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How To Train Your Platform

In my last post I told the story of how the concept of FuseSchool came into being – how it evolved from a chance encounter in India, to an educational initiative to the realisation that the way forward was to sidestep all of the conventional channels and revolutionise the delivery of learning.

The why was clear enough; but there were some big questions to answer. I invited industry veterans such as Charles Jennings come on board to hone these and the number of questions grew from five or six to around fifty or sixty. We knew that we'd need answers to these to solve our magnificent challenge.

We realised that there were common threads amongst those questions, and that we could distil the important challenges of this first phase into four specific areas: Engagement, Time to Quality, Distribution, and Funding.

A very strong engagement

It was clear from the outset that we had to bulldoze the established model of working through governments and schools, and design something that the children could directly access – and let the learning revolution begin ground up rather than top down. We had to come up with something that they’d want to use – it had to be their choice.

One of the big challenges was content. The only production model for digital learning content that I knew was the building out of corporate “SCORM” courses which I knew couldn’t be considered: I had created hundreds of these courses, won various awards – and yet never actually managed to get through one myself. I also knew that I had limited funds and to create the maths and sciences subjects for the whole secondary school system – which is where we decided to start – would cost tens of millions and take a lifetime to do if I only used what I already knew.

The traditional production techniques would often take the form of a ‘Hollywood production’, with interviews, storyboards, alpha and beta releases, and the end result was generally pretty uninspiring. It would be built in a way that couldn’t easily be searched and retrieved, and generally mobile-unfriendly – this was a significant issue as we had predicted that with the prohibitive cost of PC hardware, the majority of our content would be delivered and consumed via mobile devices.

Less time, better quality

What would work would be to take a topic and breaking it down into its core concepts. To get to GCSE grade, Chemistry could be broken down into 240 concepts for example, and maths could be broken down into 140. The goal was to create a video for each one: concepts such as atoms or the immune system would each relate to one individual bitesize video, which could be used as building blocks for each national curriculum.

This would give us a lot of flexibility: the flexibility to match the content to the nuances of each local examination board in a structured flow and more importantly, each concept could be searched within its own right when a child needed a refresher.

And this would be the point where we’d engage the experts: find the best person in the world to explain each concept, capture them digitally, and use the raw footage as the basis for post-production and make each one the most irresistible and concise explanation possible.

Following on from that, we would get one designer to animate it, to ensure that the style and feel was consistent across the board. We predicted we could cut production time and costs by ten times and create content that was ten times more engaging. Having a startup 10x mentality was a great lesson that we continue to use.

The result would be high-quality content that could be created quickly and digested just as quickly, on the fly, wherever and whenever the learner wanted it.

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The right tech for distribution

What we would be doing would be breaking the entire British secondary school curriculum down into engaging, high-quality bite-size topics… and making them available to anyone, anywhere, for free. The dream is that we would build content that was as useful to a private school educated child in the UK as it was to a child in a developing country. I knew from my research – my travels across Africa and to more than twenty schools – that the British Curriculum was held in high regard and was a good starting point.

It had become apparent seven years previously that mobile technology was going to be the key to effective distribution. It was – and still is – evolving at an exponential rate, with the proliferation of technological advances driving prices down and availability up.

We knew what we wanted it to look like. We wanted something that would offer the best aspects of a number of platforms. The messaging and group chat options of WhatsApp. The networking of LinkedIn. The on-demand video of YouTube.

But that ‘it’ didn’t exist. So we created it ourselves – a platform that combined all of the features that we wanted: FuseSchool. Offering the ‘let-me-search-for-that’ immediacy of YouTube, FuseSchool was also designed to allow the creation of a bigger, end-to-end experience, and all for free.

Raising the stakes

I’d made my own projections of where tech was going, and they were in line that with the consensus that eventually – in other words, today – it would only cost about $25 to build a device capable of delivering what we wanted to create.  And this has become the case, even in developing countries – in fact in some instances, more people have access to mobile devices than sanitation.

We’ve reached the stage where it’s actually cheaper to take a year’s curriculum, digitise it, and put it onto a mobile phone than it is to buy one year’s textbooks. Cheap doesn’t mean free though, and even with the other challenges solved, the question of funding was still one that needed to be addressed. 

But the approach and ethos of FuseSchool provided the solution to the funding side by its very existence. We asked ourselves: could this approach be applied to corporate learning? Would it make a difference? It became quickly apparent that the answers were yes and huge.

It was apparent that we weren’t the only ones who were frustrated with the current status quo of L&D. Companies such as Vodafone, Spotify and Adidas had also realised that the accepted approach wasn’t working for them, and recognised that the approach and ethos offered by the Fuse platform would allow them to bring their L&D to the next level.

The profits from this expansion into the corporate world are now fully funding FuseSchool, with a dedicated (and expanding) team of six people working full-time on it. But that isn’t the only positive feedback cycle built into Fuse.

The feedback cycle

Educators often say that some of their most satisfying experiences come from the ‘lightbulb moments’ when a student or an entire class suddenly get a concept.

That’s a difficult thing to convey over a digital delivery platform, but that’s not to say that it’s a one-way street: often, we teach best what we most need to learn. The concept of learning by teaching has been around as long as teaching has existed and became globally popular in the 19th century in the form of the Lancasterian System.

This is vitally true of FuseSchool and Fuse itself. Continuous learning is a core concept of the Fuse community as a whole. The growth and evolution of the platform has been and continues to be inherently organic. Aside from the in-house development, innovation comes from our customers and Fuse employees, who actively feed back into the platform with suggestions and opinions.

And more important is the feedback from the children who are using FuseSchool: “Awesome. All teachers should teach this method. Hats off!” and more tellingly, “I would have failed my GCSEs without you!” The teachers agree: “Where were these teachers when I was younger?”

We might not get to witness the lightbulb moments. But the lights stay on, and the glow is there for all to see. And it’s getting brighter every day.

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Steve Dineen
Apr 23 2019

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