Edtech Insiders

Week in Edtech 11/8/22 with Guests Mohammed Almadani (CEO, Classera) and the Stanford Digital Education Team

November 08, 2022 Alex Sarlin Season 3 Episode 30
Edtech Insiders
Week in Edtech 11/8/22 with Guests Mohammed Almadani (CEO, Classera) and the Stanford Digital Education Team
Show Notes Transcript

On this Week In Edtech, we talk to:

  • Mohammed Almadani, CEO of Classera, a gamified and personalized LMS for emerging markets that raised $40M this week
  • Matthew Rascoff, Vice Provost for Digital Education at Stanford University, and the Stanford Digital Education Team about their Pandemic-Era Online Learning Strategy report

We also cover:

Election Season in the US

Cohort-Based Courses and Course Creators

International Edtech


Welcome to Season Two of edtech insiders, where we talk to the most interesting thought leaders, founders, entrepreneurs, educators and investors driving the future of education technology. I'm your host, Alex Sarlin, an edtech veteran with over 10 years of experience at top tech companies. Welcome to Ed Tech insiders week in ed tech. We have a super sized episode for you today, including a interview with Mohammed Al Madani, the CEO of class, Sarah, which just raised $40 million to bring a tech to emerging markets and an interview with the Stanford team that just put together their report about how Stanford did pandemic, online learning. We also do education around the world, education and politics, and more Welcome to This Week in edtech. From ed tech insiders. Hi, everyone. And welcome back to the weekend ed tech. I'm your host, Ben Cornell, with my co hosts, Alex Sarlin. So excited to have you here it is November, we are in the midst of fall, the leaves are falling and all kinds of stuff happening in that tech landscape. This is really the low of back to school, the wall of like product launches at the beginning of you know, school years and higher ed and college but even also in the works cycle. We're now starting to get some major splashes. So exciting stuff in ad tech excited for the show today. Before we go there, though, what else is happening in the ad tech insiders universe this week? Alex? Yeah, we had a terrific interview with Sean Young, who's the CEO of class craft, which is a super gamified classroom application. He's also runs ed tech, sort of Montreal group. And it was really interesting thoughts about you know how ad tech is evolving in Canada. And then we have a couple of debates coming up in the next couple of weeks, which is really fun about what one is about a job based learning versus sort of classical learning. And then there's an interesting discussion about patents and IP and ad tech. So all around the globe with the deputy general counsel of amplify, it's a cool time to be discussing ad tech issues. And I hope that everybody has a chance to check those out. Yeah, so we've often talked about the Ed Tech winter, and the kind of challenges of the Ed Tech funding environment. There's another part of education in ed tech that's really heating up. And that's the politics. And we want to give you a little bit of the news and our take, but also connected directly to what it means for ed tech entrepreneurs and so on. So the election in the US is coming up on Tuesday, November 8. So if you're listening to this, it's probably right around the corner, if not just having passed, if you are listening to this, and you haven't voted vote, of course. And we're seeing a lot of politics playing out in education, specifically in school board races. At the local school board level, a group called Liberty moms has created a national network of conservative minded candidates for school board. And they are running with the backing of large national donors. There was a great article in Mother Jones about this in early August EdWeek is also just ran this week, an article around national advocates getting involved in school board elections. And there's a couple key issues. One is framed as like liberalisation of kids, which we talked a little bit about, in our last episode when 538 Publish idea, you know, survey data that showed many conservatives feel like higher ed is indoctrinating children or learners into liberal ideology. This is really about elementary, middle and high schools doing the same thing. The second is really around race and critical race theory. And should there be conversations around white supremacy and racism and that history in schools and then there's also a number of issues around gender and gender identity and COVID policies still, and that this has mobilized the right in terms of getting active in school boards. I think it's a fearful time for a lot of school superintendents who are really trying to navigate this unique political moment. And in the article that EdWeek It also suggests that this is viewed as a potential grooming place for political leaders of the future, as well as a Get Out the Vote mechanism for Republicans. So it is going to be a tough time to see how this is all playing out. Well, you basically had school boards with lowercase p politics that are now getting into uppercase P politics and I full disclosure, I'm running for school board too. So you know, a little bit less contentious where I live but still We have some of these national themes playing out here locally. I guess the question for our audience, Alex is, what does this mean for edtech? Companies in the EdTech space in general? And how do we continue to navigate the increasingly politicized landscape of education? Yeah. So, first, a couple of really quick comments about how I think we sort of got here where school is continuing to be this incredible frontline of culture wars in the United States. And I know, you know, our listeners from around the world may not be as steeped in, in the US politics. But, you know, my take is that this really started in I mean, there have been a number of issues over the years where there have been parent push backs, or sort of concern about what's happening in schools for various reasons. But I think this most recent wave, and this enormous wave of sort of anger at the education system, and sort of almost like labeling the entire education system as a political play as an indoctrination, you know, mechanism really stems from the pandemic, I really think it basically, you know, it became the frontline of the culture war, at the moment when certain states shut down all schools, other states did mask mandates, some states or municipalities decided they didn't want to do that. And they wanted to keep things open. And I think it just created this realization among political leaders of all stripes that schools are a really good example of a an issue that people are incredibly passionate about. It's incredibly personal. And it's local. And the Republican Party in the US has been working on a strategy for many years about sort of building up from the local level, as a way to counterbalance the sort of national media lead strategies that the Democrats have tended to lean on where you have a lot of candidates coming out of the sort of media environment. And I think you're you just have this very crazy moment. And to your real question, Ben about how this affects ed tech. I mean, I think it can't be ignored anymore, that schools are now at the absolute frontlines of sort of political grandstanding. So people are going to be looking actively looking for curriculum that, you know, is controversial in any way, they're going to be cherry picking anything out of any