The Irreplaceable Benefits

Taking a good look at edtech in the private tutoring market.

GUEST COLUMN | by Isaiah Zhao

CREDIT Wyzant.jpgIn recent years, the advent of technology has drastically evolved the education system and brought about much convenience. Some classes could be conducted online and textbooks could be completely replaced by gadgets and smart devices. Mainstream classrooms and teachers are not the only ones affected as even the private tutoring services market has been impacted.

Video technology has allowed the best tutors to tutor students anywhere around the world. Hence, there is no longer a lack of quality teachers to teach potential students. Furthermore, the increasing importance placed on test scores to get into college has resulted in an upward pressure on test scores and prep schools. Due to these reasons, the global market is valued at US$100 billion by 2018 and is projected to grow at 7 per cent CAGR. Closer to home, the U.S. market has grown from US$500 million in 2001 to around US$11 billion now, a 20x increase in 15 years.

How EdTech is Changing This Industry

Edtech has affected this industry in many ways. Inspiration can be taken from South Korea, where it accounts for 15 percent of the private tutoring industry. Much can be argued and debated about the national education system in which private education costs account for about 12 percent of total household expenditure but without a doubt their hagwon is the most advanced in the world, with the quickest adoption of edtech. The adoption of video technology has risen many of these super tutors to almost celebrity stature as they teach millions of students every year. This is supported by their successful strategies that has allowed their students to score superior results, which adds credibility to their status as super-tutors.

As technology advances, these online lessons will only become more life-like and both tutors and students alike benefit from the convenience.

While the South Korean market may seem like a dystopian scene from a horror movie, the truth is that it may become the reality locally in a few more years. The U.S. market has been burgeoning in the past years as tutoring companies feed on parent’s fears about their children’s’ inability to keep up. The fastest growing group of customers are high school students who are driven by insane competition for college admissions. A great tutor can make a crucial difference in a child’s life, not only for building scholastic skills required for entrance examinations but also in fostering confidence and building other soft skills.

Why One-to-One Tutoring is the Best

Yet for all the hype about how technology can revolutionize the way we learn and the allure of having classes online, experts are saying that one-to-one tuition is better. Bespoke tuition services are proven to yield better results compared to having mass lessons. Personalized lessons allow for tutors to address the idiosyncrasies of a student and tailoring the lesson to the child’s learning ability, commitment level and expectations. For example, there are many A-students who want A-pluses which would not be able to learn anything from a typical classroom setting catered to normal students.

How EdTech Companies Should Approach This Market

Many U.S. companies have already noted this trend and are already vying for a piece of this growing pie. With reference to other developed countries in Asia such as Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea, the industry only grows faster as times goes. In tutor-matching services, existing players such as WyzAnt ( and ( already controls a lion’s share of the pie. The value add that these new companies can potentially bring is through using technology to teach lessons online. The danger with such an approach is the tutors may be tempted to teach more students at once and therefore unable to devote their attention to the specific needs of the children.

Moving ahead, the tutor-matching services are still likely to stay given that individual tutors are still more effective in giving personalized lessons. The advancement of technology allows for these existing companies to innovate and introduce different business models to cater to the needs of the users. For example, Yodaa ( a tutor-matching company in Singapore has a very different business model from other tutor-matching services and is proving to be popular among users.

As Effective as Real-Life Interaction

For new technological companies to gain a piece of the private tutoring pie, these companies have an uphill task ahead of them as they must make online teaching through channels like skype as effective as real-life interaction. The current trends look positive as these companies attempt to develop more effective communication channels such as Revolution Prep where they have a two-way webcam with a shared whiteboard. As technology advances, these online lessons will only become more life-like and both tutors and students alike benefit from the convenience.

The tale from South Korea not only serves as a warning for placing too much emphasis on grades and results, but also the ineffectiveness of having extra tutoring lessons in a classroom setting. After all, students are already enrolled automatically in classroom lessons in schools and it is precisely because of its ineffectiveness such that a private tutor is required. As much as technology allows for greater connectivity and productivity, some things will never change—one of which is the irreplaceable benefits of having a personalized tutor.

