Alfred Hofer is the Head of Business Development at Vision Education, a developer of language learning and vocabulary training applications for mobile and the web. Their current projects include: LearnMatch, a sports-themed and sponsor-financed language learning mobile App, and phase6 Berufe, a business oriented language training app.
Given his passion for EdTech and its importance in Vision Education’s mission, Alfred stopped by to talk about the promise of EdTech, its capabilities, and how we’re just scratching the surface of its potential.
How would you define EdTech?
As it relates to Vision Education, I would say it’s taking the didactic knowledge that we already had that existed in books, the analog systems, and bringing it to the digital realm by adding additional digital benefits and state-of-the-art possibilities. For us, it’s leveraging the popularity of the smartphone, using the existing hardware, putting educational software on it, and enhancing it with more in-depth information.
What are the benefits of EdTech for the learner?
Since a person has their smartphone with them wherever they go, if it’s loaded with the educational software, it gives the learner more flexibility and enriched content. If you’re waiting for a train or waiting in line, you can take your phone out and do your vocabulary training.
EdTech can also facilitate new ways of learning and training. One that I find interesting can be best explained with an example. Let’s say you’re learning English and you’re preparing a presentation and you find a new word. You can mark that specific word on your computer or phone and it will be automatically added to your vocabulary training lesson on your learning app. That allows the learner to fluidly build their own personalized lesson plan. This isn’t possible without a digital solution and the seamless integration of PC and mobile.
What are the elements that are required in order to make an application successful?
I can’t speak for other EdTech companies who have different focuses but for us, what’s important for LearnMatch is to bring joy and fun into the learning experience and we’ve done this by adding gamification elements. For example, since our target group for English with LearnMatch is A1 and A2 learners, they would be mainly between the ages of 9 and 15. So they can compete against each other in real-time in a LiveMatch and there’s rankings, badges, team competitions, and monthly tournaments with prizes donated from our sponsors. While we are specifically targeting this age group with the gamification elements, we’ve also found that this appeals to adults as well who are learning Spanish or Portuguese and playing LiveMatches with their family and friends.
How important is it to work with teachers and educators?
It’s always important to work with experts. Which expert depends on the audience that you’re trying to reach. If it’s schools, then yes, it is absolutely vital to work with teachers. You need to cooperate with teachers, educators, and the textbook publishing houses because they not only own the content but have 20 or 25 years of expertise on the content and the didactics in school. If the audience is corporate, executive, or management, you need to consider working with training and certification providers so that you can leverage their expertise as well. But of course, those different target groups need different arguments and deal structures to get involved.
What do you think are some of the challenges that EdTech faces?
Most companies in the EdTech space are startups so they don’t have the financial power and abilities of the old-fashioned traditional education suppliers. If you want to expand globally, there are limitations. Speed becomes a factor where people might want your product but you can’t expand fast enough to deliver it.
The legacy players are also trying to digitize their offerings. They have a lot of money but have had varying levels of success. So either you find your niche market and compete alongside them or you cooperate with them by starting strategic partnerships where both sides benefit.
What are some challenges that Vision Education has faced? Has there been any resistance to your app from teachers?
There’s been no resistance so far fortunately. We’ve gotten great positive feedback especially from teachers who praise the fun elements of LearnMatch. Some are amazed to see kids actually learning on their own! And we really value any constructive feedback from teachers, parents, and users worldwide because they are on the ground level interacting with the app. Their feedback can only make what we offer better.
How do you see the future of EdTech? What impact do you think it will have?
Flexibility in learning and an increased trend in “small portions”. It’s always on and available. Companies will have lower organizational costs for training sessions. It’s going to be a co-existence with the analog solutions but I see EdTech solutions taking a big piece of market share in the long run like we’ve seen in the music, film, and publishing industries. And it will be the innovative startups that will be the ones disrupting the whole sector.
What are some of the potentials of the technology you think are worth exploring?
When it comes to language learning, audio and speech recognition will become more and more important. Right now, our interface is touch-oriented but since a lot of language learning is speaking, designing audio interfaces shows a lot of promise. Augmented and virtual reality are also interesting avenues. Since they are immersive, they can be a great benefit to learners for subjects that require a more immersive experience. Think about learning about the galaxies, stars, and constellations. Putting on VR goggles and actually navigating the cosmos sounds far more effective than learning it from the page.
What impact would you like to see Vision Education have?
We hope to expand our global reach through our partnerships with NGOs such as Pro Mujer, who support women and children in Latin and South America. We’re currently trying to set up a similar program with a NGO in India. Our goal is to support language learning initiatives around the world because we believe there’s a social responsibility that comes with having the technology. These partnerships are very rewarding and are possible because the distribution of education through technological solutions costs far less than traditional books.
Overall, since we’re a language learning company, we want people to understand each other better and communicate more effectively with one another. Like our partners all around the globe, we believe that education and language learning is an important investment in the future of each individual.
If I’m interested in EdTech, how do I get involved?
Just reach out to the companies. Everyone has their own specializations so find the one that you’re interested and say hello!
Header Image provided by: Lea Fabienne