Twisting Fate

An influential music and entertainment exec with a bright view brings lessons to education.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

CREDIT Julie LeeNamed one of Fast Company’s Most Influential Women in Technology (2010), Julie was most recently one of the founding members of VEVO, the leading all-premium music video and entertainment platform, where she was responsible for defining and executing upon VEVO’s growth strategy with oversight of all business development, business affairs and licensing. Julie previously lead development efforts for Universal Music Group (UMG) with partners including Apple, AT&T and WalMart to deploy new digital products, services and business models. Prior to UMG, Julie was part of Sony Pictures’ digital media incubator, Sony Pictures Digital, where she launched and developed Sony Pictures Mobile, and divested GoPlayTV (interactive TV service sold to YooMedia). So why is she appearing here in an interview with EdTech Digest? If you think of education as knowledge delivery, and look at what she’s already delivered, then you’ll see that she may have a few lessons for everyone to learn. With Edtwist, a collaborative ideation platform for people to grow ideas

Education is the largest industry in the world – over four trillion dollars spent per year. We’re already witnessing a shift in this massive industry to “new media” spend.

together, Julie delivers a search and research tool and collaborative space that moves across Google, YouTube, Wikipedia – and Edtwist itself – to create a new learning environment that is best simply experienced to fully understand. Here, Julie speaks from her own experience in discussing why education is in need of change – and in listening to Julie’s enthusiasm, it becomes clear that its continued transformation will happen because of innovative leaders like her.

You’re not from the education sector, tell me how your background will help you in the technology and learning space.

Julie: Not directly, but most recently as a founding member of VEVO, I helped launch what is now the world’s largest music video platform to enhance the music video experience with the biggest superstars in the industry. I’m incredibly lucky to draw from that experience and launch edtwist with the biggest superstars in knowledge building – UNESCO.

I think the best technology aids in enhancing physical experiences through personalization, community and friction-less consumption. This is the principle I’ve applied in innovative tech-enabled consumer experiences to enhance discovery, consumption and engagement of information in media – whether that’s in the form of movies, television shows or music. Today, education is going through a similar transformation that the media industry once underwent. Physical learning experience is now enhanced through tech-enabled solutions to empower greater personalization and collaboration. I’m applying my passion for enhancing information discovery, collection and creation by utilizing technology to innovate on eLearning with the help of experts in the education sector.

You’ve been called a new media genius. What’s ‘new’ media these days? How can your expertise in this area be of benefit to the education sector?

Julie: Thank you, that’s quite flattering. In the “old days”, new media referred to the manner in which media was transmitted and delivered electronically (vs. physical media like CDs and DVDs). Today, I think “new media” refers to the friction-less manner in which media is available (anywhere, anytime access) and what consumers are able to do with it (interact, co-create, collaborate to make the media more personalized).

Entertainment media went through the evolution of material that was once static to one that can now be mixed, interacted and co-created. A great example is the transition of LPs to user-generated playlists. Fans had limited voice other than through sales but now they have direct voice through immediate viewing and feedback through social channels. I’ve learned a lot about how “new media” transformation requires a bridge between the digital immigrants (creators and publishers) and natives (consumers) to empower the ultimate customer – the fans and in this case, learners. I am applying my experience to creating a learner-centric service that bridges the gap for digital immigrants and natives in the eLearning arena. I envision a world where knowledge creation is made more efficient, fluid and continuously growing through engagement.

You’ve worked and accomplished much in the entertainment industry – will you be blurring the line with edtwist and creating what could be called edu-tainment?

Julie: I happen to believe that the most effective learning is one that is inspired by passion and applicability. A hike can be an opportunity to learn about geology, a swim to learn about physics of buoyancy and the list goes on. If edu-tainment means inspiring learning by making the process of discovery, analysis and consumption of knowledge more fun and engaging then absolutely! I want to help make the sexiest muscle the brain!

What prompted you to move into the education and technology space?

Julie: I was inspired by my curious little boy and his ability to learn through fearless inquiry and exploration. This is the main reason I decided to leave my career as a successful digital media executive and create edtwist. I believe that the line that divides play and study should be erased to fuel learning through everyday experiences.