Isaiah Zhao is a first-year student at Singapore Management University and currently pursuing degrees in both Law (L.L.B) and Business Administration (B.B.M). He aspires to work in the financial sector and is currently a member of SMU Student Management Investment Fund (SMIF) to hone his skills as an analyst. Contact him through

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Education Empowered by Digital Technology

With disruption of the education experience, a survey of some key trends to watch.

GUEST COLUMN | by Anand Subramanian

CREDIT Ness.jpgWe have seen how digital disruption has dominated the educational experience over the past two years. The focus has now shifted from teaching to learning, teacher to learner, blackboards to whiteboards, and on-demand learning to continuous learning. Given this shift, it’s clear digital technologies have opened up fresh and exciting opportunities to improve and enhance the overall learning process.

To start, we have distance learning platforms, massive open online courses (MOOCs) and virtual learning environments that utilize the reach of the Internet to scale the resources of scarce, subject matter experts and extend education to new groups of learners. These platforms also allow teachers to interact with students and other instructors, while students are able to download extra materials and upload completed assignments, among other things.

Those who understand and utilize these forward-thinking technologies can help advance educational approaches.

Another rising alternative in education is flipped classrooms. In this case, the more traditional model of lecture followed by homework is actually flipped. Now, lectures become videos students watch at home, while classroom time is spent on exercises, projects and discussions – all immersive activities.

Thanks to adaptive learning and analytics, instructors are gaining more insight into how well students are navigating online courses and where students may need additional help. Efficacy can be analyzed using responses to questions or other algorithms that compare proficiency versus learning objectives. Then, teachers can adapt and improve courses by focusing on areas where they know reinforcement is needed.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is also finding its place within education technology. For example, researchers are currently looking at ways to use gesture-based controls, which send data to Internet-connected devices. This technology could automate many time-consuming, manual activities done today, such as registering attendance. Wearables also provide additional channels to capture data that can be further edited, shared and composed, such as recording practice videos (e.g., students can wear Google Glass while solving a math problem to record the process and provide voice over). These videos can be emailed to parents for students’ practice. You can also record diagnostic videos; students can wear Glass and record activities, like applying certain painting styles or building objects, which allows teachers to review students’ motor skills.

From a visualization perspective, 3D printing now provides learners with newer ways to express their ideas. It’s about creating ideas that convert theory in textbooks into hands-on concepts. Both virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) give teachers and learners a whole new dimension to the learning experience. In digital storytelling, VR and AR can make representation and characters more compelling; for example, using VR games to explore the human body or learn how a virus spreads.

Machine learning, a form of artificial intelligence (AI), is another advanced technology generating a more personalized education experience. Enabled systems have the capability to take in new teacher or student assessment data, learn from it and dynamically adjust learner courses to present material to students where more practice is needed, or even schedule meetings with teachers.

Grading systems can use this technique to interpret student behavior based on their responses and from that realign the learning content or assessments. In this case, educational data mining (EDM) can be used to reveal the system usage behavior. A clustering technique can then be applied to characterize the learner’s behavior and define next best educational steps based on what the data reveals.

Those who understand and utilize these forward-thinking technologies can help advance educational approaches. From this, learners will benefit from more compelling and distinct learning experiences, while administrators and educators will possess essential tools for improving outcomes on a continuous basis.

Anand Subramanian is Senior VP for Delivery at Ness Software Engineering Services (SES). With over 20 years of product engineering experience, including specialization in education, publishing, and media, he helps clients conceptualize, develop, and deliver large, complex, and commercially viable products.

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More Than The Robot

Integrating student competitions into the classroom.

GUEST COLUMN | by Lauren Tabolinksky

CREDIT MathWorks.pngStudent competitions provide hands-on learning opportunities to children. In engineering student competitions, elementary and middle school kids are challenged to design and build a robot that will play against other teams from around the world. The competitions mix fun with education and, in the end, kids soak up skills that prepare them better for the future.

Robotics student competitions “prepare students for the real world, where they will be working with a team on a project with a schedule and budget,” said Gary Garber, a physics instructor at Boston University Academy who has been involved with student competitions for nearly 20 years.