content, or curriculum or system that is being sold to schools to say, this is an example of liberal indoctrination, or this is an example of, you know, woke politics. And I think it's a scary place for ad tech content companies, especially to be because they're going to be forced to either sort of look at their own curriculum through the lens of what is there anything in here that could be accused of political bias and deciding do we expunge it for the sake of, you know, keeping our districts happy and avoiding getting in the news? Or do we keep it in for, you know, because we've vetted it. And because we think it's the right thing to teach or that it's ethically efficacious, it's going to be a really a series of really tricky decisions for content companies. And then I think for places like even security companies, infrastructure companies, others who sort of work closely in the schools, and the K 12 schools in the US, they're just going to have to be really thoughtful about knowing that, you know, any false step is going to unleash this enormous backlash, because there are people looking to make their political careers, as you say, bent on shouting at school boards or coming out and saying, you know, I was the one who shut down this indoctrination plan coming from this company in California or this company. And in New York, it's a little bit of a scary time to be an ed tech. And I think how hopefully will play out over time is that the political world may should move on from schools, I'm thinking that the further and further we get from the pandemic, and from that sort of like peak, you know, pick anger at school board meetings, there will be other places in society on which to to argue, but for the next, you know, two or three years, I think edtech companies that work in the school system are going to have to face some very tough philosophical choices internally about what to do with their customers and how to avoid being sort of thrust into the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. Yeah, I agree on the near term. I actually am not sure, though, in the long term. I'm not. I'm not optimistic that this is going to go back to lowercase p politics, I think, just a little history lesson, too, for our listeners, you know, charter schools and some of the earlier movement around ed reform, which included No Child Left Behind legislation passed by George W. Bush. You know, they tended to be the one area where there were meaningful numbers of Democrats and meaningful number of Republicans that aligned and while I think charter schools were divisive from like a union Democrat versus non union Democrat standpoint, they're tend to be cross aisle appeal around all of these reform initiatives, where we've kind of gone now is a very stark political isation of the education space where your red state policies and your blue state policies need to be very different if you're going to scale effectively. And so some companies are taking a stand and saying, these are our values, we're going to play with the schools and school districts that reflect our values, and others that are kind of trying to find the way to make the least friction. So I think education leaders and ad tech leaders have to think about that, too. I would also say where you're from is far more important. Now, if you are a company that launches in a blue state, and you're going to red state, it makes you a particularly, you know, challenging target and vice versa. And I would then lastly, say, Who's on your cap table is becoming more and more important? Let's not just frame this as a Republican thing, too. I mean, I think, you know, if you look at Peter Thiel and Founders Fund, many people are not taking money from them, because of his association with the right. All in all, though, you know, I think the the clear consensus is that this is net net bad for kids. This is net net bad for like scaling, innovation and what works in in education. Because these political boundaries aren't really about the quality of education, they're not about the quality of outputs, it's really about power and control. And who gets to set the agenda, the political agenda behind these things. So we will watch, hopefully, you all get the results of the election soon. And you know, wish me luck. Moving on a little bit about cohort based courses and who teach us and one more thing to watch about politics is that affirmative action and the higher ed, you know, world is currently being debated in the Supreme Court this week. So that is a another highly politicized issue in education. And it's widely expected that the court is going to sort of rule against the affirmative action precedent that we've had since the late 70s. So just another thing coming like a meteor through the through the ed tech space, let's talk about cohort based courses. So you were in a really wild moment for the cohort based course base that listeners to this podcast and the interviews may have noticed that over the last many months, we've talked to a number of different cohort based course companies. And that, you know, a lot of people are looking to find the sort of right product market fit the right model for how to do cohort based courses, which basically means courses with a synchronous component that have some live elements, as well as some asynchronous elements. One of the pieces of news here that jumped out to me is from Maven, MAVEN is considered sort of one of the flagship companies in this space, it's one of the most visible companies because it has two very visible that are in ed tech founders. And they announced in September, that they're really pivoting from, you know, course creators, to experts to practitioners. And specifically, I think the subjects there is practitioners who actually are interested in teaching and may not be as big name as celebrity, celebrity style, folks as that space was really going after in the past. There's other things happening in the space. But Ben, I'd love to get your voice into this. What do you think is happening as the cohort based course space continues to evolve? Well, I mean, in a refreshing twist, it's about the teaching and learning, and the quality of teaching and learning. From a business standpoint, I often think that everything in edtech can be viewed through the simple prism of customer acquisition cost versus lifetime value. And the business decisions here are really around amplifying lifetime value, when I have really great learning experiences, I come back for more, and also reducing customer acquisition cost. So a celebrity might get a bunch of people in the door. But if there's no quality there, you know that celebrity can be quite an overhead to handle. And so this idea of switching from, you know, highly publicized door opening type names to in a move towards quality, I think will it kind of couples with the moment which is really around people trading off on new user growth for better LTV and retention of users. And so I think this is a broader move. It does mean that if you are a practitioner out there, your value is going up. Whereas if you're a celebrity endorser, you know, everything's been so endorsed at this point, you're not really moving the needle, so go into something else. When Maven moves I also would just say It creates follower effect. And we have this in startup universe. You know, your C and D funded companies and your public companies, when they make policy changes, it has a filter down effect to seed and series A companies. And they either have to say