Episode 13 The education evolution: Deciphering a decade of digital learning

This week on Thoughtcast by Onething, Divanshu is joined by Pratham Mittal, the Director of Masters’ Union. MU is redefining the classical ‘business school’ image, by providing an industry-immersed education, allowing learners to learn from proven industry professionals, and practitioners. They discuss the education system as a whole, its shortcomings, and how MU is aiming to address them. Furthermore, they delve into the evolution of the education system, and whether or not we’ve actually progressed, or regressed as learners, with regards to our methods.
Don’t miss the education discourse, on this edition of Thoughtcast by Onething.

Episode Transcript

Hey, everyone. Welcome to an all new episode of Thoughtcast. Today we are going to discuss something that we’ve all been, experiencing and we’ve all been a part of, which is education. We’ve all always focused on you know, that education is critical to our, life journey. And we’ve had our stint with different kinds of education, different kinds of colleges, different kinds of environments.

But if you see last few years, education in particular has really changed. It has changed from the way I studied from the way my father studied to the way it is changing, or people are studying now. It is, it is really moving faster than ever. And we thought who, you know, who could help us in understanding this transition you know, better than somebody who’s part of the behind the scenes of an education system.

Whose family has been educators for last, you know, at least two to three decades. So we have Pratham Mittal at two with us who, is part of the, Lovely Professional University, family, and also is, running an educational brand, which is called as Masters’ Union, which is very different from what LPU does.

So welcome Pratham. Thank you so much. Okay, so how did this transition happen from, You know, core conventional education system to something that you’re building now. I mean, so you mentioned that the education system has changed quite a bit in the last few years, right? I actually fundamentally disagree. I think education has not changed in almost a millennia, right?

So let’s go back to the 1100s when Oxford was founded, right? The classroom structure at the time was that there is a podium in the front and the students were looking towards the teacher that has not changed even till today. Right. That’s number one, number two, you know, when the printing press was invented, people thought that universities would shut down because now the written word is there, people can sort of just study at home. Right. But did that happen? No universities just flourished further. Then, you know, Khan Academy came right. And people said, okay, now the schools and colleges definitely shut because now the students can actually see, the teachers almost in real time, did that, you know, shut down the universities, still not.

So my point is that while the medium of education might have changed, the education itself has not changed right. Now what needs to shift, are a couple other different things. One is how the education is being delivered now, you know, let’s go back 20 years when you were in school, right. More often than not the teacher would, you know, recite out a lecture, you know, we would take notes. And that’s how we would learn. Right. And then you would go to an exam, you know, sort of vomit that out. Now, what we want things to change in a way is; people should not just have to consume, they should be able to interact with the education. Right. So now that’s where projects comes in. That’s where capstones come in.

That’s where, you know, collaboration comes in. So I think I would say education has changed or will change in the future once, You know, it’s not about me consuming information from a teacher or a book or an online lecture, and then spitting it out in an exam. It has to be a little more collaborative.

It has to be more interactive. So LPU was founded two decades ago, as you mentioned. Right? And there we are governed by the system and the laws of the larger system, right. Of which there are 38  different regulatory bodies that essentially govern how we teach from UGC to AICD and basically they have our hands tied at the back, right.

So we decided to, you know, build Masters’ Union as an alternative where we said, all right, let’s just completely forget about, you know, the way education is, you know, delivered the way it is today. Let’s rethink from the ground-level, up. And so here, what we have are, for example, to teach marketing, instead of just the teacher coming and teaching students marketing, or, you know, introduction to marketing, pricing strategies, we actually tell students, all right, start your business right in this contained environment, build a business and then market it, right.

A business school teaches you nothing. If not how to make money. Right. Would it be right to say that we are changing from the classroom way of teaching promote experiential way of teaching educators now are more practitioners in nature. They are part of, not a curriculum, but they’re part of the industry and they are coming forward to, you know, make students understand the real world scenario. A medical college is always without fail, situated right next to a medical hospital.

Yes. Right. And the teachers were teaching in that medical college are actual doctors who are practicing their practice in the morning and then teaching in the evening. Right. And that is the beauty of the medical education system in India. Right? If you look at engineering education, or if you look at management education, that is not the case, right?

We have engineering schools that are not situated anywhere, close to a place where those engineers would eventually be employed. And the teachers who are teaching these engineers are people who’ve never themselves been engineers in the industry. That’s number one, number two. If you look at the way MBBS is taught, it’s 95% hands on, right?

