Innovation in Indian Learning Industry

Will Thalheimer wonders what is the state of innovation in the Indian learning and performance industry in his recent blog post. He comments on the NY Times report on India’s anxiety over the slow pace of innovation and wonders what the situation is in the learning industry. Will Thalheimer is a learning-and-performance consultant and researcher who specializes in helping clients build more effective learning interventions.

I guess it depends on what we call innovation. No I am not getting into an academic debate on what is innovation, primarily because I am not good at it. I do believe there is innovation happening in the Indian learning industry. Much of the innovation is focused on solving problems closer to home. These may not always be visible to the world. Some examples:

  • NIIT and TIS win Brandon Hall and CLO Magazine awards regularly. Other Indian companies in this year’s award list were Aptara and Servetium.
  • Harbinger and Upside Learning have learning products that are competing with the best and are now quite visible in the US.
  • NIIT’s Hole in the Wall is a key innovation in how children learn and has the potential to solve the India’s huge problem of educating the masses. The model is now being adopted and implemented in many developing countries, not just India.
  • NIIT, Educomp, Edurite, Everonn are making significant inroads in introducing ICT and elearning in school education system.
  • NIIT has been using innovation in curriculum and technology to overcome the problem of shortage of faculty in smaller towns and villages as part of its, not so publicized, affirmative action.
  • It is hard for companies like Infosys, Wipro, HCL etc. to hire and train tens of thousands each year and put them on the job without innovating in training practices. Some awards by these companies:
    • Wipro: 2009 ASTD BEST Award
    • Satyam: 2008 ASTD Training Management
    • Infosys BPO: 2007 ASTD Training Management
    • Reliance Industries Limited: 2007 ASTD Organizational Learning

Of course, Indian companies aren’t innovating as much as they can or should. Why?

  • We did start with ‘low cost’ advantage, a tag that’s hard to shake. One, Indian companies need to learn how to demand more from customers. And two, at the end of the day, low cost is indeed an advantage they will continue to play on it.
  • Indian industry is traditionally a service industry and has grown significantly doing exactly that. So product development has not been a priority for long. If companies continue grow doing one thing, there’s less of a motivation for change.
  • We don’t know how to package things well. That means presenting ideas, creating white papers etc. For some reason we don’t seem to pay enough attention to creating a really good document or presentation. This lack of packaging is visible in everything, from emails to project reports.
  • Indian industry has been focused on volumes. You could debate that there is process innovation. I mean whatever said and done, there is jugaad* required to get large volumes done. But yes, we haven’t quite been focused on product innovation until recently.
  • We aren’t really focused on academic research (at least I am not aware of it). There is very little connect between academic research and workplace implementation, though I suspect that’s the case in most other countries too.
  • We don’t know how to sell consulting, research and innovation well. We also don’t have high profile visible individual consultants/experts. I guess Thiagi and CK Prahalad are Indians innovating but don’t quite count as India innovating. It may be some time before an Indian from India is awarded the CLO of the year award.

Innovation is happening in India, definitely. Can more happen? Of course! Should Indian learning industry be worried? I don’t know. There will be companies that will continue to push our low cost envelope to the western world. But with the western economies slowing down, and the opportunities now becoming visible within India, I am guessing we will be seeing much more innovation focused on the domestic industry. Not all will be visible to the western world. We are a shy lot and still learning to market ourselves better.

* Jugaad n. /jü-‘ga-d&/ (जुगाड़): an improvised or jury-rigged solution; inventiveness, ingenuity, cleverness.