Navigating the Future of EdTech: Synchronous Learning and the Power of Generative Networks by@alexandervolchek

Navigating the Future of EdTech: Synchronous Learning and the Power of Generative Networks

by Alexander VolchekOctober 10th, 2023
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Today, we are privileged to converse with Ilnar Shafigullin, a notable methodology specialist with an expansive expertise in applied mathematics, data science, and AI/ML methodologies.
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A Conversation with Ilnar Shafigullin

Today, we are privileged to converse with Ilnar Shafigullin, a notable methodology specialist with an expansive expertise in applied mathematics, data science, and AI/ML methodologies and solutions, particularly within the innovative sphere of EdTech platforms. Ilnar ShafigullinIlnar, with a substantial 12-year history in university teaching and a deep-seated passion for educational methodologies, has been an influential figure in the field. In recent years, he has been steering the methodological direction at Geekbrains, a preeminent entity in the realm of EdTech in CIS and a luminary in IT education, holding the #1 position in the CIS. With a staggering 70K+ students enrolled in programs spanning 1-3 years and a user base of over 6M+, Geekbrains stands as a monumental presence in the educational technology sector. As its Methodology Director, Ilnar has significantly impacted the educational narrative, notably through his pioneering "Developer" educational product.

As we unravel the intricacies of modern educational trajectories, explore the prevailing challenges, and contemplate the anticipated future of learning, let’s embark on this explorative discourse.

Alexander Volchek: The past decade has witnessed education metamorphosing in unprecedented ways, transitioning online and further morphing with the advent of generative networks. How do you perceive the contemporary educational market? Could you shed light on the essence of education, its constituents, and its multifaceted forms?

Ilnar Shafigullin: To truly grasp the essence of education, we need to appreciate its multifaceted nature, influenced by a myriad of parameters. Education can manifest as online, offline, or a hybrid blend; it can be synchronous or asynchronous; orchestrated for individuals or groups, and so forth. The permutations are vast. For instance, traditional schooling predominantly hinges on offline, synchronous group sessions. Contrast this with online foreign language tutoring, which leans towards an individual, synchronous mode. And mind you, these are just the tip of the iceberg. The myriad combinations underscore the expansive canvas that is "education."

It's also pivotal to understand that there isn't a one-size-fits-all formula. The choice of educational approach hinges heavily on the objectives in play, whether from the student's lens, the EdTech entity's perspective, or the educator's vantage point.

Zooming into my most recent endeavors over the last few years, I've been deeply entrenched in large-scale, blended synchronous-asynchronous online education tailored for the IT realm. As it stands, programs that I've helmed have tens of thousands of students onboard, with durations spanning from 6 to a staggering 36 months.

Alexander Volchek: Let's delve deeper into the vast expanse of large-scale online education. Could you shed light on its intricacies and the prevailing trends in recent times?

Ilnar Shafigullin: The landscape is dotted with a myriad of entities, each charting their unique course. Yet, when we distill their essence from a business lens, the overarching ambition for EdTech ventures invariably circles back to maximizing profitability. Navigating this quest, several pivotal educational challenges emerge:

  1. Scalable Education: The imperative is not just to cater to the masses but to ensure scalability without diluting educational quality.
  2. Cost Efficiency: Every student's operational expenditure needs to be streamlined to the bare minimum.
  3. High Completion and Referral Rates: The gold standard is not just student retention but ensuring they realize their set educational aspirations. The ripple effect? A satisfied student body that becomes ambassadors of your product.

The market's diverse players adopt varied strategies to tackle these challenges. A popular approach hinges on asynchronous, online, and solo learning paradigms. Here, the learning ecosystem orbits around students autonomously navigating pre-curated materials and undertaking assignments. These tasks either undergo automated assessments or are vetted by educators. Whether it's text-based content or video lectures, this model stands out in scalability and cost-effectiveness.

However, this model grapples with the challenge of ensuring tangible educational outcomes. Given the absence of real-time interactions with educators or peers, the onus of success squarely rests on the student's shoulders. Their intrinsic motivation and tenacity become the linchpins of their educational journey.

My professional odyssey resonated with an establishment that championed synchronous, online, group-centric learning. Here, each session transforms into a virtual conclave of students and a subject maestro, unraveling new topics and collaboratively tackling tasks. The allure of this model lies in its heightened student engagement, fostered by collective learning and immediate access to experts. But it's not without its challenges, especially when scaling becomes the ambition. For context, teaching a cohort of 50 students might necessitate one expert. But scaling this to 5,000 students implies rallying an army of 100 experts, each mirroring the same expertise level. The inevitable fallout? Skyrocketing operational costs.

Interviewer: Fascinating insights. Confronted with such intricate challenges, how did you navigate this maze to ensure scalability without compromising quality?

Ilnar Shafigullin: It's a multifaceted conundrum, no doubt. Our leadership was unequivocal in its vision: preserve the essence of synchronous education while championing scalability and fostering operational frugality. And as the numbers suggest, with over 30,000 students engaged with our product, we've indeed hit our stride.

