Attending the Inaugural White House Technology in English Conference
I was recently invited to the Inaugural meeting of the White House Technology in English Conference. It was an honor to be a member of a small group of twenty four attendees, consisting of academics, policy makers, and private and public executives, all gathered to discuss opportunities for more collaboration with each other around a common goal: helping more people communicate in English.
When looking at an industry, such as technology, many historical breakthroughs occurred because an ecosystem was built: Apple and its app store, or Microsoft with its deep developer programs. If this group can drive collaboration and joint initiatives we can be much stronger tackling the global challenge of English communication.
Here are a few of my takeaways:
We share common challenges. One of the things that struck me was how many great technology, product and service initiatives exist around English language learning. The problem is they are all separate, un-connected, and most of them don’t scale. Many of these solutions were very local, adhering only to local standards and local cultural expectations—and unfortunately, most were ephemeral.
The first agreement among participants, an early commitment, was to collaborate more, and invest in development projects that can be replicated and scaled.
- Venture capitalists and private sector members who were present said they could provide their grille de lecture — key for understanding — to NGO and government representatives in order to assess project scalability when they look at funding opportunities.
- Global private solution providers will share how they create sustainable products and solutions.
At Pearson English Business Solutions (PEBS), we will share learning and expertise about how to build and maintain a global platform which provides outcomes for learners across the 4 continents and in over 34 countries. We will also continue to partner with government entities.
- Public or NGO representatives committed to drive more due diligence when they execute on a project in order to leverage existing commercial investments and platforms, avoiding wheel reinvention and the waste of limited resources.
Three ways to leverage technology
After many hours of discussion, the attendees converge on three key ways we can cooperate to better leverage technology. These ideas can also be brought back to our organizations to help us remain aware that our platforms and services are a part of a large ecosystem of solutions.
Create new ways of making learning more relevant
Automate the creation of learning materials using semantic technologies, and leverage free access to multi-sensory online assets. Voxy is a great example of an app that creates reading and vocabulary exercises from existing content. Load an online article and the service does the rest. Voxy identifies key words and creates the relevant exercises in a matter of seconds. It would take about two hours for a teacher to do this same work.
Not only does Voxy create content faster, its speed provides for an increase in the variety of exercises that align to the learner’s interest. And rather than using stale content like a textbook might, it uses articles relevant to the learner to create fresh content, increasing the motivation of a learner by leveraging his or her interests.
The speed required to develop a new learning experience is moving toward a tipping point. As I shared in a previous blog, a rhyming exercise by a Project Literacy Makethon team created its app in just four hours, using a YouTube API.
Usage data captured in the digital world can help tailor and prioritize investments. LinkedIn’s economic graph is very relevant here. Millions of resumes and associated skills inventories are searchable by city, country, continent and industry—while millions of job posts capture which roles and skills are In demand. By better understanding this demand context and its relationship to existing skills, the English language learning community can better direct funding so we deliver relevant learning experiences aligned with needs, and capable of filling gaps.
Digitalize learning to capture data within the learning experience in order to drive better outcomes
How many times have you heard someone say that 50% of what they learned was not relevant.
Today at Pearson English, we use data we capture to identify patterns, and we use those patterns to inform personalized learning experience. First, we guide learners along the most relevant paths. Second, we use data to help identify those most likely to prematurely exit a learning experience, so that we can help them achieve their learning objectives.
Also when you can capture multi-sensory digital assets from voice, text, and video, you can better assess progress, and ultimately if the learner reached the goal they set for themselves. It also enables personalization and improved measurement of the learning experience.
Offer more opportunities to practice English
One of the key barriers to reach our mission to have more people communicating in English is the limited opportunities for learners to apply the language. Technology breaks down geographical and communication barriers by connecting people more easily, by providing a platform to communicate and collaborate. Learning experiences need to be designed to so people can practice and apply their English skills.
At PEBS, our coaches and trainers work through Skype or other communication tools to deliver virtual classes, or one-on-one coaching sessions. This technology helps eliminate the barriers of finding quality teachers by locally sourcing across borders. We not only train the learners, but also help educate local teachers.
However, in today’s world, the application of English does not stop at learning environments. Practice can be found in activities which provide social and economic empowerment.
A few examples came up during the meeting, most notably gaming, working in the global supply chain and transaction-based e-commerce: all global experiences or processes often developed and delivered in English. The continuing adoption of Facebook or other social collaboration platforms across borders can also offer practice, and perhaps peer social motivation.
Perhaps most important, facilitating trade in English is a key driver which will motivate many adults to practice their English.