the logic of that bigger player is right, and we're following that logic, or we've always been following that logic, or we are the counter bet. So there's a rippling effect here, where we may see a few people go the opposite direction and double down on celebrity, and a few people go even deeper on the practitioner. And I for one, like reforge, is a great example of a company that I find is, is really bouncing that line. They have famous companies that the people are working at. But the people really leading the curriculum are practitioners who really know what they're talking about in a deep way. They're not the CEO of Twitter, Facebook, Uber, whatever the company is, they're the folks that have built the systems and operated those companies. And I think that that's what you're going to end up finding is brands with credibility, and then individuals who have instructional quality. Yeah, I think that's a great call, I want to just double click on two points in there, because I think they're really interesting. One is when you mentioned, you know, if you're a practitioner, it's sort of a rich time to think about your, your teaching prowess. And I really agree. I mean, one headline this week was about Thinkific, labs, which is one of the, you know, basically platforms where practitioners are where anyone can publish courses and sell directly to individuals or businesses, and they had a big gain recently, and they're clearly you know, hitting a stride. And we also saw news from, you know, meta, that they're launching their sort of professional mode for creators, that's not specifically course creators, although they do have some, you know, course creation thinking in the hopper, but just, they're trying to get more and more sophisticated in allowing practitioners and people who really want to sort of engage with platforms like that, to be able to do so in a really lucrative way. And I think it's, I think, a better time than maybe ever in history, where if you have deep expertise, and you actually are comfortable, or even, like teaching, there are so many good options for how to get your voice and your class out into the world. And you can do it with support from a cohort based course company, you could do it on your own with a publisher, like I think epic or a teachable, you could do it through through a social media platform, YouTube just announced that next year, they're going to offer courses on their site. So it is a really big moment. And I think we'll look back and you know, 20 years as this is the moment when, you know, everybody became a teacher. The other thing I wanted to double click on in your great analysis, Ben is this emerging model where, you know, there are people with deep practitioner experience, but who don't actually want to teach, they don't want to respond to student questions that much, or grade papers or all that. And I think we're seeing the emergence of this sort of teacher and TA model in a lot of different platforms, where you have the face of the course who does the videos, who does the frameworks who can sort of teach but then you have facilitators on the ground that are actually manning the Slack channels and answering questions and sending out reminders and grading assignments. I think that model is very rich, except that it has adds a lot of overhead costs to the delivery of any course that said, I think it's going to stick around because I think it's a combination that sort of irresistible. Yeah, Alex, I think there's so much that still is yet to be decided and how this cohort based courses and teaching evolves, but it's definitely something we've got to keep watching. Speaking of watching, it's been a while since we've done around the world with Ed Tech insiders, and so much is happening outside of the US. Let's start in India, where there are big debates about the future of edtech in India. Let's remember that by juice continues to dominate headlines for all the wrong reasons, announcing another or leaking another plan of extensive layoffs. We also see a number of companies continuing to grow and show incredible promise. And so van Zhu, which is a company that it's the world's fastest human calculator just raised $15 million. I just saw a post from Deb quaza GSV. She's spending a week in India. There's the sense that by Jews, it's a little bit of the Icarus that flew too close to the sun. Many of the other ad tech companies seem to be doing growing like gangbusters, whereas the rest of the world has slowed. Indian and tech companies seem to be real winners at this time. What's your take on Indian and tech seen the press on this? You know, we've been Following some of the Indian Ed Tech press, and there's some pretty alarming, you know, rhetoric around, you know, staring at a crisis or doesn't mention in a really an article this week that 45% of the layoffs in the Indian startup ecosystem are coming from the ad tech sector. And that by Jews is thinking about laying off 12,000 People next year out of their 50,000 organization. And, you know, I think you'll find us takes up a lot of the air in the room. But you know, they also mentioned that upgrade raised, you know, $225 million, this in the third quarter of the year, and Newton Academy, and you're constantly seeing these really interesting, we covered physics while these interesting plays and big money going into it. So, you know, you're getting these strong signals in both directions, which I think is getting the observers of the space, the spun around trying to figure out is this, you know, a crest that's going down or reach, still continuing to rise. We follow it as closely as we can from the States, but I'm sure there's tons of people. It there's also been some startups closing they mentioned, ooh, de Lita learning super learning it, a few different companies have closed, and we follow Inc 42. And some of the different ad tech press there. But it's just hard to know. I mean, if they can't figure it out, if we started like, can't figure it out. On that point, though, both can be true. Like this is what actually happens in a developing country market where you're essentially going, instead of building your telephone poles and telephone lines, you're going straight to the cell phone infrastructure, you're going to have like some quick winners and some quick losers. And also, I think we've reported in the past that Ed Tech is the second largest startup sector in India. So behind FinTech, so there is a way in which like the the kind of ups and downs of startup are almost accelerated in this market. I think the other insight that is important to note is that the people who've had the most success have been laser focused on India, they have not tried to go to new markets. And that includes going to the US, of course, but it also includes neighboring countries, in APAC. And so I think there is something to be said for Indian and tech sector as its own distinct market, and who can dominate that market. Whereas the kind of anecdotal evidence we have is that many of those companies that try to reach out to Singapore or to China or into Middle East, are really not well positioned to grow in those countries. And that's actually, you know, a bigger attack truism. In the past, it's, you know, great companies have died on the international expansion, which makes Europe such an interesting spot, because that's, that was the biggest challenge in European and tech is that they had so many freaking countries and so distributed. And yet, you know, all of the data we're seeing