Knowing the value of student competitions isn’t new; the challenge is developing curriculum that integrates the long-term benefits of student competitions into the day-to-day classroom.

These competitions teach kids both the technical skills and “softer” skills like collaboration and communication, Garber said. “Teaching collaboration and communication is much harder than teaching programming and mechanics. It’s more than the robot. It’s entrepreneurship. It’s getting kids to work alongside their peers to create something they are proud to share with others.”

Taking It a Step Further

Knowing the value of student competitions isn’t new; the challenge is developing curriculum that integrates the long-term benefits of student competitions into the day-to-day classroom.

Here Garber teamed up with Sandeep Hiremath, an education technology evangelist and student competition team mentor at MathWorks, maker of mathematical computing software MATLAB and Simulink.

Garber and Hiremath connected through VEX Robotics, a competition where they lead and support student teams. VEX is a worldwide competition for middle and high school students who design and build robots to compete in game-based engineering challenges. The challenges test both the tele-operated and autonomous behavior of the robots on the game field.

“We look at the job market, particularly in biomedical engineering, and there’s a huge need for kids to be able to code. Robotics is an easy way for kids to get excited about coding,” Garber said.

To support this need, they developed a robotics curriculum that incorporates Simulink, which, Garber said, is a very visual programming language, opening up programming to kids of all ages and backgrounds, including those with learning disabilities such as dyslexia. “Thinking graphically is easier.”

For the teachers, Hiremath said the team is working with the Robotics, Education & Competition Foundation (REC), the organization that hosts the VEX Robotics student competitions. REC will help in reaching the teachers already involved in the student competitions, enabling the teachers to integrate their learnings from student competitions as well as the software and resources via the curriculum into their classroom on a regular basis.

For the curriculum, the focus is more on autonomous robots, Garber said. In student competitions, students program the autonomous tasks of the robots but they are primarily working in the joystick mode. The curriculum expands on the knowledge they’ve obtained in the student competition and focuses on autonomous robots and sensor feedback, he said.

The curriculum challenges kids to determine how to track sensor data and design a controller that responds to that sensor data, Hiremath said.

“Having the perspective of a teacher (like Garber) was very important to the development of the curriculum,” Hiremath said. Garber could provide the insight on what makes sense to teach in a classroom and what’s appropriate for each learning level, he said.

Lauren Tabolinksky is Student Competitions Manager at MathWorks. Getting Started with MATLAB and Simulink for VEX Robotics Courseware is available for free.

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Cool Tool | Spark Board from Cisco

CREDIT Cisco Spark Board.pngEvery teacher wants to close gaps in education. And schools are using technology to help learners achieve more. Cisco sees great potential in integrating disparate tools, and turning “static” learning into “continuum” learning (skills that build progressively). The company’s Digital Education Platform (launched at EDUCAUSE last year) now offers Cisco Spark Board, a touch-based all-in-one collaboration device with wireless presenting, digital white boarding and video conferencing. Additional features include a high-resolution camera, a surround-sound microphone, and a real-time whiteboard with archiving and iteration at a later time. Achievement increases when learning becomes individualized, so it’s critical for schools to get the most out of devices like Cisco Spark Board to annotate, publish and record content for continuous use. Today’s active learners at Howe Public Schools in rural southeast Oklahoma don’t have a robust teaching staff, and it’s difficult to recruit qualified teachers. Howe now uses Cisco Spark Board to make elements of curriculum come to life for different types of learners at different times of the day. Technology can be the gateway to new, robust types of education for today’s digital natives; through individualized instruction, new collaboration tools give every student a voice, and allow teachers to instruct more meaningfully than ever before. Learn more.

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Getting More Out of It

A primer on fully leveraging LMS capabilities in the classroom.

GUEST COLUMN | by Steve Wilson

CREDIT accusoft.png

Ninety-nine percent of schools have a learning management system (LMS), yet one in four schools report dissatisfaction with their LMS tool. LMSs have been on the market for just over a decade, but many schools aren’t fully leveraging the capabilities LMSs offer. Despite disconnects in usage and capabilities, the LMS market is projected to reach a value of $16 billion in four years.

