We strongly believe that pure online, self-paced learning doesn’t work. So we devised a hybrid approach, where there is a balanced mix of online learning and offline community interactions and that works the best: Ms. Shweta Doshi

GreyAtom: A Balanced ‘Mix of Online Learning and Offline Community Interactions’ Works the Best

The Mumbai-based edtech company works to address the skill gap in emerging tech industry through well-structured learning path. Its learning platform, Glabs, provides hands-on coding lessons along with mentorship and a large peer community. GreyAtom recently received USD 1.2 million worth of funding, which it says will be utilized in diversifying course offerings and expanding market footprint.

Courseware World recently had quite a detailed conversation with Ms. Shweta Doshi, Co-founder, GreyAtom – Chief of Learning and Strategic Partnerships.

Excerpts:

Courseware World: To start with, what motivated you to venture into tech education with a professional skilling/upskilling learning platform?

Shweta Doshi: The idea stemmed from our own experience (in our previous roles) while hiring people for emerging technologies. People lack hands-on experience when starting off a tech career. Traditional educational institutes haven’t been able to modify their curriculum so as to impart relevant skill sets to students and lack experiential learning methodology.

We founded GreyAtom to bridge the gap between the skills learners have and what the industry needs by bringing them together on our learning platform, GLabs, which provides hands-on coding experience, mentorship, and access to a huge peer community.

We strongly believe that pure online, self-paced learning doesn’t work. So we devised a hybrid approach, where there is a balanced mix of online learning and offline community interactions and that works the best!


The resulting game-like experience and cognitive feedback keep our learners committed and do wonders for their confidence.


CWW: Briefly describe what sets ‘Glabs’ apart from other online learning platforms. Also tell us about learner retention and learner satisfaction on your platform.

SD: The learning platform, GLabs, orchestrates the end-to-end learner experience. It is where people code, follow a structured learning path, and get an instant assessment of their performance. The resulting game-like experience and cognitive feedback keep our learners committed and do wonders for their confidence. They’re not passively poring over mountains of video content any more. Instead, it’s an engaging process that interacts with them, acknowledges their every move, and recommends the next best one.

GLabs also determines the employability index of a learner and matches a learner with the right job.

GreyAtom’s tech-first approach to skill learners beyond theory by focusing on application and practice enables the company to scale a business that’s typically dependent on instructors or online videos.


There is such an overload of learning content on the internet today. What’s always missing is a structured learning path, tied to specific skill development.


CWW: What is your course creation philosophy? Tell us your content design strategy to keep up with the fast changing learning requirements, of course necessitated by rapid rate of technology changes and disruptions?

SD: I was talking to an undergrad yesterday about the new Frontend Engineering Program that GreyAtom will launch and I loved the clarity with which he asked: “So, by the end of the program, will I be able to deploy a web app into production?” And I was thrilled to hear that.

At no point was the question about what will the content be like; it was always about what will I be able to do? That’s exactly what our content/course creation philosophy is, i.e. to learn is to do real work!

There is such an overload of learning content on the internet today. What’s always missing is a structured learning path, tied to specific skill development. That’s GreyAtom’s focus when we create a new course/program. We understand that the true value add is in projects and hands-on practice. This is enabled by Glabs.

Our main focus therefore is the cultivation and sequencing of the best free resources around the internet. We wholeheartedly believe that everything one needs to know to become employed can be found for free online. However, for the average new learner, the vast quantity (and widely varying quality) of resources makes it difficult to make meaningful progress. Therefore, we have devised two basic steps to fix this: a meaningful learning path and open-source content.


We don’t have a content problem; we have a filter problem, an aggregation problem. By meaningful learning path we mean that we have created a curriculum that attempts to find the optimal sequencing of information.


CWW: Please elaborate more how you achieve aggregation of meaningful learning resources through abovementioned two steps, viz. meaningful learning path and open-source content.

SD: Meaningful learning path looks beyond the issue of content availability as that’s no longer an issue. We now have information overload. We can watch speakers any time, and, in more places than not; it’s free! We need the interaction, the engagement, and the experience. We can Google anything. We can find infographics and case studies on anything. We can find blog, vlogs, podcasts, tweets, and sometimes snapchats on anything. It’s called the Internet!