is now and tech is a rapidly growing, and Europe is a rapidly growing sector for edtech. As you look around the world, what other places are catching your attention class era, which is a Middle Eastern, North Africa, sort of centered ad tech company raised $40 million this week, which is, you know, significant round and is looking to expand a lot there. We've also seen a lot of movement of the company, ob wahb, which I believe is out of Jordan. And so there's some, which is like, you know, I think top of the app store really starting to get a lot of traction. And, you know, you see these handful of companies get a lot of traction in certain regions. And then as you say, sometimes they start to expand overseas like go student has tried to go a lot of places from its home base in Austria. And brainly has expanded from its home base in Poland. But we haven't yet seen that many companies expanding out of the Middle East or of India coming all over the world except, you know, the by Jews of the world. I think there's a lot more traction there. There was also a, you know, a hole on IQ has been doing this world tour of their ad tech events. They just launched their Latin America, their lat tam top 100 at an event in Mexico recently. And you know, there's some interesting movement coming out of Latin America, about 1500 edtech companies have emerged in the region, that's a lot of companies. And the EdTech sector was six times more investment in 2021, than in 2020. So we've covered this for some other regions. But I think, you know, sometimes we sleep on Latin America, because it's it's a fragmented scene, partially for the same reasons you have the Brazil as the biggest economy, but a different language. But there's definitely movement there. And I'm really, I'm excited to see what that I haven't looked at the Latin American 100 yet. It's brand new, but I bet there's some really interesting stuff happening there. So I'm interested in the Middle East and my interest in Latin America and seeing you know, what is the big news coming out of there and which companies are going to sort of grab the spotlight, as well as what are the big trends? Two thoughts on that. And then two things that I'm watching one, the the dollar and the strength of the dollar has a really outsized impact on Latin and North Africa and Middle East, you know, in a way, it makes it incredibly great place to invest, right, because like 150,000, or a million dollars can translate to huge productivity in terms of the team and what you can build, I think a challenge is that you get paid not in dollars in, in most of those countries. One thing that is really interesting in lead tam is a number of companies there are focused on workforce and upskilling, so that people can get jobs in the US paid in dollars. And I think that's a growing area, the two regions that I would focus on, just to highlight for our listeners are Australia, New Zealand, and Israel. And the reason why I would focus on Australia, New Zealand and Israel is those countries are so small, that they almost have to be international companies from the get go. And their ad tech scenes are almost predicated on this idea that we're going to be entering multiple markets really, really quickly. Now, Israel is well known now as kind of the startup nation. And they just had their ad tech national event I saw, you know, several of the Silicon Valley VCs were in attendance. And there's some great great startups. amplio is one that I've been following people a lot of interesting stuff in content, because the kind of workforce development Mojo that Israel has, mainly coming out of the Israeli military has really translated to online learning. There's mine dojo, they're speaking speak with our language learning. And I believe they're targeted at professionals who need to learn a language for their job, workforce and workforce skills. They have jolt gloat, just a number of great companies that are popping up on the radar. And then for New Zealand, we have our newest unicorn, which is crimson crimson Academy, backed by Tiger global. They started out as an admissions consulting company, but now they're kind of end to end from freshman year all the way through graduating an elite college, they support kids who are the kind of normal education system isn't rigorous enough for them. And so it's kind of like an academic challenge programs for kids, that they also help with placement. They have a virtual school. And you know, I've been following their growth for a number of years. International by design. I mean, they essentially have inmates and workers around the world 24/7 Some other ones that you might be interested in on workforce and skills they have guru rejig intern match. And on online learning, you've probably heard of curio, really around curation and bringing together content teach starter also. Well, again, like most companies in the US that are b2c companies, or b2b companies, they often find New Zealand and Australia to be a great test market for launching products, and then taking out the US. And it's also shout out to flad for this insight, it's counter cyclical, so you can do your back to school launch in Australia in prep, because that's going to happen in like May, you're going to do that for your back to school lunch in the US. That's really interesting. Yeah, I mean, I got a really bone up on the Australian ecosystem. I know a couple of the companies you've talked about as well as go one, which is what's formerly the only Australian unicorn fourth Rev. Proc Terra, but I want to look into that crimson company that's really interesting. I hadn't heard that they are the newest unicorn. And that's definitely that's big news for that, that exciting region. And we actually just interviewed your Shapira from amplio for the long form, podcast, and we have a great episode about special education with amplio. Coming up in just a couple of weeks. I definitely agree that Israel's tech prowess leads to some really innovative ideas and companies that are sort of built on AI are built on advanced technologies and can do some really clever things. So yeah, I had a big advantage. And they have a huge startup ecosystem and lots of VC there to just say this is where listeners can be super helpful. We now have listeners in over 100 countries. If there's a company that we should know about or know what they're doing, please comment on any of our LinkedIn posts or send us a tweet on social media. We even with Elon running things will still monitor our Twitter channel, but it is a really interesting and rapidly changing international landscape and something that we're going to keep bringing up to Time. So with that we're going to transition to m&a and deals. Hi, everyone, it's Ben Cornell back with a special interview for Ed Tech insiders. I've got a team of folks behind the Stanford pandemic Education report lessons from teaching and learning at Stanford during the COVID 19 pandemic. I've got Lisa Anderson, Cindy Bertram, and Matthew Rascoff, to walk us through the what, when, where, why and how it all happened, but also what it means for the future of higher education. Welcome to the show, Lisa, Cindy, and Matthew, thank you for having us. Great to be here. So for our listeners out there, you know, we all lived in the pandemic, many of us have the Where were you when the pandemic hit moments? Give us a little bit of context, what was going on at Stanford? And what did those first couple of months really look like? Thanks, Ben, we're really in a