In The Newrow: Episode #3  – Acadomia’s Maxime Coleon on Online Tutoring

In The Newrow: Episode #3 – Acadomia’s Maxime Coleon on Online Tutoring

The Interview: Acadomia's Head of Innovation, Maxime Coleon, Discusses Online Tutoring

Danny: So today In The Newrow, we’re talking about the world of online tutoring with the Head of Innovation, Maxime Coleon, from Acadomia. Acadomia is France’s largest private tutoring company. Maxime, thank you so much for joining us today.

Maxime: Thank You Danny and Sam for having me here. I’m happy to be here.

Danny:  Before we dig in, I’d like to share this video about Acadomia. For those of you that don’t know, Acadomia is a household name in France. So everybody take a look.

Nice. Maxime, what’s the appeal of online tutoring versus your brick and mortar style. You guys have done so well within this physical tutoring space, so what are the considerations of taking it online now?

Maxime: So indeed the video that you just saw was actually my first project when I came to Acadomia 3 years ago and indeed there’s a big difference in trying to innovate the big physical space in the physical world and the digital world. There’s definitely different needs and different demands. That’s for sure.

When we’re trying to deliver master, like the best services, for class services in tutoring in physical spaces it’s about establishing the spaces as a safe space for the students to learn and to improve the way they really need and want to learn at their own speed. So for that we provide a co-learning space which is the third space where they can be away from the pressure from the school and the pressure at home. They can go to this co-working space which is less formal than middle school and high school – this is kind of students that we’re addressing in Acadomia.

By trying to transfer the last 20 years of experience in the physical world into the digital world there were 2 years of research in that process. We definitely learned a lot. For example – if we just take the group tutoring model that we do in our centers into an online version it will definitely make it an experience mediocre experience. You definitely have a lot of advantages in the offline setting that provides that human contact with other students that helps learning.

However, if we go to learning via online services there’s a lot of advantages and we need to go toward those settings that going online can provide. We have to be fully going to that direction.

That could be for example the idea that now we can have a group of students that share the same ambitions, the same needs, the same lessons that they need to learn, to understand, before an exam that is coming in two days. So we’re able to combine every student from the entire country and you’re gathering them and putting them together into a very small classroom to deliver them a very structured class. For that we decided that online is the only way to do it.

Online also provides all the data that we need to improve our courses, improve our tutoring services, improving the performance of professors. Only the data of an online platform can actually provide that and this is actually radically transforming our services.

The third point is also to make it cost-effective because we don’t have a space or facility to invest in. Therefore we can invest that with the data analysis and pedagogy scripting, kind of lesson plan, that we’re building for this platform and integrating in this platform.

Sam: Really interesting. So I’m gathering then from what you’re saying that obviously we know that on the skin of things online, physical, quite different experiences. You mentioned that you’re getting new kinds of data points in order to optimize your delivery, when you’re approaching this, do you look at this move to online or offering online as going hand in hand with your physical space tutoring or are you looking at this as being a kind of separate arm of Acadomia. Maybe, you can talk about your approach on that front as well.

Maxime: So we’re thinking of developing not just another arm, but another whole brand. In other words that means that Acadomia is known for being an offline tutoring service and we’re now developing a whole new concept which is an entirely online tutoring service. By doing that we are launching in September a whole new brand, a new platform which is actually including your platform.

The interesting approach of that is that we’re now delivering the entire student experience online even through choosing the course that they need can be online. Where in the offline they have to meet our counselors, they have to get a meeting with them and discuss with them and find the right setting for them. In the online setting we will be able to actually let the students choose what they want to study and we’ll be able to deliver them any course they want online.

In creating this whole new brand, our intention is democratizing education and tutoring toward a larger group of people than we’re actually able to do in the offline setting. We’re hoping now that with this new brand we’ll be able to actually disrupt the market because we’ll be able to make it so cost-effective that even the teachers in the black market will have to revisit their own pricing because we’ll be able to make it so affordable. We’ll be able to meet the same level of quality with the cheapest price you can have in the market. Therefore there’s a disruptive model here to look after.

Danny: So Maxime you’re talking a lot about the positives, you know the cost saves, people not having to travel, people in the periphery are able to take classes and you know they’re not limited by their location, but what are your some of your concerns when it comes to potential cons whether that be technological limitations or most importantly lack of engagement. Is that a concern that there’ll be less engagement in the online space?

Maxime:  The first thing, when it comes to the technical issues that we can have, I think we can have as much technical issues in the physical world that we can have online. Meaning that the students can have transportation issues, this may be a strike, we’re in France we have a lot of strikes, and therefore they cannot get to class dependably. Or for example they broke their legs they cannot go to class. There’s definitely a lot of other constraints that you can have in the physical world. The technical world has its own limitations, but I think it’s minimal to the concern that we can have compared to the physical world.

