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Hackernoon logoHow We Recreate the Idea of Educational Content [Part #1] by@Mikhail Sverdlov

How We Recreate the Idea of Educational Content [Part #1]

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@Mikhail SverdlovMikhail

Content Director at Skyeng company

Physical textbooks are reprinted once a year at best according to the waterfall process. Their content becomes outdated way before it’s published. And if a textbook is not commercially successful, it means financial losses for the company. One of the solutions is to create digital content right from the start, not just digitalize published content. This would allow for updates on the spot and the creation of customized materials that can be then published.

How is it done?

The Future Is Digital

Skyeng is an online school of English and math. Our educational product includes three main blocks:

  • English and math teachers — than 11,000 at the moment
  • The Vimbox platform
  • Our content, including dozens of courses and hundreds of additional lessons

All the content forms one educational ecosystem that includes lessons with a teacher, courses, and homework on the platform, self-study products, grammar and vocabulary exercises, apps for learning new words and improving Listening skills, microlearning posts in the app. We also have social media and brand media Skyeng Magazine that help our students along the way.

Looks like we have a lot of content. But it doesn’t automatically mean we use the progressive approach. Let’s have a closer look at the old and new approaches to the content.

Print or Digital?

What does it take to print an English textbook? Academicians conduct research (we hope so), a publishing house hires a famous author who creates the linguistic corpus and syllabus, methodologists make exercises based on texts and cases, a designer creates the layout, the publishing house prints the book. The whole process can take years. It looks like a typical waterfall model, right?  

With this approach, content becomes outdated way before it’s published. One of the solutions is to create digital content right from the start, not just digitalize published content.

Many publishing houses that try to follow the trends digitize their textbooks. They make clickable PDFs with audio and video. Many colleges and universities publish their courses online, for example on Coursera. But these are only superficial changes, the approach remains the same.

What’s the actual distinction between the old and new types of education? It’s the approach to content creation and the usage of data. Even hard copy textbooks can benefit from data analysis and product approach. Just think about it — Netflix and HBO shoot pilots before making the whole series. Pilot editions would allow for updates on the spot and customized materials. This would already be a dramatic change, but it’s not enough for us.

Here one can mention the Knewton project. It's concept “Content insights for publishers” and customized learning tracks for students (mass higher education can and should be customized too!) got it investment from the Pearson publishing house. The project wasn't successful eventually but is still remembered for its ideas.

What can go wrong? Here are some problems with approaching content like a product we faced a year ago when we had 30,000 active students:

  • not enough data to get insights 
  • most of the time online and offline formats are mixed, thus it’s not possible to follow most metrics
  • the industry is not ready to quickly adapt according to the insights

And on top of it is the process, including a lab that formulates and tests all hypotheses (I’ll talk about it in the following articles).

The first problem resolved organically: we grew and conducted more than 9,000,000 lessons for 100,000 students. We’re working on the second one, I’ll talk about it later. The third problem is more of a global issue. We hope that other companies will get inspired by our example and follow it. As for the last one — effective processes are the new black.

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