unique moment in time, in which we have an opportunity to turn the disruption of the pandemic into a real transformation in teaching and learning and Stanford really no exception to this period of this period of time. I mean, collectively, we saw this as an opportunity to reflect on our shared experience as a Stanford community and also consider what we can learn from this challenging period, you know, the those amazing pedagogical innovations, the struggles and challenges that everyone faced during this time, some of which we overcame, some of which we're continuing to work to overcome. And this report offers really a first draft of that history of teaching and learning during the pandemic at Stanford and aims to recognize the resilience of the Stanford community, including leaders, the amazing faculty and staff who devise new ways of organizing and teaching courses during this period, as well as our students who remain committed to learning amid these incredible challenges. And this report, again, outlines and highlights many of those individual stories. As part of this project, we were also hoping to connect to teams doing similar work at the institution, think supporting teaching and learning during this period at the pandemic, at a large innovative research institution. And it can move really fast and a lot of work done at universities is done in silos. So you know, this report is the first step and how can we build bridges spread resources, and those lessons that we learned in a really fluid and innovative way, and the report is a step in that direction? Yeah, word words like move really fast, fluid, innovative, not always what we associate with large established universities. And I would say, in general, the reaction has been pretty incredible. Because it's rare that we get someone pulling the curtain back on what were operations like at that time. And I think it's telling also that that report is not some sort of vindication of everything done. It was also a lot about lessons learned and insights had tell us a little bit about some of the major takeaways that stood out to you and you were writing the report. So emergency remote instruction, when it started in March of 2020, was done in reaction to the pandemic, this emergency pivot everyone had to move all at once, without much planning. But then from there at Stanford, especially we heard that people learned as they went, and they they heard from students, they got feedback from students. And they innovated and took that feedback and improve their instruction. So they did things like chunking, their course content, a little bit more organizing their Canvas core sites, we use Canvas as our learning management system, just a little bit deeper into using Canvas and putting more content there. We heard about folks using different ways of engaging with students, whether it was using polling like Poll Everywhere, Zoom polling, breakout rooms, encouraging students to use backchannel chat in zoom. And a lot of these things, encourage students to speak up who might not have spoken up before, it engaged more students, in a lot of ways. This is not to say that students didn't struggle, and there weren't a lot of challenges to their learning at this time. But a lot of these innovations did resonate and worked really well for a lot of students. And when you looked at the courses from large lecture to small group, how did it differ between those or was there you know, this theme of like, interaction and dual channel engagement was that kind of across the board? I should say that we didn't conduct a thorough survey of every course on campus, we interviewed about 60 folks about their experience, and those were instructors staff who supported teaching and learning, and also some students and leaders at Stanford, so kind of a cross section of the Stanford community. So I wouldn't say we did a survey of every course. So I'm not sure we can speak directly to to that question, but I will say that we heard that anyone who kind of tried to continue doing a you know, two hour long lecture, students struggled to stay engaged. And I think that's where that innovation and evolution was encouraged just by You know, making sure that students were kind of staying present, staying engaged with the learning and keeping their cameras on and things like that. So I think it did force a lot of these innovations to happen. And they did, they did happen differently in large lecture courses versus the more experiential courses, Lisa and I heard a lot about those more hands on experiential courses, really having to get creative in how that was approached. So a lot of mailing of materials of kits to different students all across the world, that required rethinking what those the learning was chemistry kids had to be safe to go through the mail, they had to meet whatever, you know, international standards for customs or whatever. So folks had to pivot, they had to do more with less. We heard about an electrical engineering course where in the lab, students were kind of thrown in the deep end, they had to go in and start building something really complex really quickly, but they had their instructors there in the lab with them. Whereas at home, that obviously wasn't possible. So they did a lot more scaffolding in the design of those experiential, they did send students the equipment, and then the students did bit by bit. And they learned as they went, instead of kind of getting thrown in the deep end, we also heard about a cooking course, that students did on they used to it was the science of cooking, they used to do this all together in a lab, and they involve their families more, and the instructor got to know the students families. And and so that was a just a fun way that the thinking the learning was rethought. You know, Lisa, and Cindy, as you think about the lessons learned, how much of you know the folks that you interviewed? Has it changed their practices now that things are back to in person? Are they still leveraging similar tools or practices? And then also have some people actually embraced hybrid learning at Stanford, as a result of some of what they experienced during the pandemic? I think the answer to your question, Ben is yes to both parts. I mean, I think we've heard from faculty and staff who've gone through this, you know, tremendous period of transformation that, you know, they do plan to take a lot of these learnings moving forward. And faculty, they were always interested in teaching pedagogy, but it's been, you know, renewed in such a way that everyone has gone through this sort of forced professional development experience is something we're calling it right, like faculty have had to learn how to teach online, you know, even those who are used to traditional lecture styles, and many of them have seen the benefits, right? For in situations where if you are teaching a course, and you'd like to bring in a guest lecturer who is halfway across the world, you're no longer obligated to, you know, coordinate their travel, bringing them to campus, you can now just have them pop in at your class at any point at any time. I mean, it just allows for a lot more inclusive learning experiences, allows for a lot more flexibility. You know, we've also seen advantages in speaking to students, for instance, with disabilities who have found, you know, learning online to be so much more accessible. And then faculty seeing, you know, those improved educational outcomes from students who are able to go back online, watch