There is hardly any work that happens inside of a lecture hall. I’m happy it happens. People actually have to sort of, you know, surround the teacher next to a cadaver. And the teacher is sort of cutting things open and everyone gets to see an experience, do it themselves with hand. And that’s why our graduates who come out of medical colleges are so highly employable by the engineers and MBA graduates or not.

Right. So. The future is of a very experiential education system, which already exists in medical education. By the way, we just have to bring it to engineering and to management and to the other law, journalism, et cetera, fields, and bring in practitioners who themselves are from the industry to come and teach.

Today that’s not possible because you know, there are so many regulations that require people who are teaching to have PhDs, right? So we believe in a fundamental, you know, uh, phenomenon. You know, teachers should be people who are experienced, not necessarily with PhD’s. Right. Right. What role, you know, or is things moving on to online?

Is it it’s an accelerator or, is it only a way to increase the, you know, student base in form of, you know, spreading out education, spreading out what masters are, you know, sharing information. I mean, how are you, you know, running a hybrid channel and online together, and how, how reliable online is an online channel.

Very reliable. I think, I think, definitely they are reliable. They wouldn’t have grown so big and so pervasive as they are today. But here’s my opinion. Right. And very unpopular one. I don’t think online education is as transformational as, as we think else we even believe it is right. Because all that it has done, it has brought the same delivery mechanism online.

It’s still somebody, you know, you know, telling you something right. And you’re expected to believe it. Right. Not argue with it because if it’s one way like Udemy it’s, it’s just, you have to listen to recorded lectures. Right. There are some platforms whether it’s live online teaching where you can engage with the teacher.

But the engagement rates on such platforms, we have sort of found it to be quite low. Right. So, you know, I would believe that the education system has transformed once this online education system allows students to be more interactive and not be more passive. Right. All of us have kids at home and we would have seen the last one year that they’ve been studying online, they’ve actually been more passive.

Right. So I think online educating is almost taking away the serendipity that comes from being in a campus. Right. However, I think if online is used in the correct way in tandem with a physical infrastructure or a physical campus, I think that’s where you get the maximum benefits.

Right? So for example, it says a class on pricing strategies. Like what we would expect students to do is that they study, you know, the basic. Literature or the basic, theory of pricing strategies before coming to the class, that they can do either through a book or through a YouTube video or through you an online lecture that our faculty would have uploaded the night before.

And once they come to class, it should be all about actually building a strategy. It should be all about actually working with the teacher and with your peers to figure out a strategy for a new product. Right. Apply all of those learnings Right. And then test them in the market. Right. I think that is true education.

Right. And you know, so online without offline to me means nothing. So I strongly believe in the hybrid format. Right? So, most of the content that students have to consume, they consume that online. When they come to the classroom, they bring such diverse opinions because they have learned about pricing strategies, not from this one paper that the teacher prescribed, but a host of different resources, right? Some have watched YouTube videos. Some might have read a book, you know, some might have read a white paper. So when they come to the class, they come with very different views. And one, when they share it with each other, in-person I think that’s when the real magic takes place.

And what is interesting is because most of our teachers are practitioners themselves. You don’t even have to tell them to do this. It comes naturally to them because that’s what they have learned or that’s how they are teaching new recruits in their company. Let’s talk about practitioners. Where do they come from? What does the criteria for you to have these practitioners on board?

I mean, you have a benchmarking that, you know, and the way you’ve structured the whole course so that it can even decide or structure who these practitioners would be. So let’s talk beyond Masters’ Union for a second. Right. Every time I’ve met somebody, you know, who’s in the latest stage of their career. One thing that is common to all of them is that they want to teach, right.

They want to pay back and they want to teach. So whenever I’ve approached any CEO, any MD, any CXO, any senior vice president, any chairman. Sir would you like to teach or ma’am would you like to do teach. Never ever have I received a no. Right, right. And so now we are spoiled for choice, right? So at Master’s Union, what we have done is, you know, we have created our curriculum in tandem with the CXOs.

Right. We tell them, Hey, listen, we’ll give you 20 hours. Right. And one of our program managers would actually work with you to craft your curriculum in a way that is digestible to students. Right. You might be a great professional, but you might not be a good teacher. Right. So we’ll help you become a good teacher, right.

We’ll hand-hold you. And once you’re prepared, then we’ll put in from the class. Right, right. There is no bar, there, there is no benchmark there. Right. A lot of our teachers actually, not, not a lot, but a few teachers are actually younger than our students. Right. Right. And then, you know, our, our oldest teacher is someone who’s, you know, uh, chairman emeritus at a large consulting firm and I think he must be, he must have crossed 80, right.