I am applying my passion for leading digital media transformations to revolutionize e-learning through edtwist, a connected learning platform simplifying research and accelerating knowledge creation.

How would you describe edtwist? How is it different from other curation and collaboration platforms?

Julie: edtwist is a collaborative research platform that takes a fresh twist on research by bringing together premium resources and genuine people to grow ideas together. edtwist empowers knowledge networks like libraries and schools by providing a simplified research tool containing quality content, curation and co-creation tools to grow ideas as a community.

It’s not surprising that many people struggle with finding good information online as there is simply too much data and information to sift through. With 90B searches conducted monthly in the U.S. alone, 7.8M app downloads per day (iOS), 1B websites, and 1M Vines watched every minute, people are lost in information overload.

Good information is out there, but it’s hard to find. In fact, only 25 percent of the 13 billion monthly searches are successful in finding answers and in contextually connecting them with their insights. Knowledge networks may have identified credible channels of information (e.g. Scholastic, JSTOR) but learners struggle in switching and bringing them together. edtwist integrates premium content sources in one place, providing learners with space to collect quality information and co-create for streamlined connected learning experience.

Good information is out there, but it’s hard to find. In fact, only 25 percent of the 13 billion monthly searches are successful in finding answers and in contextually connecting them with their insights. 

It is different from other curation and collaboration platforms as our focus is in accelerating knowledge creation for people seeking to improve their lives and the world around them. This is one of the reasons that our launch partnership with UNESCO is important. We’re helping one of the world’s most important organizations to engage the youth to identify, research and communication solutions to improve the world. We look forward to working with other NGOs and social organizations to provide research solutions to further their mission. Ambassadors and activists can use the edtwist platform to raise awareness around an important topic.

Do you see any direct competition?

Julie: No direct competition but certainly the big search giants with greater resources than our start-up can be innovating in this space. This is one of the reasons we’re finding paths to work with them vs. recreate the amazing solutions they’ve developed to augment the research experience for our users.

Okay. Now, let’s get a little personal. Where do you derive your global view? Were your parents international people? Did you have a mentor or teacher that helped you see the world?

Julie: I’m fortunate to be a Korean-American and moved to Orange County when there weren’t ESL classes available. The result was total English immersion – sitting with a blank look listening and repeating to what appeared to be utter gibberish. I repeated Tom Brokaw speak during his Nightly News broadcast and he became a great teacher along the way. Did I know what I was doing? No, but I picked up English in less than a year.

Growing up, I’ve always had a fascination for ancient history – this, coupled with my immigrant background have fueled a passion for gaining understanding of new cultures through travel (and food). Through my career, I’ve had the great fortune of not only traveling for pleasure but conducting business internationally to fully appreciate the global economy in which we live. Now, as a mom, I’m even more focused on helping my son grow up to be a global citizen.

My greatest mentor was my dad. He was an incredibly hard worker but always made time for me. He also taught me to reach for the sky but to be humble at the same time. He told me about the story of the sunflower – the brilliant bloom that is filled with seeds of experience and knowledge and one that as it gains greater fulfillment, humbly bows so that it can continue growing.

Wonderful, Julie. Very nice! Alright, how does the UNESCO arrangement reflect on your edtwist mission?

Julie: UNESCO was the perfect partner for us to launch the edtwist platform with as their needs aligned with the fundamental problems we’re solving for researchers in general. The UNESCO Youth Forum provided us with the perfect launchpad, as thousands of change agents from all over the world are using edtwist to identify and collaborate on research and brainstorm ways to activate change around the globe. I believe knowledge has transformative powers to change the world for the better and it’s exciting to help support UNESCO’s effort to engage youth to ideate together and share their collective findings to create a chain action for change.

Lastly, your thoughts on the opportunity we have these days with education and technology?

Julie: Education is the largest industry in the world – over four trillion dollars spent per year. We’re already witnessing a shift in this massive industry to “new media” spend. The U.S. alone spends over eight billion per year on educational content and software. MOOCs including Lynda, Udemy and Khan Academy are popularizing e-learning while knowledge networks are getting comfortable with connected learning through implementation of learning management systems. We’re in very exciting times as these advancements help establish a solid foundation for innovation in how we learn through technology.

Victor Rivero is the Editor in Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

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