the lectures later, at a later date, have closed captioning, as part of, you know, teaching and instructors are very interested in ways in which you know, they can enrich the teaching and learning experiences for students. And part of that future may be looking at, you know, what happens if an incident such as COVID ever occurs again, and you know, we at Stanford want to be prepared for that possibility? No, we all hope that we're in a situation where that type of emergency pivot is not necessary. But I think we are all interested in continuing to serve students in a continuity this way. And you know, what, what are those strategies that we can pull in and those conversations are still happening at Stanford, there's an amazing collective called the Teach symposium, which is a group that was started by staff at Stanford pre pandemic and reinvigorated during this period, you know, an online repository of teaching and learning resources that faculty across the institution can pull from. So I would, I would say, certainly that that interest in teaching and learning pedagogy has been, you know, reinvigorated as throughout this these last 18 months of pandemic, and hopefully, we'll continue that culture moving forward. I would add, then, one goal of publishing this report is to change the odds of that kind of continuing innovation and to support it. And by telling the story of the pandemic, and the opportunities that emerged from it, we hope to reinforce that ongoing professional development that we see is really a signature of, of the pandemic response. There's one kind of folk telling of university teaching in the pandemic of like, zoom you and I think what we're trying to do is get past that yes to that may have been an initial reaction, but what you hear Cindy and Lisa describing is actually much more pluralism, much more diversity, much more respect for like the particular needs and the situation of the student and that responsiveness that was the mass professional divide relevant experience for faculty. And that's something we need not stop, keep investing in that those needs have not gone away. You know, the student mental health situation, I think demands a more holistic approach from educators in support of, of learning needs, certainly like that, that that there's only gotten worse actually, after the pandemic. So we have a chapter on supporting the whole student, that, to me feels like a critical, ongoing challenge that we may be identified during the pandemic, but must continue afterwards. And by underlining it and highlighting it and making it a whole chapter in this report, we're trying to reinforce that message for the future. Yeah, well, as an eighth grade teacher, many of the strategies that you articulated, resonated with me, you know, trunking, it changing the role of the educator to be more of a guide and facilitator, having learners take on various roles and responsibilities. You know, a lot of what this report is about, too, is just around mindsets changing. And I think that that's a profound message, especially in this moment of great change in universities in general. You know, for all three of you, as you see the future of higher education evolving, what are some of the key takeaways and implications of your findings and experience here that you think are relevant to not just Stanford and similar, elite universities, but really, for the entire higher ed sector. So I want to pick on two, and maybe Lisa and Cindy can jump into. So I think, Humanizing Online Learning and making digital learning experiences that feel closer to what we do on campus closer to our values closer to the spirit of, you know, the seminar room that you get, you know, on campus like that, to me feels like a grand challenge in digital learning, not just for providers, but, you know, for institutions, for Ed Tech, for teaching and learning innovators, like how can we make digital learning experiences that feel warm, not cold? How can we make them feel human, and preserve like that human to human connection? I think, you know, Inside Higher Ed piece about this report emphasized like empathy. And they got a wonderful quote from Michelle Pakulski. Brock, who leads the Humanizing Online Learning Project in the California Community Colleges like that, to me feels like the critical takeaway, that, that we need to make sure that we are helping people connect with one another, learn with one another, and take the best of the on campus experience that we recognized, you know, was so precious when it was taken away from us, let's invest in that and grow that thing that we came to understand and appreciate so much when we lost it. And that, to me feels like an important pandemic lesson. The other that I want to emphasize is the collaborative spirit that went into the response to the pandemic. So an individual on their own, had such limited capacity, so many limited resources, like great digital learning experiences just can't be done by individuals, they have to be team efforts. And I think, you know, during the pandemic, there was this, this greater recognition that it individual instructor, no matter how great they are, cannot also manage the chat and also manage the breakout rooms. And also, you know, come up with a great activity and also be good, that's, that's just not feasible, like what we need is more of a team sport approach to digital learning. And we saw these kind of collaboratives coming together behind the scenes of like staff working together across the silos across different offices at Stanford or faculty understanding, you know, what does an instructional designer do? And how do I get help from them? Like, I think that sense of esprit de corps, that shared purpose of academic continuity during the pandemic, that's something that we can preserve, you know, even if it's not academic continuity, that is, you know, the basis for that collaboration. I think what we need is some new Northstar, and we need to rally around it. And we should organize ourselves in different ways. So that we can work together in shared purpose towards common goals like that. That's actually a big mindset shift in teaching and learning in higher ed. And it involves like bringing together instructional design, bringing together different people who have different specialties, and understanding that each of them has something to bring, and that we can support one another and designing something really beautiful. Yeah, this move from an individual sport to teams for think we're experiencing that everywhere. And it is a refreshing take because many of the online platforms have become a kind of churn and burn proposition for a lot of students in this idea of humanizing and bringing back the connective tissue. I think that that's not just important for the learning but also for retention and completion and success. And Lisa and Cindy, anything else that you would add? I think this is very connected, but just like The new urgency with which the instructional community at Stanford kind of faced the challenges of building inclusivity into their instruction. It was obviously, this is something we were doing before the pandemic, spending a lot of time thinking about this. But I think it just took it from the abstract for a lot of folks into the very real when you're in, you know, a zoom classroom with your students. And you can see, you know, some students have access to their own private learning spaces, and some are, you know, have their whole family and behind them, or they just don't