Ilnar Shafigullin

To unpack this, it's pivotal to demystify the learning process. What does it encapsulate? Fundamentally, it's about imparting a chunk of theoretical knowledge to students and subsequently ensuring they not only grasp it but can pragmatically apply it. If there's a disconnect, the onus is on us to bridge that gap.

In an undiluted synchronous paradigm, both these facets resist effortless scalability. Especially the preliminary phase, the dissemination of theoretical knowledge, is a veritable minefield. Hypothetically, let's say our arsenal comprises 100 experts tasked with enlightening our students. The expectation is uniformity - each educator should exude consistent expertise, radiate enthusiasm, and be adept at student interactions. Each of these sessions carries a price tag, and an expert's caliber directly inflates the cost. Yet, stripped to its core, they're essentially echoing the same content. The logical pivot? Transitioning such sessions into the asynchronous realm. Imagine harnessing the prowess of a singular, top-tier expert, recording it in a state-of-the-art studio. Every student would then access this meticulously crafted lecture, potentially reaping more value than from a live session helmed by a mid-tier expert.

The ensuing challenge, ensuring the assimilation and application of imparted knowledge, still merits synchronous engagement. But with a twist. We could curate a blueprint for these sessions, laden with well-defined tasks, probing questions, and a roadmap for student interactions. Supplement this with exhaustive solutions and preemptive answers, and even a novice instructor can steer the session to success. This recalibration not only mitigates our dependence on high-caliber experts but also catapults our product's scalability and, importantly, accentuates the educational experience.

Still, this is but a glimpse into the myriad adjustments essential to uphold the sanctity of synchronous education.

Interviewer: Indeed, the details you've shared are eye-opening. Can you shed light on any other intricacies associated with synchronous education?

Ilnar Shafigullin: Certainly. When you cast your gaze upon the titans of the industry—entities that don't confine themselves to niche domains but endeavor to enlighten students across an expansive spectrum of disciplines—a glaring challenge presents itself: maintaining the gold standard of educational content and orchestrating the formation of cohorts. Given our commitment to synchronous learning, operational overheads associated with conducting classes are significant. Consequently, the initiation of any teaching cohort mandates a specific student count to ensure financial viability.

Both these challenges find their solution in a radical reshaping of learning trajectories. I've pioneered a tree-structured learning framework within our entity. This strategy emphasizes front-loading the foundational components of the learning journey—those segments that demand infrequent updates. The more volatile, frequently updated segments are positioned towards the trajectory's culmination. This stratagem enabled us to unify certain segments of diverse learning pathways. All students embark on a unified journey for the initial two months. Subsequently, a career alignment phase bifurcates them into specialized paths, and another seven months down the line, they diverge based on their chosen tech stacks. This approach not only optimized our unit economics in an unprecedented manner but also guaranteed that our student cohorts reached a critical mass, facilitating bi-monthly commencement of courses.

In essence, we've managed to retain the essence of synchronous learning, scale it to accommodate tens of thousands, and sculpt an unparalleled economic model for our segment. This has been vividly demonstrated through the Developer program, a project I've passionately been building for the past 2 years, where all these methodologies and principles have not only been implemented but have also proven their efficacy and impact in real-world educational contexts.

Interviewer: That's truly commendable! Casting your gaze forward, how do you envision the trajectory of education and the EdTech landscape, especially with the dawn of transformative technologies like generative networks?

Ilnar Shafigullin: Generative networks are potent catalysts poised to supercharge the educational realm. Traditional education invariably grapples with the constraints of human bandwidth— the responsiveness of an expert, the turnaround time for assignment evaluations, or elucidations of intricate lecture points. And let's not forget, experts come with a premium. Generative networks, in this context, can potentially revolutionize the triad of challenges I previously outlined: scalability, operational expenditure, and realizing educational outcomes.

While integrating these nascent technologies does pose certain challenges, primarily due to their novelty and the limited fraternity with access to such tech, the trajectory is clear. Generative networks are poised to make their indelible mark on the educational tapestry. Virtually every facet of the learning ecosystem stands to gain from these networks, signaling an exhilarating future.

A heartfelt thank you to Ilnar for sharing such a comprehensive and enlightening narrative about contemporary IT education. It's truly been an insightful journey into understanding the intricate, multifaceted nature of the educational process. If any of our readers are contemplating venturing into the education sector, it's crucial to recognize and appreciate its multifaceted nature. Ilnar has gracefully unfolded just a glimpse of a few parameters, illustrating an immensely varied approach towards learning and educational methodologies, and there is certainly a profound depth to explore further in this narrative.

Moreover, the emphasis on integrating AI into educational practices is not to be dismissed as mere trend-following; it's a tangible leap towards the future. The imminent years are poised to witness transformative shifts in education, significantly shaped by the introduction and integration of generative networks. It's a field ripe for exploration, experimentation, and practical application of these networks. Thus, delve, explore, and experiment with generative networks as they undeniably play a pivotal role in scripting the future trajectory of education. Your journey into understanding and perhaps shaping the future of education starts with recognizing these emerging, transformative trends.