GREedge Online Academy uses a combination of technology and personalisation to coach students taking the GRE..

Tunia Cherian

What would you do if you were allowed the use of a stolen credit card?

Surely, there are a hundred things that you could treat yourself to, but how about using it to pay the fee for an online training programme?

Recently, a youngster keen to crack the GRE used a stolen credit card to pay the fee for GREedge Online Academy's training programme.

While the act itself was unlawful, it does say a lot about the training programme — something that must give the founders of this online programme some satisfaction and assurance.

And this is not just the only story they have to relate about the high esteem in which the course is held.

They once had a student who was so enamoured of the course that he came all the way from Pune to the institute located in Chennai, met with the officials, then returned to Pune and registered online for the course.

The course, which has 1,200 students enrolled for it, was launched in August 2008. It is the brainchild of a bunch of highly qualified professionals, all of whom have taken the GRE.

Scaling up

According to Anand Kannan, Managing Director, Valued Epistemics Pvt Ltd, the learning and mobile technology company that has created the online programme, their online academy is looking to scale up so as to handle larger volumes.

This has to be accompanied by a brand-building exercise, he says.

But despite the widespread acclaim, Kannan, who has a B.Tech degree from IIT Madras and a doctorate from Purdue University, Indiana, says they are getting into the brand-building phase with a certain amount of trepidation.

“As ours is an experience-driven brand, the initial reaction of students is fear and then they slowly pick up the courage to touch it and when they cross that barrier they begin to savour the entire experience,” says Kannan.

“Our brand is built student by student, hour by hour,” he says.

“Conceived as an online learning brand, the basic positioning of GREedge.com is as an online academy to boost scores. After much interaction with students and early users of our platform, we understood that this is the brand positioning that is most effective,” says Kannan.

The organisation is currently immersed in the nitty-gritty of scaling up.

“As the student strength increases, we need processing systems that can handle operational scaling, which will go towards building the brand.”

Talking about the competition, he says organisations that offer classroom coaching are one section of the competition, but one that is hamstrung by the inconsistent quality of training.

The other pocket of competition, if one can call it that, is from people who study on their own. He points out that the training GREedge provides can only be a tool in the hands of the students, albeit one that can prove to be far more effective than any other online option.

The differentiators are two-fold: Its training programme is propped up by two powerful supports, namely, ‘Millisecond Technology' and ‘Personal Coach'.

He explains that once a student logs on to the training module, its technology-driven back-end tracks the student's progress through the course content. The system is then able to analyse the information collected, to flag areas that need extra effort. From here, the teaching staff takes over, communicating to each student personally the problem areas and providing suggestions for improvement.

Each registered student is assigned a student facilitator.

Not just another Web site

He says the biggest challenge has been to communicate that they are not merely another Web site.

There is a powerful technology and service process behind every touch point of GREedge.com, including the Web site.

“We broke through this challenge by coming up with the description of an online academy.

We could see slow but sure and positive changes in the levels of word-of-mouth and our difficulty in narrating our product value to a new customer gradually reduced,” he says.

The fee for the training programme varies from Rs 2,700 and goes up to Rs 11,900 (for a one-year training programme that involves 200 hours of training).

The wide price range is on account of two variables — the number of hours of learning and the validity period.

The former relates to the academic input and the latter to the resources allocated to each student in terms of student facilitators and tech back-up.

According to S. Aditya, a final-year engineering student, who enrolled in GREedge's 15-day training programme, references from his friends, the online nature of the training, as well as the free test that students can take, made him decide in favour of enrolling for the programme the training.

A Chennai-based journalist, who plans to join a US university next year, said she came across GREedge when she ran a search for ‘GRE' on Google. As with Aditya, she says the fact that the programme was online was the biggest help. She could pursue the course in her own time and space, sometimes sitting up till 3 a.m. working on the programme.

She is all praise for the personalised training provided to the student. She was assigned two coaches, for the verbal and quantitative sections. “The coaches took a personal interest, encouraging me to come up with all my doubts. In fact, they continued to call me up and clear my doubts even after the one-month programme I had opted for had ended,” she says.

However, for Kunal Aggarwal, a final-year engineering student, self-study seems to have worked very well.

Kunal, who has simultaneously been preparing for the CAT exam, said the CAT preparations may have helped him in the quantitative section.

However, with a score of 1420 out of a maximum of 1600, his own preparations for the analytical and verbal sections seem to have helped.

According to Kunal, he did take the sample free test offered by GREedge, which he felt was pretty decent but he was not sure it represented true value.

Asked if the existing platform could be used for other training modules, Kannan says the company could provide a product development service a couple of years down the line.

He adds that in-house teacher learnings are being encoded everyday. “We are learning about teaching … it is a slow process.”

At this stage of its development, the company is also keen to tie up with content partners. The existing team of 50 comprises of people with coding, teaching and marketing skills; the strength is set to grow to 100 as GREedge hires more staff for business development, teaching and management of teaching.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated October 21, 2010)
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