At the 2012 Content in Context general session, Innovation: Lessons from the Front Lines, panelists were asked whether or not they set out to be innovative. Unanimously, all panelists said no. They said are approaching challenges they see with learning and content delivery and how they can solve them. While the ultimate outcome may be labeled “innovative,” the developers’ goal is the success of the students and the impact the product makes on their education.
Jay King (COO) said his company wanted to develop a product to tackle the lack of critical thinking and analytical skills of students entering college. As a new company, the developers new they needed to stand out and tackle online learning from a different perspective. One of the features that evolved from this approach is a series of conversations between student actors modeling classroom discussions. At StudySync they feel that learners will be more engaged in lessons guided by peers—grounded in solid pedagogy and aligned to the Common Core State Standards.
Din Heiman (COO and General Manager) talked about how his company, which offers web-based, animated curricular content, looked ahead at changes in technology and business models to stay relevant in the education industry. Rather than deliberating trying to be innovative, many of their moves were dictated by outside sources. For example, they started out as a CD business but saw the market heading to the Internet. BrainPOP became an early adopter of paid online content because the company knew it had to leave CDs behind.
Then, for many years their free content was hidden on their site, but now they have collected it in one place. They now focus on converting these free users to paid sales.
“We don’t go into it thinking we are innovating,” commented Heiman. “[Our] responsibility is to our user base, to keep up revenue.” He added that innovation comes from the fear that they will be left behind.
Victoria Porras (CEO and founder) and Alberto Giordanelli (Director of Technology & Chief Business Development Officer) explained how a development house like Victory Productions can play a part in innovation and reform. For instance, one of their services is to help create products written in the native dialects. With a greater call to suit the needs of diverse students, the company created a wholly-owned subsidiary in South America that allowed them to keep control of the product. On the technology side when the Virginia Department of Education said it wanted iPad texts, even though there were none yet, Victoria had her team learn everything they could so they could be a part of that market.
“If the customer is committed to changing classroom environment and bringing new gadgets to the classroom, then Victory Productions can commit.,” said Porras.
Andrew Hsu (Founder and Chief Brain), whose company works on developing social media games, said that in the gaming world, you actually can’t stray far away from the norm in the beginning. “If you create a new game mechanic, chances are it won’t be as fun as something that already exists,” explained Hsu. “When [Airy Labs] does a game, they start with a mechanic that they know is fun, but tweak those ideas and layer proper education on top of it.” As a company gets more popular, Hsu said then you are able to change more. While Hsu is aware that the landscape is littered with failed gaming companies, he thinks that part of the problem is timing. He believes that the next generation of parents, which are gamers themselves, will be more receptive to games in the classroom.