And the way he’s able to engage students is, is unmatched. So, you know, whoever has enough passion to give back, will do a great job. So these people come in individual capacity, as I understand, but the way you’re designing the course per se, how much deeper are you getting into bed with the industry names itself, say companies or brands to actually get real life case studies, real world case studies.

So that the experiential learning that you’re talking about can actually leverage from those case studies. Again, we don’t have to do the work, the masters do it themselves. Right? So just let’s, take an example. We had the, chief marketing officer of Samsung come and teach. So we don’t have to ask him to bring in case studies.

He is a case study, right? So the 20 hours that he’s going to be, with the students he’s going to teach his experience. Right. So that settles it right there. Right. We just bring structure to it a little bit. We bring assignments to it. We bring readings to it. But other than that, he does the job. And lastly, I think learning is more about, generating curiosity in students.

Or, teaching is more about genetic curiosity in students, right? So when you have someone of that stature in the classroom, students are inspired, right. And that sort of takes them the next step, where they want to learn themselves. You don’t have to teach. Right. So if you put, you know, a CEO of, you know, Nissan Motors who also happens to be a Dean in the classroom, students are just sort of in awe, right?

And when they’re in all, they want to impress them. And so they will go back and learn everything there is to learn about BTL 80 and marketing come back and, you know, they want a job at the end of the day. So you actually started during the pandemic. Last year is when Masters’ Union, came in the picture and all. Tell us, you know, your struggle to kind of sell or take the story out of, especially during the pandemic because of results when people are running away you actually started getting right. And what is the composition of kind of people you have as to who enrols in the first batch? Because I think first two or three batches, the most difficulty to actually kick off. Yeah. So, I mean, we were building a new institution, uh, and nobody believes in an institution and it’s very first year.

Right. And it becomes very difficult for us to compete with the established IIMs and ISB. So, you know, there are a few things that we did to, to make sure that our brand name was known. And, and this is, you know, considering the fact that as educational institutions, we cannot market too much. The more we market, the less prestigious we seem.

Right. So we have to sort of be very implicit. We have to very subtle in what we do. I think the proposition that we had was so simple yet, so different that it just traversed through the MBA aspirant crowd. Great. So with $0 essentially spent on marketing, you know, we had more than 1200 people apply for 60 spots that we had for the first year.

Right. And I think, that’s because the bar for education quality is so low in India. Totally. Right. That if you offer something of value, you know, people will latch onto it. Right. So, so these students, you know, where do they come from? Are they working somewhere or they already have professional experience or the straight out of the colleges?

What is the composition like. So they come with some, you know, work experience. They come from pedigree backgrounds, you know, and here are, they studied highly skilled, focused education. As I told you, they all ran their own drop shipping business. They ran their own apps. A lot of them have actually gone on to fundraise for, for their projects.

And now that they’re graduating, we are graduating our first class. Most of them are headed in. You know, product management roles at, you know, top startups or consulting roles at Bain, BCG McKinsey, these kinds of companies. But the larger goal of Masters’ Union is to really, transform the way people consume education, right?

It’s to make experiential education, not just a reality, but a norm, right? If we do well, others will copy us. Only then education will change. And I’m looking forward to that. Yeah. Amazing. So, you know, in a classroom probably, that’s what happened in my classroom would have been the case when you were also starting, there’s a, there’s an air that, you know, a lecturer or a professor have, we use practitioner now.

And there’s a certain level of, discipline that gets created that gets created because of the air right now in an environment like this, which is completely led by practitioners and their visiting faculty and all that. How, you know, easy or difficult was it for, for that, seriousness to kind of, you know, trickle in among the students and especially with the age that we are in.

Students are least focused right now because of Instagram and all that. And so many, so much content is available. I mean, how easy or difficult was it to kind of create that focus for you guys? It’s actually an interesting question. I’ve never thought of it because actually I’ve never faced this problem. Okay.

What happens is that in a classroom, students will be disciplined if they respect the teacher. So in our case, because we have practitioners teaching, you know, students come prepared for the class. They groom themselves for the class. Right. They are like sort of straight backed in the class. And that’s because of the aura of the, on the practitioner, right?

So you’re actually in a classroom with somebody who your bosses, bosses, boss would be reporting to. Right. And so you just want to soak in as much as you can. I’ve actually  never had to maintain, this, you know, indiscipline problem. Or for example, I don’t have to maintain attendance. There is not an attendance system here.