have a space to, to engage in their learning and a quiet space to hear what the instructor saying they don't have a study space at all. So I think we heard from a number of folks who were just really struck by that in their instruction. And also the number of students surveys that we saw that everyone at Stanford saw where it was very clear that students were struggling and needed support. And that kind of spurred new collaborative relationships across Stanford to build new services and supports online flexible supports to help make sure students well being was a focus during the pandemic. I think that's right. I mean, ultimately, we learned in the process of conducting this report that fostering a culture of empathy is really crucial. Students needed a lot of flexibility and understanding during this period, and they're going to continue to need it moving forward, mean, beyond the pandemic itself, causing anxiety and stress. I mean, we had students who lost their jobs and with that, you know, their source of income. And during 2020, the campus was also reckoning with murders of George George Floyd breonna, Taylor, you know, the epidemic, this period of anti Asian hate, and sometimes violence, and that was certainly felt in the Bay Area. You know, in California, we had impacts from wildfires taking place during this time. And, you know, faculty came to know students as whole people during this period, you know, we are we are all human beings. And in the business of transforming and thinking about the future of online learning, I think we need to think not only about student success, but about student flourishing, how can we ensure that students know can be well as whole people, you know, successful not only in the classroom, but as citizens of the world. And you know, that's the business that I'm thinking about. It's been so inspiring to not only read the report, but also just see the reactions from everyone, you can download the report at pandemic edie.stanford.edu. And it's just such a rare moment for people to really reflect, and then share that reflection out. So kudos to all of you. And we think every institution should do something like this. I think that process of doing real reflection and developing a shared narrative is actually perhaps more important than any of the particulars of what happened at Stanford, some of which we think are broadly relevant. But I think every school has a responsibility to be intentional about the lessons of the past few years and to apply them for the future. That's really the kind of meta takeaway from this report that I hope we can leave your listeners with. Awesome. Well, Lisa, Cindy, Matthew is such a pleasure. Thank you for putting this out in the world. Just know there's like 1000s of us in the EdTech space, reading it and celebrating and we just appreciate it look forward to having you on the show again in the future. For our deep dive guest today, we have a really special guest. It is Muhammad Al Madani, the CEO of class era, class era made a big news this week by raising a $40 million series, a round, which is the largest of bootstrap company. It's the largest in the Middle East and North Africa region. And it's a history making round for an exciting company. Welcome to the podcast. Thank you for having us in this wonderful blood cast. Yeah, it's really good to have you. So tell us about the Series A round how it came about and what you're going to be doing with it. Yes, as you said, it made some news being the biggest of its kind for a company in the cake with no prior funding. That's maybe a surprise that many people don't know that close. So even though we are in over 30 countries, they know that we did not raise anything before that even from Angel. So that was something of a surprise. And that's it explain also the size of the router as a Series A with equivalent to a size of a Series C. And we were proud of the investors we have like, you know, a unique set of investors from around the globe. So in the class era, maybe you know, the story was started in the Bay Area, Silicon Valley didn't focus in emerging markets. We started with Mena and Africa. So we wanted to have investors that have you know, from both like from emerging markets and from Silicon Valley, and that's what we ended up doing in this round. So there r&d is led by sin Apple, which is a subsidiary of Piaf, which is the fifth largest sovereign fund in the world, which is of course very strong and in emerging markets, especially and in the world stage. And it's joined by many great global investors, we have global venture which is backed by funds like general Atlantic Tiger, and many other big institution investors and you have 500 global, you know, in the knowing that we see a Silicon Valley we have endeavor catalyst, which is chaired by Reed Hoffman terminal flicked in. And we have also other VCs from the emerging markets like sukhna, and Sidra, and many others, actually, we also have, you know, investors, famous known company in Silicon Valley, investing also in this round, maybe they don't want us to share all the details, but you know, we have some very interesting set of investors from both Silicon Valley and the emerging markets were, you know, very excited that this round, and they will have this size will, you know, help us to get to our goals and our global goals, much faster, we have a clear goal to be global company, disturbing elearning. And the way it is done with a focus if being the leader of emerging market, that's that's the focus. And we want to be the global player that is mastering, you know, that part, which is the emerging market. That's fantastic. And you mentioned that sort of a Silicon Valley meets, you know, Middle East and North Africa strategy, you have offices in both places, you have investors in both places, it's a really unusual and very exciting story. And emerging markets are such a obviously untapped, you know, world for edtech, we are going global with a tech. And it is really exciting to see that there are you know, serious money going in from all sorts of people to make sure that the Middle East and North Africa and the rest of Africa all have access to platforms like class air. So I bet some of our listeners are not familiar with class air at all, they're mostly in the US and Europe, you have this learning super platform tell us about what class era is, when we started back in the Bay Area, and Silicon Valley with the idea that we wanted to create, you know, the next generation of learning and learning management platform, these doing gamification, personalized personalization, and collaboration. So we have we had the recipe, we said, you want something that is inspiring, personalized, collaborative, how to do that, using gamification, for the inspiration element using AI for the personalization, and using social learning, for the collaboration all to get a better engagement. That's what we're trying to solve a better engagement and therefore, a better learning experience. So that's what we started with, then, with a focus, you know, even though we got some, you know, great clients in the US, we wanted to focus in emerging markets and much bigger impact me personally, what drove me to to start this company, is the impact they think, you know, learning and you know, disrupting the disruption of learning is among the most noble causes because it unleashed the potential of a person or even a nation to be something completely different. So I think we are an ethic and all the listeners who are