Elyse and Oxagile talk about the EdTech domain
The formula for extracting valuable EdTech insights is as follows: the first variable is persona. She’s Elyse Burden, a Forbes 30 under 30 person and executive director of Real World Scholars.
The second one is partner. This is Oxagile, a software development company that works with Elyse on several eLearning projects. She took it a step further by acting as moderator during the interview.
The third variable turned out to be synergy between an EdTech expert and a customer software solution provider, which allowed this tandem to bring some considerations based on Elyse’s experience in the EdTech domain.
What is the world of EdTech breathing? If the time machine was real, what would Elyse do differently? Mobile vs. web-based eLearning: which will win? Does the collaboration reach a dead end if there are no questions along the way? Welcome to exploring EdTech together!
What are probably the most current reasons for concern among EdTech players?
When it comes to the K-12 space, the area in which I primarily work, there are two main issues – privacy and technology adoption.
Privacy first – Beyond technical regulations, there are plenty of concerns about what students can access. Local, state, and federal regulations can be restrictive together, and some schools choose to go above and beyond what is required. This means that eLearning software solutions must align how they will comply with or circumvent privacy restrictions, as we have done for student accounts within our EdTech platform.
Our way of dealing with one of the biggest problems – the common inability of students to receive external emails on school accounts, and specifically our invitation emails – was to get rid of inviting users via email. Instead, student accounts were created by teachers and came with a PIN to log in with.
Another EdTech challenge is resistance to technology adoption or innovation fatigue. Teachers often say that time is their most valuable and scarce resource, so they sometimes express suspicion and hesitance to spend too much time learning about new technologies.
How should educational software development providers behave to combat the general reluctance of teachers to transform established approaches?
Intuitive innovations can help ease the situation and ease the onboarding process when it comes time for teachers to explore new technologies in their classroom.
As we rebuilt our technology, we tried to simplify our software platform as much as possible. With earlier versions of our platform, we noticed that when teachers found the processes or design to be complex, they were more likely to switch off and quietly leave the back door.
That’s why I resisted the temptation to build something complex and feature-rich. Focusing on the convenience and accessibility of teachers, we took a different path and made the solution super easy, time efficient and familiar for other platforms to see.
It had a menu on the side, like many of the application panels they’d seen, that answered the question, “Damn, how do I get started?
And that became my biggest attraction – to create a solution with both the future and the present in mind, something innovative but familiar. It will make it easier for most people, especially those uncomfortable with new technologies, to use and get value from your product.
Where will eLearning trends take us? Is mLearning ambitious enough to replace the web?
While most people – young people and adults alike – consume content via mobile, it’s still ridiculous in schools. Schools have different policies – from Bring-Your-Own-Device to highly regulated school-owned Chromebooks (and everything in between). In many places, students are prohibited from using their phones during class.
This is where the gap comes between in-system learning, where you have to conform to school regulations, and out-of-system activities (such as tutoring) that are available outside of school and can use mobile learning.
What about corporate training?
I’d say going forward, corporations will likely focus on mobile because everyone else has gone in that direction. Nevertheless, some companies are behind this trend and see the need to monitor the educational activities of their employees on work laptops. And because of this, software providers should have both mobile and web solutions.
Highlights of the project
Real World Scholars at a Glance:
- A non-profit organization supporting student-run businesses through technology and funding
- As of 2014, more than 50,000 students are engaged in real-world entrepreneurship.
What makes your project stand out?
We are the only platform in the US, at least in the K-12 space, that allows students to run real businesses that make real money.
While there are other programs that teach them how to pitch their ideas and even pitch to real investors, we’ve created a solution that combines learning and real e-commerce.
What is the role of software in this e-commerce learning ecosystem?
EdCorps is a classroom-based program that helps students and teachers start businesses. While we provide various types of support to these businesses, the very core is the eCommerce dashboard.
About nine years ago, we found that many teachers wanted to offer real business experience to their students and/or were thinking about doing business with their students, but they didn’t have the right mechanism to collect money, pay sales taxes. and process a whole range of other payment transactions.
Seeing this, we created an eCommerce dashboard that would allow any class to launch their store and legally sell whatever they want under the auspices of our non-profit organization. Today we have about 90 active student businesses, with all money coming into one umbrella account. Since all the profit belongs to them, we send their money back to the business when they ask for it or we “pay” them.
Initially, our intention was limited to software only. Then we learned that teachers needed more support, and we built the entire program on top of the software platform.
If you could turn back time, would you do anything differently, either technically or conceptually?
Our program is set up in such a way that we first work with the teacher and then he adds his students.
As more students turn to mobile learning, as we’ve discussed, they can do more and learn more on their own. When people approach us and ask, “Can we start an EdCorps business?” our answer has historically been “no,” because we’re set up to work with schools, not individual students.
Learning takes place outside of schools and other educational institutions, often at home or in a community of like-minded enthusiasts. Students are becoming more independent, and while we are now redesigning our platform with entry points for individual students, I wish we had done it sooner.
Tips for experts
Your collaboration portfolio includes a number of software development partners. What are your main criteria for choosing the right one?
I expect the development team to ask me a lot of questions, even if it drives me a little crazy.
Some projects accidentally got off track because we didn’t delve deep enough into the questions. So one of the critical things for the development team is asking questions to get to the heart of what we’re trying to achieve, and of course keeping in mind the timelines of the project.
There is a higher risk of misunderstanding with complex projects. And therein lies a significant responsibility on the software development partner, whose questions and explanations will set your project on the right track.
Another thing I appreciate about development teams is their willingness to design, not just execute. As I am not a technology expert, I present an idea, but rely on the expertise of the team I work with. I really appreciate it when they suggest an easier way to solve the problem or an alternative concept.
In other words, you had an answer with the word “partner” in your question. Our software development partners, who have worked with us for years, are always thinking about the design and user experience, which helps us pull the line between what we think the solution should look like and what will actually work for end users.
In addition to the essential software developer skills you mentioned, what advice would you give players in the EdTech market to avoid pitfalls?
I would encourage all representatives of eLearning businesses to collaborate as much as possible with stakeholders at every stage of development. This is definitely one of the best things we’ve done in building the platform.
I met many people who had an idea. I remember one young man who had a concept for a platform to serve teachers and thought it was brilliant. When I asked him if he had talked to any teachers about it, the answer was, “Not yet, but I’m looking for funding.”
Sometimes people focus more on selling their idea than validating it. Do your due diligence to create something that will work.
Due diligence means working with stakeholders, getting their honest feedback, and identifying ways to improve or improve your idea. The sooner you take this step, the more value you can ultimately bring to your solution.
Another silver bullet is MVP. One of the projects we built—a video-based teacher collaboration solution—was a total failure and cost us a lot of money. Instead of building something small and using an iterative approach, we built a giant platform, spent too much money developing it, and left no resources to get it out into the world. It’s all about time and money – creating a minimum viable product will help you avoid redundant functionality and colossal expenses.
We talked about the past and the present – any plans for the project in the future?
I touched on the teacher-driven component of our project. But when we talk about—and dream about—the future, we think about what it will take to make the platform more student-centric, which will require significant software reengineering.
I am very excited about this concept as it would allow us to further use entrepreneurship as a driver of learning whilst supporting thousands more students running businesses across the country.