So they crave for that 20 hours of attention they get from the Masters. Okay. Think about it right, we are a first-year institution with absolutely no history, right? Yet all these top consulting firms that otherwise only go to an IIM Ahmedabad, or Calcutta. Actually came to Masters’ Union and they came because those are the people who are teaching the masters from these firms who are teaching.

And so how can they teach and then not take the students, right. That would be hypocritical, right? Like if you look at this top consulting firms, the first, I mean, there’s Infosys and TCS, and we all know they have entire universities inside the company. And then the create such huge bend strengths. Okay.

Which is hitting the bottom line, so you would actually like saving them six months of salary because now they’re being taught the same things that they would have been taught, post their appointment. And then let’s talk a bit on numbers, you know, where are you headed? So, you know, like, like any business you started the pilot and this is our pilot.

Yeah. We wanted to make sure that all the thesis or the assumptions that we had made were actually true. That the way we are teaching actually works the way we are, you know, getting the word out, actually, you know, does what it intends to do. So now that this has happened, right. Our ideas are very simple. Number one, we want to consolidate this, you know, brands take time to build, right.

And we want to make sure that this brand gets built, and rivals, and surpasses that of ISB, IIM, Wharton, Harvard. Right. So, you know, instead of numbers, I would say, you know, we want to sort of, chase prestige, right. And if prestige had a number and if you could rate prestige on a zero to a hundred. You know, to answer your question, I would want to sort of strive for that a hundred.

Right. And we don’t intend to increase that students strength, or maybe 60, maybe, maybe, you know, if next year COVID sort of, takes a back seat and, you know, uh, maybe we take it to 120, but that’s about it. Right. But the idea really is to build a model that others can follow. Right.

Right. And that is a dream that you do so well that others want to copy you. And only then will India’s and the world’s education problem will get solved. It’s great. I mean, especially breaking away from, the way things were done. It’s not easy, right. It seems to be working, yeah. I mean, the students are currently undergoing placements, so placements have been very interesting.

As I said, we only had 60 students and no placement cell. We have no. Recruitment week, right? So the kids just sort of, you know, worked with the masters and more often than not, the masters just sort of hired them. There is, a weird statistic that, that Institutes sort of use to compare each other, you know, and set benchmarks, which is the average starting salary.

Average CTC. I think CTC it’s called right everybody’s after. And, you know, IIM Ahmedabad, is like at like the top, right. Which is at like some 28, 29 Lakhs. Yeah. And currently we are very, very close to beating that and we still have a part of a batch left to be placed. So if we can do that, I think that would be a huge validation to what we’re trying to do.

If you’re already choosing that benchmark is a number. I mean, it’s a bold ambition and you’re there that’s, it’s still away. So before we wrap up this, you know, few things that you would want to highlight, that that institutions or, education should bring into, you know, bring in a new way of, this digital education or new age education, as we, as we say, or experiential education, as we must say, you know. There’s this app that some of the students are building know.

Which is essentially a game, right? You download it and as students, or as kids, you get fake money. Right. And you can use that fake money to buy fake stocks. Right. Right. Apple, Google, Microsoft, Reliance, whatever. And you build your portfolio. Right. You know, when the students launched this app, you know, they were just sort of, you know, the launch it within a few local private schools.

And what we realized is that. Those students had such amazing engagement with that app because it was a game, not an educational intervention, right. Students were so self-motivated that a lot of them were actually building amazingly balanced portfolios. Right. Right. And their returns were as good as the S & P returns.

I was like, wait, this is very interesting. Yeah. We just gave a fake stock app to a bunch of 12 year olds, 13 year olds. And now they’re trading stocks as good as you and me better than you and me. I’m sure you and me are really bad. So my point is that if we can make education into a game, right, students can sit 17 hours at a stretch playing a game, but they can sit 10 minutes in a lecture straight.

Okay. That’s because the lecture is not gamified. It’s not fun. It’s not interactive. It’s not entertaining. If we can make education into a game, if we can make it entertaining. I think we have solved everything. And that was one good chat with Pratham Mittal. I think now we have lot of, insights into how new education is being built.

How different a way Master’s Union or Pratham and educationists like him are actually taking, this way of experiential learning forward. And, keep watching, keep listening to our podcast. And I think we’ll keep bringing such a, you know, good conversations for you guys.

Please leave your feedback and subscribe to Thoughtcast. Thank you.

Expand Full Transcript