Q&A With Vinod Lobo, Co-founder of Learning Upgrade
EdTech Times was honored to speak with Vinod Lobo, co-founder of Learning Upgrade, a company that provides supplementary math and reading lessons online, specifically targeted at special needs, at-risk, and English learner students, enabling them to catch up with their peers.
Company at Glance:
Founders: Vinod Lobo, Shyla Lobo
Product stage: Market
Company twitter: @LearningUpgrade
Company blog: http://blog.learningupgrade.com/category/news/
ETT: What is the market segment your company is in?
VL: Learning Upgrade provides supplementary math and reading online lessons for at-risk, special needs, and English learner students to catch up and keep up with a standards-based curriculum. The specific segment is high-interest intervention curriculum featuring songs, video, and games.
ETT: Who are your core customers?
VL: K-12 schools are our core customers. Every K-12 school has students who are below proficiency in either math or reading, and we provide a solution for schools to help these students.
ETT: How did you come across the problem you’re addressing and how did you define it – what was your process in identifying it?
VL: Learning Upgrade was founded as a solution for struggling early readers who did not respond to traditional instruction, based on the school teaching experience of teacher and co-founder Shyla Lobo. We identified a problem facing schools and parents: how to help students who were still struggling to read after several years of reading instruction in school.
ETT: And how did you develop a solution to this particular problem and what was your process of arriving at it?
VL: Learning Upgrade’s solution for the struggling students was based on several simple ideas combined into something that is still unique in the K-12 market:
1) The students in schools today live in a world of high-interest new media – pop music, television, and video games. If we could teach reading and math fundamentals in the same new media format they were comfortable with at home, we could unlock new pathways to proficiency.
2) Students learn easily and comfortably through short music videos. This format allows rapid learning that stays with the student long after traditional textbook or chalkboard learning is forgotten.
3) Students need systematic, explicit instruction with immediate practice problems and remediation as well as accountability and progress tracking to rapidly make progress through a difficult curriculum.
ETT: What it is that you’re doing differently than your competitors? And do you expect to develop other differentiators in the future?
VL: Learning Upgrade’s online courses each feature sets of lessons that together teach a full year covering all the standards (including Common Core) for that year. Each lesson is high-interest featuring songs, video, and games to engage students and motivate them to make breakthroughs.
We are now developing new lessons that address the new standards and test formats of the Common Core curriculum. The combination of new standards that are more rigorous with testing that is computer based requires a new type of interactive multi-step lesson of the future.
We are also experimenting with new formats of song-videos and games that can help at-risk students master this difficult new curriculum. For example, in teaching “Volume of a Right Rectangular Prism” (grade 5), we have included new 3-D graphics and lyrics in our song-videos to teach visualization with unit cubes, and new game problems, which are multi-step drag-and-drop games to teach the volume concept as well as computation of volume measures.
ETT: Please describe your product development strategy and product stage. What we should expect to see from your company in the next 12 months – i.e. describe your potential next milestones?
VL: Over the next 12 months, we will complete the Math Upgrade series that covers EVERY Common Core standard from K to 8 (estimated end of 2014), and will continue development of our English Upgrade series that will cover standards from K to 5 (now covers Grades 1 and 2).
ETT: Are you a disruptor, and why so? Do you believe you will remain as a disruptor in near foreseeable future or become a more mature company? Why is that so?
VL: Learning Upgrade has been a disruptor in that our programs have been able to deliver intervention to at-risk students that is effective at “moving the needle” yet is much less expensive and much simpler to implement than alternatives, both traditional (tutoring, small group instruction) and computer based.
Now, we are giving away 100,000 FREE student licenses to schools across the U.S., in an effort to further disrupt our market by allowing schools to enroll their most at-risk students at no cost. We plan to continue this strategy into the future, as our goal is to help as many children as possible reach proficiency in math and reading.
ETT: Could you tell us about other startups or product builds that you have been a part of and what your role was?
I founded Conexus in 2001 to develop CD-ROM musical learning programs. Conexus eventually became Learning Upgrade. So, I have been working on Education/New Media startups since I was just out of college.
ETT: Did you or do you currently have a mentor who is/has been helping you through the startup stages of the company – who is that mentor?
VL: I do not have one specific mentor, but have been collaborating with people in similar startup companies in education industry. One example is Richard Capone, co-founder of Let’s Go Learn, with whom I often bounce of ideas. We are in similar companies and often can help each other think through new ideas.
ETT: Where is education technology market going in the next few years?
VL: I believe we are moving beyond the old days of big publishers, large computer companies, and district IT departments deploying complex and expensive solutions. The new world of learning will be led by many innovative small companies with products that work together, are cloud-based, simple and inexpensive to deploy, and use standard devices that are increasingly owned by each student like calculators are today.
ETT: What advice, if any, do you have for someone thinking about launching a company in the education technology market?
VL: Stay focused on the first-responders of our business: the teachers, parents, students, and principals. This is where learning happens, and these are the people that get the job done. If you can help these hard-working people do their jobs more effectively (and that includes the students themselves!), you will find success.
EdTech Times extends its gratitude to Mr. Vinod Lobo for speaking with us, and we suggest you check out Learning Upgrade at:
Yevgeny Ioffe, or as people call him, Yev, has been working in both the startup world and established companies. His career spans from joining Xplana Learning as it launched to Cengage Learning to MBS Direct when it acquired Xplana in 2009. Yevgeny brings to EdTech Times his passion for start-ups and technology, along with his interest in the ever evolving world of edtech. Yevgeny obtained his BSc and MA from Brandeis University and MBA from Boston College.