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Fount of knowledge online

Released at: 07:54, 22/04/2018

Fount of knowledge online

Photo: Viet Tuan

Online education is gaining traction in Vietnam and continued growth into the future seems almost certain.

by Minh Do

Lan Anh, a 17-year-old high school student in Hanoi, accesses the hocmai.vn online learning system three days a week for an hour a half to study English. Moving away from traditional methods, last year her mother decided to register her in e-learning courses to prepare for her university entrance exams, rather than sending her to regular training centers. 

She is one of 3 million students enrolled in 1,000 courses at hocmai.vn. Young Vietnamese nowadays are fully acquainted with the internet and smart devices, and parents are more open to new ideas compared to a decade ago, when the Education Services and Investment JSC (hocmai.vn) was established. Students like Lan Anh are heading to hocmai.vn in increasing numbers every year. 

Outstanding growth

A decade after first appearing, the e-learning model has now gained recognition in Vietnam. “The study model has seen outstanding results over the last three years,” according to Mr. Pham Gia Linh, CEO of hocmai.vn. In the 2015-2017 period, the number of providers offering e-learning increased strongly, to 150, according to recent research from Mr. Nguyen Tri Hien, a local expert in the field. 

E-learning, online education, or education using technology (EdTech), has also expanded into many different fields of study in addition to English, such as courses in primary or high school studies, soft skills, and specific courses aimed at kids and enterprises. Vietnam’s e-learning market has not only developed rapidly but the ecosystem for e-learning has also become more diversified, with more providers offering courses and services covering more subjects, according to Ms. Tram Ho, Co-Founder and CEO of kyna.vn, one of the first e-learning providers in Vietnam.

Compared to the first four years of kyna.vn’s existence, student numbers have increased six-fold and “we also expanded to offering new useful courses and solutions in more subjects,” Ms. Ho said. Initially, kyna.vn was known as an online skills training site for students over 18 years of age, but now also offers courses for children and parents as well as businesses. “We have seen outstanding growth for many years,” she happily told VET.

Top ten growth rates in self-paced e-learning, 2011-2016

Source: docebo, E-learning Market Trends & Forecast 2014-2016 Report

 

The e-learning model possesses a host of advantages compared to traditional studies. It connects students to lecturers regardless of distance or schedule. Living in Hanoi, Lan Anh can study online math from a teacher in northern Thanh Hoa province or English from a US-based teacher. “The cost for online courses is also cheaper than for traditional studies,” her mother said. “And the courses are quite effective. I’m also looking for an online literature course for Lan Anh.”  

Students can review the course content by video without having it re-explained by the lecturer, according to Mr. Hoang Tan, Founder and CEO at Hachium, an e-learning platform provider for lecturers, individuals, and organizations. The acquisition of knowledge through tools such as illustrated materials, books, and mobile phone apps also helps them put their limited time to full use. 

The model also saves lecturers’ time and allows them to focus on asking questions, guiding discussions, sharing real experiences, and motivating and encouraging students, said Ms. Tran Thi Ngoc Hoai, CEO of nguonhocbong.com. Modern technology and advanced software can help lecturers better understand each student. 

Difficulties to address

The potential of online education is huge but investment in education, especially online education, is no easy task in Vietnam. Many local players have entered into and then withdrawn from the field, such as mStudy and Hoc360, despite pouring in substantial sums. “Online education, though developing rapidly, is still new,” said Ms. Ho. Students and their families need time to become familiar with the new method and will then benefit from its quality, according to Mr. Hien.  

Unfortunately, Ms. Ho went on, the more providers there are the bigger the gap in quality is becoming. E-learners are as yet unable to distinguish immediately between good quality training and good quality marketing. Many e-learning providers have invested a great deal in marketing and promoting page views but not in content quality, Mr. Tan said. In particular, “there are too many e-learning units operating in the same field, such as English courses,” he said. This makes for harsh competition, and some will adopt certain tactics to attract students. “Meanwhile, what learners actually need - quality content - is not being delivered,” he added. 

The market does have a number of e-learning providers offering quality content, such as FUNiX, a Vietnamese e-learning IT university, hocmai.vn, and kyna.vn, and this quality has been rewarded with profit for many years. “To reach sustainable profit growth, we have invested in content quality and maximized the e-learning experience for students,” Ms. Ho said. kyna.vn has also invested in upgrading its technical infrastructure, with product and technology staff introducing innovations in learning. 

Mr. Linh from hocmai acknowledged that human resources is one of its key challenges. “E-learning requires lecturers regularly expand their own knowledge and renew their teaching methods,” he explained. “The model really is quite different from other education models.”

Having himself failed with an online English school project, called enKulu, Mr. Tan said that the challenge for e-learning providers relates to big data, network security, high-speed transmission, and support staff. “Not many providers possess high levels of all these factors,” he said. Similarly, a representative from Topica Edtech Group has told local media that providers must invest in software systems, data analysis, assessment processes, and online pedagogy in order to survive. “These would support students undertaking superior quality training, rather than simply offering a recording of a lecture or a digitized version of a textbook,” he said. “Active and creative staff are also needed.”

Into the future

Five million e-learners studied online in Vietnam last year, according to Mr. Hien, but outstanding providers remain few. His research revealed that many providers maximized their systems, some focused on content quality, and others looked at e-learning apps, while a number of investors researched Vietnam’s education technology market. “The market is ready to spend much money on e-learning,” he wrote in his research report. “The market is estimated at VND500 billion ($22 million) in value per month. E-learners studying via smartphone represent 65 per cent and by computer 35 per cent.”

While many countries are already using Industry 4.0 in education, Vietnam is still using Industry 2.0 or 3.0 in the field. Still, the country’s online education was among Top 10 highest-growing in Asia in the 2011-2016 period, according to a recent report from docebo, a cloud e-learning solutions provider. “Southeast Asia, though, follows the US and Europe in growth,” Mr. Nguyen Thanh Nam, Founder of FUNiX, told VET. “Not only do individuals see learning opportunities but enterprises are also moving to in-house training with online courses. Simply put, this saves on costs and you can select the most up-to-date knowledge.”

“Vietnam’s online education market has not grown to its full potential,” Mr. Hien said. Only foreign-language courses are developing well, while courses in skills for graduates and employees and in university entrance exam preparations have fallen short of expectations.

Ms. Ho predicted that the online education market for children will have greater potential for development in the 2018-2022 period and will account for a higher share of the overall market. Demand for online skills training is rising, which she believes will continue. E-learning for businesses is a particularly new idea but gaining traction and should develop further from 2018 to 2020. These will contribute to kyna.vn’s turnover and profit. “These are our three strategic products over the next three years,” she said. “We plan to grow by over 20 per cent this year terms of student numbers and revenue.”

Many e-learning providers used initial profits from courses on university entrance exam preparations to expand into online testing services and competency assessments, as a precondition for personalized learning for each student and capacity development-oriented training. hocmai expects annual growth in student numbers of 30-50 per cent this year. “Our greatest value will come from boosting quality in the e-learning community,” Mr. Linh believes.

The online education market will see the entry of foreign investors via M&A in the 2018-2020 period, as this is the fastest way to do so, Mr. Hien said, but there are issues. hocmai has worked with a number of Japanese, South Korean, and Philippine partners and learned a great deal from their models, operating methods, and experience. But they are not real partners in the market that can cooperate extensively or invest in the business. “We are actively looking for such a partner,” Mr. Linh said.

Ms. Ho said that all parties are strong in a certain niche, and M&As or some type of cooperation is now a popular trend. “I believe Vietnam’s online training market will be more active and vibrant over the next five years,” she said. 

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