However when it comes to the cons about the lack of engagement that people tend to believe with the live version online, I think it’s a complete myth because we’re able now to provide a learning experience that’s actually a lot more engaging online than actually the physical world. We actually have the proof through several collaborations with some universities. We’ve been studying together, we’ve been trying to leverage the learning pyramid around active learning. By using those techniques of engagement we realize that the attention of the engagement of our students actually raised close to 75% where in the physical world we can actually get to 30% and if the students that are at the very back row of the classroom, they can go towards 5%. So, we’re very satisfied with those because we now have the proof because we’re able to trace that with the data.

By using that data and checking every single quiz that has been answered, it was actually a checkpoint to see if he understood at the end of the class. Having them engage with each other in the breakout is actually helping them to consolidate their learning with each other. That is a key element for the principles of active learning to be able to exchange with other students.

That is actually a way to consolidate that and obviously the fact that it’s live with professors and their own peers actually uses constant feedback with one another that helps to improve and learn faster than they would do if it would be just online courses. When I’m saying online courses I meant like something that has been streamed beforehand and then has a delivery with some quizzes. That’s a different model. It’s a different way of approaching it, but the model that we actually believe in and that we actually are able to prove now that we can be very engaged and somehow even more engaged in the physical world.

Sam: Now I think that’s really interesting. I know that when I’m also thinking about engagement, the learning experience in the online learning world, MOOCs massive open online courses delivered in an on-demand format which is obviously super useful and super interesting for certain venues and certain types of students, but there’s that kind of idea that the online space can be a little bit lonely and isolating for the students.

One of the things I’m hearing from you and seeing in the video is there’s not only student to tutor engagement but there’s that strong peer to peer engagement where they’re kind of in groups of learners. Even more interesting where you’re taking this is like today in the physical setting, I think you mentioned before that you have a center and you have about a 30 kilometer radius of support. But here you’re basically saying, I have a tutor, I have the whole country, I have the whole world even if I want to bring in different students, cohorts of learners instead of based on locality but based on where they are and what they need to study. Maybe you could talk a little bit about what’s that dynamic like or how you are envisioning that dynamic of student to student engagement as well as student to teacher engagement. 

Maxime: Absolutely. So the first thing is to believe is it’s actually set to the principles of peer-to-peer learning. We need to fit so when we started to develop the algorithm that was able to track the needs of our students in a weekly basis to know what they need to learn how advanced he is in that chapter. For example where he’s located sometimes it’s a very useful data to knows because we can put him with the students that can be nearby. There’s a lot of key elements that helps us to gather the students and the more students we have the higher quality the group will be. Therefore the quality of the group actually helped the students to learn a lot more. It fostered the learning process.

 That group dynamics is now the 21st century model that we definitely believe it’s not anymore one professor it’s actually student centric. By doing student centric it’s having a professor helping you. It’s having several student helping you. It’s having the content to help you out. The online or offline setting is there to support the students. It’s now that we’re living in a student centric world that we therefore need to find the right way to foster that community to help the students. By using this peer-to-peer and this active learning model, we believe that there’s actually a way to make the learning process so much more effective and so much quicker. We’ll be able to actually deliver courses that can be somehow even more efficient than we can have at school in general.

When it comes to the approach that you said about the group, we have to think about the fact that students meeting with other students that never met before can be difficult. They’re all very shy and they all are very scared and they don’t know how they interact. However this is actually a key skill that they need to develop anyway. To have the soft skills to be able to know how to collaborate, how to speak in front of other people, how to work with people you don’t know, how to communicate clearly your points. All of these elements are known as soft skills and they’re actually the skills that are the most required in the market today. So having them in a group and having them collaborate together, even if it’s out of their comfort zone, we’re actually helping them to prepare for their future.

Sam: Yeah it’s not just the topic it’s that they’re learning interpersonal skills that’s going to enable them to go into the real world and have real discussions. It’s a lot of, not to criticize younger generations, but very phone oriented, very online oriented, very sociable but online. In a way that’s a little bit distance that puts a little bit of an abstraction layer, editing layer so that you post something and you can edit how you want to present yourself. When you’re having a conversation like this you don’t get that layer of filtering that you can put over it it’s just that you’re gonna have to navigate that space. Being in a discussion like that is really powerful.

Danny: Yeah it creates the real experience but online.

