Category Archives: ed tech

EdTech Europe 2015 Review, Kings Place, London

EdTech Europe 2015

EdTech Europe 2015

This year’s EdTech Europe was held at King’s Place in London near King’s Cross. The event sees investors, entrepreneurs and companies come together to share stories and to discuss the latest innovations, trends and solutions to the big problems facing EdTech.

IBIS Capital explained that education technology is the reset button for global economies. The jobs of the future need people to work with computers and some jobs are more at risk to the digital revolution than others.

The Head of Google Education, Liz Sprout, focussed her talk on what skills business leaders need in the modern workplace. Google conducted an extensive worldwide survey of business CEOs. Problem solving skills came top closely followed by teamwork, communication skills and critical thinking.

Google expeditions is driven by a new phenomenon called Google Cardboard. In essence Google Cardboard is a headset made out of cardboard and lenses with a smartphone attached to enable virtual reality experiences in the classroom. Kids in classrooms can be taken to places they have never been before. The cheap wearable devices can be purchased cost effectively for whole classrooms and change pupils entire outlook on learning through immersive virtual reality. Kids can go to up to 50 different world locations and teachers and can teach lessons in ways they have never done before.

photo (3)

Sean Gilligan at EdTech Europe 2015, Kings Place, London

Another talk involved Rob Grimshaw of TES Global, Karine Allouche Salanon CEO of Pearson English Business Solutions and John Martin CEO of Sanoma learning focused on the teacher being at the centre if the education system. According to the panel, it’s the teacher that is the killer app. Finland’s PISA scores are significantly higher than that of the UK and France and thus there living standards and earning potentials are higher. Apparently a 25 points difference in PISA score represents $100,000 of lost earnings over a workers life time.

Benjamin Vedrenne-Cloquet  Co-Founder  EdTech Europe

Benjamin Vedrenne-Cloquet
EdTech Europe

2U’s founder Rob Cohen talked about their services to take top universities in the USA online. They explained how student enrolment and attraction tended to have a local bias. Prospective students living further away from a campus were less likely to enrol, even if the course was online. 2U are offering online degrees for universities at the same cost and with same certificate. Whilst the university is in control of enrolment and certification, 2U provides the content, recruitment service and enables the traditional universities journey to widen their reach online.

SOLE Self Organised Learning Environment

SOLE Self Organised Learning Environment

A further panel involved Maurice de Hond, the founder of the Steve Jobs School based in The Netherlands, A French School Lycee International de Londres and Anne Preston, a Researcher from SOLE Central at Newcastle University. Maurice de Hond explained that simply adding new technology to old schools is an expensive exercise. What is actually needed is a new learning experience and classroom environment. Sugata Mitra is resident at Newcastle University and has been spending many years on his School in the Cloud project which is all about SOLE (Self Organised Learning Environments). In SOLEs, the role of the teacher changes from the transmitter of information to more of a coach and a researcher of data analytics. This new model allows for self paced, personalisation of learning and adaptive learning which is tailor made to the needs of the learners. There is no lesson plan and the learning is unstructured i.e. self organised. This way if one pupil is struggling they are given more time to catch up with the rest of the class. This is what some people believe will be the smart classroom of the future.

Solar Powered iPads for Learning

Solar Powered iPads for Learning

OneBillion is a project help provided learning and teaching solution to children in Malawi. In Malawi there are usually 9,000 pupils in a school with classroom sizes of 250 pupils per class. OneBillion use solar powered iPads to increase the learning opportunities for these children, and the curriculum is delivered in the local language. A similar project running in Kenya by Avanti Communications Group beams broadband into schools using satellites. Often the developing world is moving quicker towards a mobile first, cloud first approach to teaching and learning, given the lack of fixed line internet and the availability of 3G and 4G. These stories are touching ways that education technology can make a real impact on the life chances of people in poorer nations. Certainly, the much shorter school days on the African continent can be extended by the use of digital technology. EdTech can be an education leveller, and can reach students less fortunate than ourselves.

Khan Academy Self Paced Learning

Khan Academy Self Paced Learning

Indeed Sal Khan of Kahn Academy was then beamed into the lecture auditorium to talk about his massively successful not-for-profit education platform. Khan Academy first came under the spotlight when Bill Gates mentioned the project in a TED talk a few years back. The platform allows millions of students globally, in different languages, to study self paced Maths, Physics, Biology and Chemistry. The idea started when Sal was teaching his cousins Maths over the internet by posting Maths videos to YouTube. The most touching story was to see a Princeton STEM graduate come top of his class using Khan Academy. The student went on to state that he would not have made it to University if it was not for the Khan Academy and that the platform had changed his life. He had been failing time and time again in the traditional classroom and it was only the introduction of Khan Academy that saved him on his learning journey. Khan Academy is now in the process of broadening its reach, both in terms of subjects and in terms of languages.

