Learning Enters A Bold New Era

[San Fernando Valley Business Journal] Learning Enters A Bold New Era

Most schools have resumed in-person learning, but that doesn’t mean that edtech, or educational technology, is being used with any less frequency in classrooms and at home. Local edtech companies continue to grow and put a new spin on how students learn.

The main impetus for this growth was that schools were forced to rapidly adopt virtual and online learning as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, which led to edtech companies creating new or improved digital learning tools.

Glendale-based Age of Learning Inc. is one such company. Founded in 2007, its core audience is K-12 students. The company’s list of products includes Adventure Academy, ABCmouse, and programs that turn lesson plans into interactive gameplay.

“Since our founding more than a decade ago, Age of Learning has led with a mission to help children everywhere build a strong foundation for academic success and a lifelong love of learning, regardless of their socio-economic backgrounds or circumstances,” Doug Dohring, founder and chief executive of Age of Learning, said in a statement.

Age of Learning products vary greatly in price. ABCmouse, a language learning game, for example, has a monthly cost of $12.99, a short-term option for $29.99 every six months, and a $59.99 yearly plan. Like the company’s other products, ABCmouse is designed to make learning a fun activity for students.

According to research company Global Data, the edtech market’s size was valued at $183 billion in 2021 and is expected to grow 16% year over year between now and 2026.

What makes an edtech company successful or not is the learning outcomes in students using their programs. Age of Learning released a study last June conducted with students across southern California, including those in the Los Angeles Unified School District, to analyze whether the company’s product My Math Academy created positive learning results. The study found that 98% of pre-kindergartners who used the math program regularly ended the school year “on track” in math on state-administered assessment tests.

Results matter

Michael Williams, an associate professor at Pepperdine University, said schools are looking for technology that has a recognizable impact on measures that matter to educators the most, such as attrition and graduation rates and overall success.

“If there’s a technology that has a clear impact on those measures that matter to us, we are much more interested in those business cases and therefore those technologies,” Williams continued. “I think some of these technologies are maybe a technology in search of a problem. They have some new technology, and they think, ‘we can apply this to education, and it would be a fun way for students to interact with content,’ and there is probably a lot of benefits that they could offer, but those kinds of businesses don’t really move the needle on things like graduation, attrition or students’ success in a way that that education would really buy into.”

With all of the stories about student’s use of generative AI bots, such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT, some are worried that technology will affect learning in a negative way. Williams said this idea isn’t new.

“If you go back to almost any technological breakthrough — personal computers, information processing that allowed us to do complex math more quickly, even calculators and things like that — we see this sort of kneejerk reaction that says, ‘hey, if people don’t need the calculator in their head, if they have this calculator to do the work for them, are they really going to learn this stuff?’” Williams said. “I think that’s what’s going on right now with ChatGPT, but fundamentally, the way humans learn hasn’t changed in a long time. We basically learn through repetition and experience, so finding ways to create valuable learning experiences and then repeat those learning experiences will enable student success regardless of what tools they’re using.”

Room for innovation

Numerade, a Pasadena-based educational technology company, uses artificial intelligence in its online tutoring services.

“Machine learning and AI technologies have been the root of our core business since the beginning,” Nhon Ma, chief executive and co-founder of the company, said. “Specifically, our AI tutor is a deep-learning model that understands a student’s academic strengths and weaknesses. And based on that, we build learning plans and paths in order to support students such that they arrive at understanding and then also meet student success.”

The company, which was founded in 2019, has also created a library of videos designed to maintain the attention of students. “This content factor, which is short-form video, resonates extremely well. Our average video is about two minutes, but our average watch time is about seven to eight minutes. What we see is that a lot of students who come to us are using the videos as a way to deeply understand problems and concepts that are hard for them, and they’re going back to it multiple times, something that is hard for them to do in a classroom setting.”

Since its founding, Ma said, Numerade has had over 100 million users. According to the research and analyses platform Crunchbase, the privately held company has raised $26 million in funding.

The company uses a subscription model that is priced at $18.99 per month. Nhon attended schools in the LAUSD system most of his life. For high school, he received a scholarship to attend a private school in north Hollywood.

“That really opened my eyes towards this discrepancy of access; my peers had access to amazing resources such as tutors and educational opportunities,” Ma said. “I realized that most of the peers that I grew up with just didn’t have that luxury to have these opportunities, especially tutoring.”