Namaste, Hello, Hola, Ciao, Hej… Have you ever seen those 1950’s french movies and experienced a unique desire to learn french in order to recite those lines? Well, it’s happened to me too, but I’ve found that it is 2 am, I’m in the countryside and there’s no sight of a french academy or anyone that speaks french for miles. This is no longer a problem! I can sign up for a language learning platform and learn the exact pronunciation of the words and some other useful tips.
Language Learning EdTech companies focus on teaching languages through platforms that can be accessed across devices regardless of your fluency level or where you are. We will be focusing on VIPKid (China), Duolingo (United States), iTutorGroup (China). VIPKid and ITutorGroup target solely the Chinese market and focus on teaching English with personalized live tutoring sessions. Duolingo is a gamification-based platform that teaches 38 languages in an asynchronous way, learning through a game-based approach for all levels. Duolingo reported 42 million users while VIPKid reported 500,000 end-users accompanied by 65,000 native English speaker tutors. This is an impressive number considering that the 3 companies were founded around 2012-2013.
Why are they needed – What is the pain point they are trying to solve?
Language learning, regardless of the language, requires a theoretical understanding and a large reproducible/imitation aspect in the hearing and speaking part. For many years, the knowledge of language learning was held by native speakers that could only teach through in-person sessions. The hearing and speaking aspects of learning a language made it almost impossible for someone to be fluent in a language from just reading texts and learning grammar, making “learn languages in native speaking countries” programs extremely popular. However, with globalization, the need to learn new languages, specifically English, was even more imperative to connect with the world, and not everyone had the time or the resources to attend in-person classes with a foreign teacher or go to another country to learn effectively. These companies came through like a band-aid to a 7-year old’s kid knee to tackle this pain point of learning new languages with verified tutors in a self-paced and time-flexible way.
The language learning EdTech unicorns have brought the learning experience to another level, bringing a native speaker to the comfort of your home at a time that suits your needs, accompanying this with a gamification element that makes learning dynamic, competitive, and through games.
The language learning EdTech unicorns have brought the learning experience to another level, bringing a native speaker to the comfort of your home at a time that suits your needs, accompanying this with a gamification element that makes learning dynamic, competitive, and through games. Learning languages is not about repetitive grammar exercises and memorization anymore, it is done through entertaining games.
These easy to use platforms that are based on gamification and dynamic learning have a lesson to teach to all of us, I’ve taken the class so you don’t have to, and this is what they have taught me:
- Simple interfaces with dynamic and attractive designs win clients.
- Immediate, 24-hour availability is key. End-users choose these companies to have language learning solutions that accommodate their timing needs, and these companies ensure 24-hour 7-day week availability. As some might say, impatience is just another business opportunity.
- Gamification is the main element to making language teaching playful and fun, motivating students to engage with the platform
- Gimme´ personalized learning experiences or gimme´ nothing. Effective and successful language learning through online platforms is based on personalized learning experiences. For VIPKid and ITutor Group is all about using AI/Algorithms to match the right tutor to the student, whereas for Duolingo this adaptive learning is focused on creating games/exercise and learning paths based on the end-users’ preferences
- Artificial Intelligence everywhere. AI and adaptive learning are best friends, and these companies know this, there’s a heavy investment in this through AI-generated exercises AI-generated learning materials, and learning paths.
What can we learn from those unicorns and their success?
Digital education is all about accommodating the end-user’s needs, be that content, learning preferences, or time-wise. Successful software identifies the end-user’s needs, finds the best way to solve them, and keeps repeating this loop throughout their learning process. These companies have been successful due to their heavy use of adaptive learning and evolving to be a one-stop solution for language learning, where all the processes from A1 to C2¹ can be developed and monitored, and they do not need to go anywhere else for practice exercises and learning materials. VIPKid and ITutorgroup have given us a lesson in terms of becoming specialists in a sector and exploiting ways to totally capture this market, by growing to unicorns only focusing in one market and one segment: chinese students trying to learn English.
Language learning, along with subjects such as Medicine, are subjects that require a lot of practice. EdTech is figuring out ways on how to eliminate learning barriers and improve traditional in-person learning. EdTech is growing faster to adapt to the global’s growing market needs in terms of learning languages. Successful strategies are solving the global market’s needs in a way that adapts to the user.
So if you want to learn how to say “I need a beer” in Vietnamese for your next trip to Ho-Chi-Minh or you want to revise phrasal adverbs, go ahead and check these softwares out, even if it’s 2 am. However, EdTech is only about learning, before learning you need to choose where you are going to learn, or simply review the opportunities that are available. In the next part of this blog series, we will be talking about those EdTech Unicorns that work like Tinder for the educational opportunities open to you.
¹The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEF or CEFR) was put together by the Council of Europe as a way of standardising the levels of language exams in different regions. It is very widely used internationally and all important exams are mapped to the CEFR.