But even with the rising adoption of LMSs, classrooms continue to rely on paper assignments and manual admin processes, like assignment submission and tracking. Today’s students are technology driven, and as more classrooms digitize, schools need to review and re-assess how current systems are used. Incoming devices and technology need a consistent and reliable system to mobilize classroom learning.

LMSs have been on the market for just over a decade, but many schools aren’t fully leveraging the capabilities LMSs offer.

An LMS needs to be more than just an online bulletin board, used seldom for one-off homework assignments. For teachers and students to reap the full benefits, tasks like assigning, grading, reading and collaborating should all be supported within the system. In some cases, many early-adopting schools have an LMS solution that doesn’t support these functions. For others, the schools and teachers lack guidance and training on LMSs, preventing them from using these systems to their full potential.

Two common mistakes made by school administration and teachers when it comes to LMSs are fragmented use of the platform and continued reliance on paper processes.

Inconsistency with LMSs

It’s common for an LMS to be treated as a directory or utilized for ad hoc student submissions. But because of their capabilities and flexible nature, LMSs should be used as a central hub for schools. From reading assignments to submitting permission slips and more, teachers and schools need to understand the possibilities before choosing a platform. Today, most schools only utilize an LMS for a handful of needs, making for confusing teacher-student processes. By embracing an LMS for certain needs and then paper for others, there are process gaps left for students and teachers to navigate. This puts more of the focus on administration than learning.

For example, a student trying to access homework through an LMS might run into issues with viewing documents, instead having to download and access the assignment through an external application like Microsoft Word – all capabilities and issues depend on the system’s technology and sophistication. LMSs that don’t have document viewing and other needed capabilities are no more effective than teachers’ sending assignments via email attachments.

Schools should prioritize integration and look to common functions when choosing an LMS vendor. Now that the BYOD trend is growing in schools, students need document viewing functions to read in external apps. From laptops to tablets, devices render differently, so it’s important for students to avoid downloaded files. Viewing features, like HTML5, allow LMSs to display textbooks without relying on a third-party application. With better consistency, teachers can ensure all students have access to coursework, no matter the device.

Paper Dependency

Even in today’s age of digital transformation, where businesses and consumers are moving everything online, schools continue to rely on paper. Part of the problem is the limitations of legacy LMSs. But on the other hand, many schools and educators are hesitant to adopt newer LMSs and lack the proper training on these platforms to transition away from paper-based assignments and projects.

School leadership must keep open communication with teachers and students to identify common challenges and top priorities with LMSs. While many challenges come from schools or teachers not fully utilizing their LMS, some problems come from LMS vendors that cannot provide the right tools for fulfilling critical classroom objectives. For the latter, it may be time to switch vendors. But for issues that stem from lack of training, it’s crucial for schools to ensure that parents, teachers and students are provided basic instruction on using the system.

Supporting BYOD Classrooms

Many classrooms are making steps toward implementing BYOD policies and embracing its benefits. BYOD classrooms will undoubtedly become a classroom staple, and schools need to have the right tools to support a wide range of devices. Fully leveraging and integrating LMSs helps support BYOD classrooms, including adding internet restrictions and allowing for more student collaboration. For example, using an LMS for online document and textbook viewing eliminates reliance on external services. This allows administrators to restrict internet access to the LMS portal and avoid security restrictions. An LMS with tools specific to collaboration can help shape students’ project management skills in a digital environment, making it easy for teachers to assign and guide group projects.

As schools strive to effectively teach a generation born in the digital era, it’s important that they invest in an LMS capable of driving a digital classroom and the training to support these systems’ capabilities.

Steve Wilson is VP of Product at Accusoft, a leading technology provider in the document imaging and content management industry. Steve has led development efforts for several different industries including GPS and parenting apps for iOS and Android, photo imaging, and mobile workforce management for utility companies. He coaches youth basketball for his two sons and can be found saltwater fishing in his spare time. Follow @accusoft

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