynchronous blend) comes into the play. It is a part of what upGrad calls the ‘Learning 2.0’ at upGrad – a step change in our approach to online pedagogy and teaching. With their live teaching component moving from a 5% to 20% (basically a 4x increase!), upGrad will be amongst the pioneers globally, that has incorporated both synchronous and asynchronous learning together. As we talk about its components;

Active learning – Instead of passive listening, plan activities like solving problems, participating in polls etc., with specific time allocated for each of these exercises. This allows instructors to share real-time feedback on learners’ responses before moving onto the next topic.

Engaging sessions: Attention is a double-edged sword. As easy it is to gain, just as easy is it to lose. To keep the learners hooked throughout the session, here are several practices to be incorporated:

Connect concepts to popular culture or trends: Examples from contemporary topics, like ‘how can you predict the winner for the 2019 world-cup’ or ‘how to develop a content marketing strategy of Avengers Endgame’ connect better and keep the learners hooked.

Structure the sessions with clear sections: Sharing a clear agenda before the session begins, including ‘what is in it for them’ is preferred by the learners as expectations are set right at the start.

Sharing personal experiences, challenges and anecdotes: Instructors can personalise the sessions by sharing a brief overview of their journey in the field that is being taught. This way student connects better with their lecturers and understands that despite the challenges, they too can succeed.

When it comes to online education, there has been a prolonged misconception about the lack of human touch. This can be solved through mentorship and by encouraging peer-to-peer interaction.

Mayank further added, “At upGrad, we have teams that dedicatedly ensure that learners receive strong handholding. The origin of the concept of ‘student-mentors’ is a single point of contact for every student’s non-academic query. For the academic queries, learners receive mentorship from industry experts. We have partnered with leading universities and have on-boarded subject matter experts who conduct mentoring sessions with learners. 

Knowing the importance of peer-to-peer interaction, the online platform conducts periodic offline meet-ups known as ‘basecamps’. These basecamps are a unique concept and act as forums for learners to meet and build relations with their peers. They offer placement support to the learners with resume building, profile building, just-in-time mock interview (JIT), company-specific preparation, mentorship calls, employability/skill test, hackathons, live projects, career coaches, corporate relations team, etc.

As a part of personalization, each of upGrad’s programs now has 3 to 8 different learning tracks for different sets of learners. They are leveraging technology to create personalised revision paths for them. By capturing a million-plus data points every month, they build a robust learning efficacy data engine which brings in extremely personalised career preparation pathways and remedial interventions for the learners.

HICCUPS ON THE WAY 

Like for most business, there were multiple challenges that upGrad faced while were in its initial phase. The biggest, amongst the lot was the entire issue with the credibility of online education. As online education is often misinterpreted to be frivolous, upGrad had to prove otherwise through its products and experience. 

Also, getting recruiters to accept that online education could be as rigorous as offline education was upGrad’s next challenge. They priced their programs at a discount to offline providers, but at a premium to other online providers. It was an uphill task for the company then, to explain the value proposition of the program to its learners.

LATEST INNOVATIONS 

To bring a change, UpGrad in 2017 had launched an entrepreneurship program under the government’s ‘Startup India’ initiative to provide insights into areas like the validation of ideas, funding, and legal framework for new businesses. In a joint initiative of UpGrad, Invest India, and the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, this 4-week program under the umbrella of the Start-up India Learning Program was brought to life. The program saw 3 million registrations. As mankind moves towards rapid innovations, education is also evolving from a backward-looking information-based pedagogy to a forward-looking skill-based methodology. 

“We are living in the digital era where everyone is a student. Dated degrees provided by formal education are not a value currency anymore. Technical skills and an individual’s ability to apply the outcomes are important, irrespective of age. Digital literacy and technological competence will be a way of life” states Mayank.

In a wake of digitalization, the global e-learning online market is on fire. Organizations that used to feel left out of this ‘non-linear’ world of opportunities are seeing the need to adopt this new way of ‘Life Long Learning. All programs offered at upGrad are in-line with global workforce trends like Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Natural Language Processing, etc. 

“We have recently launched our flagship program which will allow any learner to have a diploma or a degree at ease. As the need to upskill is becoming a subject of national importance, upGrad with its highly engaging content and the diversified platform, is set to prepare a future-proof workforce over the next decade. Regarding competition; our up-to-date curriculum, blended-learning, and outcome-based learning approach are tailor-made to suit each learner’s preferences and requirements. We also have ‘Student Mentors’ and ‘Career Coaches’ that motivate and hand-hold learners during the entire duration of a program. This indeed, sets us apart from other companies in the online education space.” emphasized Mayank. 

MARKETING STRATEGIES 

As automation and technological advancements penetrates through the ecosystem, the need to up-skill has become imperative. Many organisations like Infosys, Wipro, Adfactors PR, and AstraZeneca have understood the need for re-skilling and are now partnering with edtech companies like upGrad to provide L&D solutions, pre-boarding lessons to recruits, etc. Such pre-boarding solutions are aimed to help organisations have a productive workforce from day 0 (zero) and eliminates the additional cost incurred by them to train the new joiners. Therefore, by catering to both working professionals and organisations/enterprises, upGrad stands strong as a one-stop-solution for building India’s future work-army.

FEATHERS IN THE CAP 

As of date, around 20,000 learners have been empowered with upGrad’s programs and have created remarkable achievements in their careers. upGrad has been awarded the ‘Best Tech for Education’ by IAMAI in 2019. The company received the ‘Best Education Brands’ award by Economic Times and has made it to LinkedIn’s ‘Top 25 Startups’ in 2018 and 2019. It has been rated amongst the Top 10 Most Innovative Companies from India by FastCompany. 

ADVICE TO THE ASPIRING ENTREPRENEURS 

In the beginning, it is important for any entrepreneur to be clear in his mind about the ‘one customer’. It has multiple benefits – from designing the product for the customer to designing the marketing campaign, and reaching out to targeted customers. Also, any startup during its initial phase is low on resources with a limited marketing budget. Therefore, the best people who will put the good word out for the venture and products are the ‘satisfied customers.

“At an initial stage, to celebrate funding is like congratulating an athlete for buying new running shoes before the race has even started. Entrepreneurs start their journey to solve a pain point that they are passionate about. Funding is just a means to achieve the end” adds Mayank.

RESPONSIBLE INITIATIVES 

upGrad has been involved in several initiatives; 

On India’s 73rd Independence Day, upGrad honoured the Indian Armed Forces personnel by initiating a fee waiver of 10 per cent across every programme offered by the company. The fee waiver was extended not just to the person but also their immediate kin. The initiative, that came into effect from August 15, 2019, became a part of the lifelong offering by upGrad.

On International Day of Education this year (recognised by UN General Assembly in 2019), upGrad launched a 7-day program to support quality education in rural areas. As a part of the program, upGrad pledged to donate a substantial part of total income to ‘Swades Foundation’, who utilises such raised funds to uplift rural living standards and economy.

“With the onset of the digital wave taking over the ecosystem, we are all set to revolutionize the online learning experience and enhance the employability quotient of our learners through career building. We have been on an upward trajectory since inception and have so far empowered careers of over 370K working professionals in India. Over the next decade, we aim to train and build careers of over 1 million learners and prepare a future-proof economy,”  

wrapping the conversation says Mayank Kumar.

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