Maxime: Absolutely and having the real experience online, actually we can make it even augmented. We can actually augment the reality and by doing that we can actually use features to express more clearly his interests. For example you can actually at some point will be able to express your emotion via emoticons. You can just show a wink that shows that you’re not exactly sure or you don’t understand and that would be a key element for the professor to understand that it’s not clear enough. Or you can have ways to ask your question in different ways. You can actually speak with your peer, you can chat, you can raise your hand. There’s plenty of ways to participate. As long as it’s participatory then they are active in the learning process and therefore they’re correctly posturing. The right posture to learn.

 If we’re giving them into a classroom and at the end of the class and you’re just sitting in the back they won’t be able to have the same quality.

Sam: Yeah there’s a different accountability even when the camera is on you, right? There’s no one that’s getting to put their head down in the back. 

Danny: Nowhere to hide. 

Sam: Yeah that’s it.

Maxime: There’s nowhere to hide. They’re all on the front line and this is actually pressuring them a little bit, even more when they are appearing as the main screen on the top. That’s actually a way for them to show that somehow they have to be able to speak in front of everyone. Therefore I believe that the students, I mean, if you give them a tool like this one and you give them the possibility – navigates, human interaction – they feel at the same time safe in their own space and at the same time you feel that they are ready to navigate with other people in this virtual space where they’re very used to. I think they’re it’s already integrated in their DNA, in their culture. I’m saying they but I’m part of it, too. I think we are all included now at some point in generation Z. The first native generation with the technology.

Sam: Just to pivot a little bit because you said something that really resonated with us. I know that we

are pushing this on our own efforts as well which  is the use of data to improve teaching. This is what I thought was a really fascinating point.

With the physical space there’s information that you can derive and there’s data that you can have and you can do certain things. But in the online space it takes a lot of the onus of data collection away from the instructor so that they can focus on giving their attention to the students.

You as an organization, as Acadomia, can take that data and not only use these for assessment purposes or participation but to have active insights to improve not only from a Content perspective, maybe we need to improve certain content that we put together, since Acadomia is obviously creating a lot of amazing content. From an instructor perspective, to improve their delivery. Also from an active student perspective were they’re matched up in the process. Maybe you can better align them, maybe this group of students will work better together for more fruitful outcomes and you’re getting all that data and using that. So I’m really interested here, to know the direction at how your approaching data and what Acadomia’s hopes and dreams are around that.

Maxime: When it comes to professors first of all I’m already working with many professors that want to be part of this experience. They want to be taught a little bit with that active learning. They want to be taught how to facilitate a qualitative teaching performance online. They want to figure out how to do that.

So all the people I’ve been in touch with, they’re all open and are all eager to learn more about what they can do. That’s what they want and what they most need. Feedback, but what the problem is, is  they don’t want the student feedback. It’s too subjective. They want objective feedback. That’s what we can provide. They want to know that they can have a safe way to receive this data and understand that they’re not doing it right.

Being a teacher is a very difficult job. It’s a very difficult job because you have to be in a constant engagement with every single student and make sure that each of them are getting to the point. It’s not an easy process. It’s especially not easy for them to find all the confidence that they can to be able to deliver their course in the right way. They need to have a safe way to get the data and understand where they can improve. This is where I believe is incredible for that. Not only from the teaching perspective but also as an institutional perspective such as Acadomia.

We’ll be able to guarantee the quality to our families. We’ll be able to track right away if a professor is not doing enough. We’ll be able to give them extra support with some training to help them to do their job even better. This is why I think data is actually the future. Having the ability to track every single thing we do in the classroom and all the potential new features that we’ll be able to have to track. I believe that this is a major transformation of Education is through data.

Sam: It’s not just the collection of all these disparate data points, but it’s actually the aggregation of them and displaying them and providing them in a way that’s actionable, to improve those results. There’s a bunch of data that people can collect, but it’s what you do with it and how you use and how it’s delivered so that’s going to be really exciting to see that develop and come over time. It’s really exciting to hear that you have a pool of hungry to learn instructors that are really looking for that objective feedback as opposed to… subjective feedback has its place and it’s obviously quite important,  but having that objective feedback, it gives confidence to the instructor to be able to operate under those conditions.

Danny: Thank you so much for joining us. It sounds like it’s an incredible endeavor. We definitely know you’ll do well and we look forward to speaking with you again very soon and thank you very much to all of you for joining us today 

Maxime: Have a good day.

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Sam Thompson

Sam Thompson is VP of Product for Newrow, a company dedicated to helping corporations and educational institutions distribute their knowledge easily, elegantly and personally through virtual classrooms, webinars, and online courses. With more than 10 years of experience in B2B and educational technology start-ups, Sam is responsible for defining and executing Newrow’s product vision, business development and sales enablement, and product marketing.

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