Perhaps the biggest opportunity is life long learning; mapping the skills needed for graduates and the workforce at large to learn the skills needed for their ideal job and then to stay in that job. Understanding what the consumer (i.e. the learner) wants and then mapping out a learning path for these individuals would provide the personalisation of learning needed for career success.

Education spending continues to rise without a proportionate improvement in standards and learning outcomes. Education technology has the power to change this as long as the software, content and devices are easy for teachers to use. Shifts are happening in learning. Technology does not equal engagement. Information is all around us, Google can tell you the answer to anything. What is more important is how you understand the information and how you apply it.

Questions are more important than answers. We don’t know what the future will be so how can we teach for this? We know that graduates today will have 27 different jobs in their lifetime. The boundaries between working and learning are merging. Industry aligned curriculum is needed at the pace that the tech industry moves. Everyone is a tech company; Goldman Sachs now has more developers than Facebook. Industries are going digital. This means we can reach more people and we can engage them in different ways. Learning technology has to have great user experience; it must work on mobile phones and fit around people’s lives. Once this happens we will have passionate, excited audiences, who from their personal dashboards and feedback will be able to change the world.

Following EdTech Europe we will be hosting an EdTech Conference in Leeds more details are here:

Growth mindsets and gaining feedback for self improvement

Growth Mindset Stretch Beyond

Growth Mindset Stretch Beyond

I was talking to the Vice Chancellor of The University of Bradford, Brain Cantor, about a business problem I had, and he surprised me with his remarks. He said “You can grow round that problem, can’t you?” At the time I didn’t really understand what he meant, but now I think I do. A growth mindset comes from the belief that intelligence is not fixed, and that it can be developed. Just as a tree needs water and minerals to grow, so too does the human brain. Some people give up when a challenge comes along, but others persist. Their are those who quickly become successful, but their fear of failure holds them back. People often take negative feedback in a defensive way, when actually they should learn from this criticism. Growth mindsets result in a higher overall achievement, instead of reaching a career plateau.

Show me any successful person and not far away you will see their coach or mentor. We all need real-time feedback on our performance. We need to “coach the coaches”, and using technology there are positive ways to iteratively improve the quality of what we do. Having just purchased an Apple Watch I want to know how many calories I have burnt today, I want to speed up my communication and always be on time for meetings. The feedback from my Apple Watch will allow this and hopefully (fingers crossed) will not be another distraction in my busy life.

Another example of this would be teacher-annotated videos on teaching best-practices, which could be shared with the teaching community. Teachers would then be able to learn from their peer group and perhaps teachers in rural areas could tap into the expertise found with teaching communities in big cities.

Learning platforms aren’t just for students they can be used for teachers. A teacher CPD portal can connect educators with each other and to educational experts. They can help teachers reflect on their own practice and provide educators support to master new strategies. Being online these resources are available on-demand. Furthermore, content can be curated online so teachers can find appropriate support and ideas quickly.

The classroom hasn’t changed that much since Victorian times, and embracing new technology to create more value for teacher satisfaction and student experience has to be a no-brainer. As Bill Gates says, the big issue in Education is the quality of teaching, so any mechanism that empower teachers to learn from the best will only help improve the life chances and prosperity of our future generations.

Productivity in the economy is the ultimate goal, and we need to catch up with the French and Germans by investing more in research and development, the quality of management and indeed lifelong education, if we are to compete in a global marketplace. By the time the French and Germans have hit Thursday afternoon it takes Britain until Friday afternoon to catch up. Let’s skill-up our teachers to the next level. For teachers to have a growth mindset we need to look at new ways of developing and leveraging advances in technology, be it learning platforms or Apple Watches. The reason I got an Apple Watch was to improve my time management skills and to gain more real-time feedback. Feedback can sometimes hurt, but without it we will keep on doing what we have always done!

Totara for Teacher Training

EdTech Europe London 2014

EdTech Europe 2014 London

EdTech Europe 2014 London

This week I attended EdTech Europe at the Millbank Tower in Westminster. Not only did the 29th floor of this skyscraper provide brilliant views of London but a coming together of some of the biggest brains and most influential innovators and investors in the Education Technology community. Although most people in attendance were British other great companies were on display from France, Finland and Germany offering their different perspectives on how to tackle some of the biggest challenges in Education.