We don’t have a content problem; we have a filter problem, an aggregation problem. By meaningful learning path we mean that we have created a curriculum that attempts to find the optimal sequencing of information. This curriculum is intended to take someone from knowing literally nothing about web development to a point where they could be employed as a junior developer.

Additionally, we have made our learning materials open source. This means that if anyone comes across a resource that is better than what is currently included in our lessons, that person is free (and encouraged) to add them, which improves our curriculum over time and helps it to stay up to date.

Projects and assessments are what GreyAtom completely owns and keeps building. Our open-source frontend engineering program can be found here on github


CWW: Kindly give a brief about all the courses you offer. What are the most in-demand courses presently? Are you going to add any other programs or courses any time soon?

SD: We currently offer a data science master’s program via blended learning approach. A lot of self-learning, projects and assignments are done on the platform by our learners. Study jam sessions happen physically. We also have specialization tracks in NLP and Computer Vision. We constantly see a huge demand in this space

We are now kicking off new programs for skilling of fresh engineering grads in software development. The frontend engineering program will be kicked off in Jan 2020 followed by full-stack development and automation QA soon. First job market is where the opportunity to impact learners and deliver outcomes for them is huge.


Mentors hold learners accountable for their learning goals, help learners grow and share practical knowledge that they have accumulated over years of practice.


CWW: What is the role of mentors? Are they available online only or offline too? Do you follow a blended approach?

SD: Mentorship has been known to be effective in bridging the knowledge gap and understanding the use of emerging technologies for business. An ideal mentor would be someone who has a working knowledge of emerging technologies and has actually solved business problems using them. These mentors are best placed to guide aspiring learners on the path to upskilling into niche emerging technologies.

Mentors hold learners accountable for their learning goals, help learners grow and share practical knowledge that they have accumulated over years of practice. They also advise the learners on how to build their portfolio such that they stand out from the rest of the crowd. Our data says that mentorship improves learning outcomes by almost 5 times!

The mentors do various interactive sessions with our learners ranging across onboarding concepts, mentoring hackathons, talking about the problem statements they are working on, etc. The spectrum of these mentors range from folks working in Silicon Valley companies like LinkedIn, WalmartLabs, Facebook, Uber, Google to fantastic tech focussed companies in India like Qure.ai, Episource, Fractal Analytics, and many more. Mentors are available both online and offline and we believe that a highly blended learning approach adds tremendous value to learners.

Learners come prepared with the content to the live sessions, and the learning that happens in those sessions is a level up from traditional learning. With a lot of focus on problem-solving, instead of just onboarding, learners accumulate skills that actually help them in their professional careers.


CWW: How many learners and mentors are registered at your platform?

SD: We have over 40,000 learners and more than 120 mentors registered on the platform.


Subscribed learners come from humble backgrounds but have exceptional grit, hunger, and ambition to achieve. GRIT is the #1 quality we look for in our learners.


CWW: Please share with us the trend regarding learners who enrol with your platform: Where do they come from (Tier-I cities, Tier-II or III cities)? What are their ratio gender wise? Comment on other such trends observed by you with relation to upskilling industry.

SD: GreyAtom is making an impact across tier-II and tier-III cities in our country with our newer programs under the Income Share Agreement model. There is abundant talent across the country, but they don’t necessarily have the right opportunities. We believe this model has a huge potential to scale. We never want finances to be a barrier to quality education.

With the income share agreement, the learners have to pay for our high quality education only when they get an employment of minimum 4 lakhs p.a. Since its launch 3 months ago, our Frontend Engineering Program has seen over 5,000 applications. Subscribed learners come from humble backgrounds but have exceptional grit, hunger, and ambition to achieve. GRIT is the #1 quality we look for in our learners.

People learn with a tribe of their own, a group of equally motivated learners. We strike the hard balance between large-group instructions and give people smaller chambers of interaction. Peer learning is highly encouraged with the first channel of help always being routed to the peers.

Research also indicates that peer learning activities typically yield very good results for both mentor and mentee: team-building spirit and more supportive relationships; greater psychological well-being, social competence, communication skills and self-esteem; and higher achievement and greater productivity in terms of enhanced learning outcomes.

Moreover, self-learning requires quite a bit of discipline and can be frustrating at times especially when stuck. Thus, having a good support system in the form of peers and a mentor helps to stay on track while learning.


