Teachers 2.0: Corporate Takeaways from eLearning Startups

One of the most compelling criticisms against Google Glass came from John Pavlus via the MIT Technology Review blog. As wearable technology teeters one step closer to mind-control chips implanted in the back of our necks, it’s important to remember that these apparatuses are tools for humans, not the other way around.

When a company forces us to sub in our eyes as swiping implements instead of our fingers, we will naturally reject our own bodies as an interface, like our skin rejects a brown sliver.

The biological aversion is excellent news for the staying power of teachers, and ostensibly learning and development instructors in teaching roles.

As MOOCs continue to dance down our blog feeds (and their market continues expanding), and recorded lectures and automated lessons seem poised to replace the very teachers they’re meant to aid, the newest crop of successful eLearning startups aren’t out for blood.

As Brian Lamb of robotic eLearning startup Swivl put it, "We’re focusing on teachers rather than being a threat to them."

Swivl 1

Swivl, for one, is as HAL of an eLearning startup as they come. The learning platform includes robot hardware that connects to your mobile device and allows for lecture and lesson recording.

With a 360-degree pan and 20-degree tilt (thus the name), Swivl captures class video for storage and transfer. You don’t have to be on site to get the in-classroom training experience—all you need is access to the course material. Additionally, a cloud storage service—S Cloud—hosts video content and monitors user interaction.

Although Swivl’s largest markets are K-12 and Higher Ed, the company’s enriched learning experience—a step towards mobile technology becoming literally mobile (and thus more human)—is valuable in an enterprise setting. American Express uses Swivl for their internal training programs.

Swivl 2

Lamb, CEO and co-founder of Swivl, expects that the relatively new cloud offerings will boost the number of the product’s enterprise users. Rather than compete with a company’s LMS, Swivl aims to be a partner.

It’s also infinitely scalable, from small classroom settings to broadcasting captured presentations to all members of a large corporation. No matter the student to teacher ratio, "it’s still about facilitating a direct relationship," Lamb said. In this way, he suggested Swivl is the anti-MOOC, a more intimate learning experience.

Which isn’t to say MOOCs don’t have a place in corporate learning. Dhawal Shah is the founder of Class Central, a MOOC aggregator and searchable database of every quality MOOC available online. At least that’s what Shah hopes.

"Our role isn’t to get every online course in the world," he said. "That’s what MOOCs are to me: high quality."

Class Central is among 13 startups to receive funding from Imagine K12, an EdTech accelerator that raises funds for promising learning startups.

Data capture is key to making a new learning startup valuable. User trends facilitate adaptive learning so the software itself can improve on its own. In turn, a more successful learning experience is delivered to users.

And Class Central collects tons of data. For instance, Shah knows what courses students gravitate towards the most (introductory courses in computer science, programming, and music are particularly popular). More data is waiting to be mined.

Although Class Central doesn’t work directly at this time with any corporations, Yahoo lists the site in its internal training. Computer program courses (like training for Excel), business management classes, and leadership development training can all be well served by a MOOC setting, Shah said.

He has spoken to heads of training departments at large corporations that hope to work MOOCs into the employee requirements of performance reviews. When filtered through Class Central’s data system, Shah could know what courses are the most popular, and perhaps the most successful.

The more data collected on learners, the more programs can dissect how learners—be they students or employees—work best. Imagine a "personal learning companion" that could chart your learning experiences from the first grade to your first job. The solution may be found in Geddit.

Geddit 1

Another startup that received funding from Imagine K12, Geddit is an instant feedback mobile app where students check in with teachers to report their confidence level with material as a lesson takes place. The app then quizzes students on material, allowing for a comparison of student confidence against understanding.

When learners continually make self-assessments about their learning—with their study habits taken in relation to their expectation for a final grade—their learning outcomes are improved, said Anton Troynikov, co-founder at Geddit.

Furthermore, teachers ultimately want to have one-on-one conversations with all of their students all the time. Geddit facilitates that kind of interaction that was perhaps never before possible.

Geddit’s aspirations reach farther than its success in the Bay Area; Geddit is for "anyone in the world, no matter what it is they want to learn," Troynikov said. The heart of a learning encounter between student and teacher never changes.

"There’s always a source of content and a source of instructions," Troynikov said. "Whether you’re learning online from a MOOC or you have a trainer in a workshop, ultimately the modes of learning and the things that drive them aren’t all that different."

Geddit 2

By analyzing exactly what kind of instruction happened in the classroom during a student check-in, Geddit can learn how best to facilitate learning for individual learners. If the app is integrated from grade school through university, when managers hire employees they would already know exactly how the new hires learn best.

But no matter the technology, learning always circles back to humans teaching humans. As Troynikov pointed out, that’s a quality of our species more unique than any operating system.

It just so happens that we learn best hands on—the football coach who sculpts the muscles of his kicker rather than the lecturer on stage seen from the back of the auditorium.

The capabilities of these eLearning startups are exciting. There’s data capture and analysis on a level humans could never collect and analyze alone. Mobile is truly mobile with Swivl in an effortless fashion. And the apps are learning adaptively to better do their own teaching.

The trends all apply to the corporate sphere and L&D teachers. But it’s a quiet comfort that behind the velvet curtain, no matter how digitized, the teacher is still irreplaceable.