Charles McIntyre of IBIS Capital kicked off the day with a keynote speech demonstrating how technology has disrupted the media industry and how this was now happening in Education. He explained we are only at the start of this transformative era which is happening now right in front of our eyes. Benjamin Vedrenne-Cloque co-founder of EdTech Europe went on to show a graph showing how Coursera a 5 year old MOOC start up had caught up with the well established institutions of Oxford and Cambridge University in terms of Google search volumes. Of course MOOCs aren’t going to replace Cambridge and Oxford but the search engine traffic shows the demand for high quality education through affordable MOOC offerings is very real. Ben continued to show a similar graph showing the website traffic of the established BBC websites vs YouTube. It was clear to see how Coursera might grow exponentially over the coming years and even if the completion rates of such MOOC platforms are in question the cost of delivery to the learner brings a massive advantage to bear. Are the MOOCs potentially levelling the playing field for access to Education?

Westminster on a summers day from the Millbank Tower

Westminster on a summers day from the Millbank Tower

Colin Hughes the CEO of Collins Learning gave a thought provoking talk on how textbooks are not dead. His argument was backed up by evidence that much of the high performing countries in the world have high penetrations of textbook usage and how in the UK policy makers have downplayed the role of the textbook over the years. He explained that building a textbook is as difficult if not as hard as building a Lamborghini car. Colin in essence said that textbooks are here to stay all be it in different forms and with different features. Textbooks in the form of podcasts provide a very cheap way for publishers to get their content out and they are enjoyable for learners especially within a revision context. Furthermore digital ebooks on iPads can provide pop up videos and quizzes to make the learning more interactive.

Dr. Ulrik Juul Christensen Senior Fellow of McGraw Hill gave his keynote speech on how content creation has to change in order to enable adaptive learning. His slides showed the publishing industry at an inflection point where the iceberg is about to crumble. A trend toward smaller content packages of perhaps 1 minute durations is needed to adapt the learning experience for differing learning pathways. Smaller content packages  will make the industry open up to smaller more nimble players who will find niches within the industry. Will smaller more agile publishers kill the cash cows of the established publishing houses?

The EdTech Europe Awards led to Better Marks, The Student Room and Busuu being named as winners. Better Marks is a German based Maths software company. Meanwhile the Student Room is a peer to peer learning platform which allows students to learn from one another and Busuu is the largest social network for language learning online.

To conclude the iPad and big data will transform the learning outcomes of the next generation. However the biggest gatekeeper and most essential person in a child’s education is the teacher. It would be good to see more UK teachers becoming teacherpreneurs. One thing that all investors and innovators agree on is that a product must improve learning outcomes and must breakdown barriers to add value. UK investors need to become less risk averse and back high growth EdTech startups. Currently EdTech investments are 10 times higher in the USA than in Europe and the UK EdTech industry must respond if we are to compete on a truly global scale.



Create your Character Competition

Judging our Create your Character competition

I Judging our Create your Character competition

It’s not X Factor nor is it Strictly Come Dancing but judging our Create your Character competition is a great honour to undertake. Children from up and down the country have spent many hours inside and outside of school creating their own inspirational characters. Imaginations have run wild and the best characters will be included as avatars in our Learnanywhere learning platform. It’s great to see kids using Learnanywhere but it’s even better getting pupils to contribute back to the product itself. Good luck to one and all who have entered the competition and may the best characters win!

Sean on BBC Breakfast News with Susanna Reid and Bill Turnbull

Following a relaxing weekend my phone rang on Sunday evening and the BBC Breakfast TV producer was on the end of the line inviting me in to talk about horticulture as part of new proposals for the National Curriculum. So Monday morning started very early as Claire and I travelled over to Media City Salford to give an early morning TV interview. I was pleasantly surprised to see one of our existing customers Norris Bank Primary School in Stockport being included in the gardening footage. You can watch my short interview with Susanna Reid and Bill Turnbull below:

Greetings from GESS Dubai

photo (1)I’ve been in Dubai since Sunday, as Webanywhere are attending the Gulf Educational Supplies & Solutions exhibition (GESS). The show has attracted visitors and exhibitors from across the Middle East, as well as Europe, America and East Asia. Our stand has attracted plenty of attention – with a lot of interest in our Learner Journey e-portfolio solution, as well as our VLE and website offerings.

The impression I get is that online learning is rapidly rising to prominence in the Middle East, and there’s certainly been a lot of interest in today’s keynotes from John Davies at Intel, and Dr. Al Awar from the Hamdan Bin Mohammed e-University.

Most of all though, I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to speak to delegates and fellow exhibitors on the stand – pictured is my meeting with Dr. Bader Aloliwi, CEO of ATAA Educational Company. The next few days will hopefully bring more valuable conversations, and the chance to compare notes with local educators on their vision of educational technology and where it’s heading.

If you happen to be at GESS this week, come and say hello –  we’re on stand R24. If not, you can find out a bit more about what’s going on via the GESS website at – and maybe we’ll see you here next year.