… from our data science programs in prepayment model, 86 percent of our learners who have been endorsed by GreyAtom have been able to make successful career pivots.


CWW: How has been the company’s growth since its launch in 2017? Please describe a little your revenue model and success rate of those learners who opted for income sharing agreement (ISA).

SD: We’ve had great success with our data science programs. From launching a cohort every quarter in 2017, we are at rate of launching a cohort every 21 days now. We have expanded our learner base pan India and across 12 major countries globally as well.

Until recently, GreyAtom was operating in a pre-payment revenue model. We have recently entered into the income share agreement model and we will be able to share the success numbers there in a few months.

However, from our data science programs in prepayment model, 86 percent of our learners who have been endorsed by GreyAtom have been able to make successful career pivots.


CWW: How do you form industry linkages and provide placement support to the learners on your platform? Give examples of some companies where your students get hired.

SD: We only succeed when our learners do; so industry partnerships and placement support are key parts of our programs. Our industry partnerships are not just placements, but start from when we are planning which program to build next and extend throughout the process. The regular feedback from experts is very important to keep content up to date with the industry requirement.

We have experts from companies like Bookmyshow, Nilsen, Wework, Mahindra, LinkedIn, Amazon, and Walmartlabs, who help us with this aspect and are very keen on hiring the learners once they are ready. Then, there are just the hiring partners and they work with us for filling up relevant positions as and when they have requirement. What they like is a detailed insight on what learners have built and done through the program always available to them.

About 90 percent of our hiring partners share a long-term pipeline with us. Barclays, Episource, Accenture, Fractal Analytics, LinkedIn, Bharti AXA, FlexiLoans, Cuddle.ai, WeWork, Bookmyshow, and The Data Team are some of the companies where GreyAtom learners are flourishing.

Our team of dedicated career coaches work with learners for their mock interviews, resume building, project portfolio creation and we have dedicated career sessions throughout the program journey.


CWW: You recently raised USD 1.2 million in a pre-series A round from Montane Ventures and other investors. How is such funding crucial for edtech startups? How do you plan to utilize this funding?

SD: We plan to utilise the funds by diversifying our product line to include courses for backend engineering and automation QA, as well as expansion across India.


CWW: The online professional skilling is the largest growing segment of e-learning industry in India. What factors according to you have led to popularity of such courses among youth as well as working professionals? Do you think this trend is here to stay?

SD: Absolutely yes! About a decade ago, the lifecycle of a person used to be like this: You study, you work, you keep switching jobs for growth, and you retire. That’s no longer the case. With the explosion of digital and emerging technologies and newer advances, we are living in exciting times. To stay ahead of the game, and make sure a professional stays relevant, the cycle now has to be: You study, you work, you learn more, you work, you learn more (iteratively).

This trend is there to stay forever. A tech professional who does not stay relevant is likely to become a dinosaur very soon!


CWW:  What do you think about MOOCs and pure online learning approaches? Do you think it’s the right scalable approach going forward?

SD: As an EdTech entrepreneur, and mentor to budding data scientists at GreyAtom, I keep hearing tirades against MOOCs ever since the ‘fully online and free-for-all’ learning revolution couldn’t scale beyond its 5 minutes of fame.

MOOCs, or massive open online courses, showed great initial promise as a means of scaling the reach of high-quality learning content and reducing the cost of education. However, with growing concerns over dismal ‘completion rates’, the fact that an unusually high number of learners failed or simply dropped out of MOOCs  was cited as overwhelming proof of their ineffectiveness.

In my opinion, really, it’s not about dealing with the excessive dropouts. It’s about focusing on ways to improve the experience for the more committed learners.

At GreyAtom, we are flipping the MOOC by taking a learning approach wherein absorption of new concepts takes place online at a learner’s own pace, while mentor time is reserved for hands-on work and peer collaboration. The difference in results is unmistakable. If we look at some of the data, it would be amply evident.

For example, as far as adherence is concerned, our learners spend on an average about 75 minutes per day on GLabs; and for outcomes, 86 percent of learners who are in it looking for a career pivot, successfully transitioned to a new job after completing the course.

By flipping the MOOC, we might repeat the success story that made high-quality learning content accessible on a global level. Only this time, we at GreyAtom, will be opening the doors to high-quality interactive education for the whole world!