Education is one of the sectors significantly affected by the coronavirus pandemic. UNICEF says that at least a billion children across the globe are at risk of falling behind in their studies due to closures and lockdowns that began in 2020. While many institutions adopted digital solutions, there are gaps in delivery.

Still, education goes beyond the classroom setting, as evident in the growth of learning platforms that cater to learners of all ages and backgrounds. The EdTech and smart classroom sector was a $73.9 billion industry in 2019, and it is set to grow at 16.1 percent CAGR through 2027.

In this feature on winners at the ORIGIN Innovation Awards — Startup Awards in EdTech, we learn how the pandemic has but served as a catalyst in innovations in learning. Even for companies that focus on face-to-face learning, the opportunities in education are in ensuring innovative delivery of learning and content.

Peer-to-peer as a more targeted approach to learning and mentorship

Jack Soh, Group Co-Founder & CEO, Kalpha
Jack Soh, Group Co-Founder & CEO, Kalpha

Kalpha is a holistic education ecosystem where individuals can obtain skills, knowledge and experiences on a professional and social basis. The company has a mission to make all learning affordable and universally accessible, and it uses data, artificial intelligence, and machine learning to ensure an effective learning ecosystem and engaged learner.

According to Jack Soh, Group Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer at Kalpha, the three key challenges in learning involve personalization, whether it’s on a professional or casual basis.

He highlighted the current shift in learning perspectives, wherein learners are now more focused on skills and mentorship compared to the more traditional view of formal learning.

“I graduated with a degree in finance and economics. However, I set up Chinese restaurant businesses after school. So I had to look for mentors. I applied their advice in business. My restaurants reached profitability because I applied those experiences and knowledge I gained talking to people. After two years’ success in this industry, someone offered to buy me out. After that adventure, I thought about how to recreate that valuable experience,” recalled Soh, who co-founded the company with Jaden Teo, who also hails from a finance and management background.

The big question for Soh: “How can we bridge that mentorship gap and share valuable experiences in real life?”

The big gap with learning platforms is the tendency to become generic.

“Education platforms do not personalize to the different learning needs and style, whether on a professional or casual basis. Education platforms do not assist one to achieve their career goals and objectives. Class aggregators are unsustainable due to high user churn rate and platform circumvention,” he told TechNode Global.

This is particularly true with most learning platforms that focus on the aggregation of content, said Soh. “With aggregation of classes, it becomes vanilla play. On the other hand, P2P has worked well for us and created traction for Kalpha. It has enabled users to share skills, knowledge, and experiences, ideally in-person,” he said.

While the platform has focused on learning a casual basis, Kalpha is now building upon its professional certification platform targeted at the enterprise market. The use cases range from personal learning or mentorship opportunities to professional networking with like-minded individuals toward career advancement and employment opportunities.

When queried about interesting data and trends during the pandemic, Soh mentioned that users have been focused on building up their capabilities and skills.

“Themes like culinary, baking, cooking, and sports are popular. Users were actually interested in personal finance, such as stock trading, options trading, insurance, and financial planning.”

Another trend included mentorship about mental health and awareness. “As a result, we now deep-curate this category, especially focusing on how to improve the mindset of our users, for instance, to address depression.” He added that career-based mental and spiritual awareness is prevalent among users from their 20s to 40s.

The company has been operating in Singapore for a year and a half and in Vietnam for eight months. Soh notes an interesting observation: 70 percent of the platform’s users are in Vietnam. “The activity rate from Vietnam shows how users are more hungry to learn. People are meeting up more often than our Singapore users.”

The company is now looking for expansion opportunities across the region. “Long term plans: expand across whole of Asia, with P2P learning as well as certified/professional classes. We aim to be relevant and evergreen–quite applicable to any kind of demographic group in different countries,” said Soh.

“In the next few years, we will introduce more verticals into Kalpha, which will makes us into a more holistic learning platform. The dynamics will be different. It’s not just about P2P learning or enterprise learning. We want Kalpha to be synonymous with learning,” he concluded.

Micro-learning as an effective mode of delivery

Rayvan Ho, Founder & CEO, ACKTEC
Rayvan Ho, Founder & CEO, ACKTEC Technologies

“Many organizations and institutions are using e-learning because it can be as effective as traditional training at a lower cost. Developing e-learning is more expensive than preparing classroom materials and training the trainers, especially if multimedia or highly interactive methods are used. However, delivery costs for e-learning (including costs of web servers and technical support) are considerably lower than those for classroom facilities, instructor time, participants’ travel and work hours lost attending classroom sessions,” said Rayvan Ho, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of ACKTEC Technologies, in an interview with TechNode Global.

ACKTEC Technologies is a SaaS-driven EdTech company that specializes in providing a digital learning ecosystem that helps structure and digitize learning and development (L&D) content for educational organizations, large-scale MNCs, companies in the growth stage, and companies scaling beyond their borders. Through its technology, organizations can accelerate their digital transformation and be part of the global digital learning ecosystem.

Formerly a Deputy Director at Singapore’s Ministry of Defence, Ho founded ACKTEC in 2015 with a mission to develop in all its students the passion to learn, the confidence to become self-directed, and to micro-learn through technology. In August 2018, the company was runner-up in mobile learning during an event organized by the MOE SSG Institute of Adult Learning. In November 2018, Ho was invited as a speaker and panelist to EdTech X Global 2018 in Beijing to speak about “Harnessing AI to advance Education.”

“The pandemic has changed the way corporations manage their operations and processes. The hiring and onboarding process will see a need to shift digitally, especially candidates from overseas countries,” said Ho.

“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic brought seismic changes to the way we work, there has been a clear need for more efforts in reskilling and upskilling. In 2019, only 17 percent of employees in Singapore reported being satisfied with the company’s L&D, with 40 percent of workers quitting their jobs due to lack of skills training,” he added.

Yet without targeted and effective training, he said that companies risk “throwing money into the void.” On the other hand, new developments such as immersive technology, where virtual reality simulates real-world experiences and tools, can help to bring training further.

According to Ho, efficiency is one of the biggest pain points of digital learning. “The pain points ACKTEC can solve include efficiency of training, digital pedagogy of training courses, scalability beyond current market/border restrictions, high cost of training, and less knowledge of online or digital technology by traditional organizations, etc. For instance, ACKTEC worked with airline partners and automotive partners to convert offline courses to a blended way of learning to combine both (Offline and Online) which help these corporate companies to save cost and improve productivity,” he told TechNode Global.

“On the pre-school side, we partner with Josiah to save training costs by 40 percent and expand Josiah’s business to China business partner EDUX to explore the dual-teacher live teaching model to increase business opportunities for both sides,” he said.

For Ho, effective learning is applied learning: “What they learn needs to be immediately put into practice in a relevant situation. With prompt feedback, they can quickly understand their shortcomings and gaps in learning, and internalize what they’ve practiced.”

He also emphasized the importance of targeted and relevant training. “Present corporate training is standardized and implemented at specific phases across all employees, which may have little immediate relevance to their role. Rather than this, training needs to address the immediate requirements of their jobs. Effective training addresses problems and issues directly at-hand, so employees can immediately put what they have learned into practice.”

Ho concluded that COVID-19 has presented an opportunity to dramatically change mindsets. “With COVID-19, rapid digitalization became a necessity, as both asynchronous (online) and blended (self-directed and online) became the new normal, replacing traditional F2F training.”

He predicted that this will involve “a permanent and strong shift towards digital lifestyles globally, into a new normal — a world of remote everything.”

Announcing the winners for the ORIGIN Innovation Awards 2020


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