passionate about this industry, we're lucky to be among the most impactful, I would say, or most impactful industries ever in the world. So that's what's the drive and emerging markets, even a much better impact, Jose literally focused there. So we did start by focusing in Middle East and Africa. So that was the focus. And we did that bootstrapped. And, you know, we went all the way to now, where we are in 30 countries and the biggest tech company in that part of the world. And with this funding round will help us to to go further and about what is new is exactly what you talked about is the the new category that we want to create in edtech. So we're trying to come up with a new concept in edtech, which we want to call the LSP. The learning super platform, especially in emerging markets, you know, education and training institution, love the concept of consolidation, of having a turnkey solution. So that's what we are going forward that we were just started doing. So we started with this give me five learning magic platform business, and social learning, as I told you, we added a layer of ERP like a full enterprise solution for those very specialized for education, and training institution. And then on top of that, think of it as to these two layers of sass, we build on top of that monetization engine for payment. So we have a payment solution to do the payment of tuition and financing this tuition. And then we have a marketplace for education, robotics gold, if you will. So we integrate with as many edtech companies as possible, giving them access to all the markets we're in, and it's a win win for both both of us. So with that concept, you know comes that Larry sir platform, then, of course, in the middle of all of that there is an augmented reality app that helps to take the engagement level to the next level. Because still, our targets, our goal is, as we started at the beginning, is to take engagement to the next level, we were proud that in the pandemic time, we scored one of the highest engagement metric based in many source independent sources like Alexa and other sources. And it was a proof that our equation does work. And that, you know, enabled us to get several awards and the latest was Microsoft in their annual event, they chose us as the global winner in their education category in the partner of the year, these with this engagement and impact that we did, that we look forward after this investment to take this new LSP concept to the next level and, you know, try to leverage revolutionize the elearning industry, both for the you know, education and create sector because we our offering doesn't just include schools. It goes ministries, we run more than 10 ministries of education issue on deployment, not just in Middle East in Africa and countries you will expect I mean, we're doing countries like Djibouti, Comoros, Mauritania, and much more. And not to mention, like countries that have difficulties like Lebanon, and many other countries, it have its own challenges. But we're proud of the journey that we're trying to help you know, these countries, despite the challenges they are facing, it's part of the journey. Another part that we're serving is the corporate world. As a gamified learning magic platform, we have created a version for the corporate and government training, it's going over the roof, it's part of the things that is moving us very fast in the training world as well. And it's completing. So now we're serving many of those learner from basically cater great, starting from the school all the way to corporate training. So we're proud of the journey. That's amazing. So you heard it here. First, the LSP, the learning super platform, we can add that to our alphabet soup edtech of the LMS is and CMS is an L XPS, the learning super platform is consolidated one stop shop, it does payment, it does corporate training, it does K 12. It does a marketplace for ed tech companies to be able to enter emerging markets, it's a lot of different things in one place, which is very powerful, powerful enough to fuel entire national education systems. You know, the media and the media, you know, Middle East and Africa regions are really exciting sort of hotbeds of innovation, but they're ones we do not cover nearly enough on the podcast is part of why I'm really excited to to speak to you today. Maybe you can give our listeners a little bit of a overview of sort of what it's been like building edtech in the Middle East in 2022. And what are the factors? What are some of the investors? What are some of the other companies that you you think that the world should be keeping its eye on? It's great question, as you said, many companies are giving a no that much attention to those emerging markets in general, that's, you know, was never been part of our scope and mission. And that's part of the excitement of new investors that you want to dominate this emerging markets, that just immune and Africa, even all the way to APAC, all the way to Southeast Asia and all these emerging markets, where we have already started, it's a big potential, you were talking about, you know, the bigger number of learner in those emerging markets much more than of course, US and Europe and many of the developed countries, there is a much bigger population, you already know, the numbers. I mean, in the MENA region alone, I mean, just just to give you an idea that people doesn't just know the scope that they have, you will have a population of, you know, close to the US in terms of population, just you know, the MENA region alone, and not to mention Africa, where we, you know, countries like Nigeria have like millions of students. So it is a huge market, if you need the, you know, several class areas, if you would, and many other companies to to fill the need. And it's developing. I know, many would think, you know, they're barely getting their education, but you know, technology's solving some of their problems. So, sometimes, to fix this learning education gap, we found out that the technology is the thing that going to bring many of those generation and many of those nations to the 21st century, because it's not about just building more schools. It's not about, you know, having more curriculum, it's about this disruption of reaching the students being of the language and the connectivity is getting there beyond what you would expect. We are helping several countries to get some funding. So part of what we do actually, we work with some funding organization. In slack some some of the countries we worked with In Africa, we help them to get, you know, funding from, you know, something like the World Bank, some of the funding organizations. And we were proud that to offer them at the beginning, you know, help them even before they get the funding, it was that hard. So the budget, of course, is always a problem in this emerging market, but we try to, to work with the launch in long term and the long game, so that we could be for them until they get, you know, the funding, and then then you see the disruption to the education to those new learners. And you cannot, you know, describe, you know, the happiness that when we see, people and students in Sudan, or Djibouti, or Yemen are living and having, you know, to be educated in the same way, children in the US are being educated using the latest technology, and some of them are using their devices just for WhatsApp and some normal stuff. And now the parents are excited to get them. There's the corona, as you know, helped a lot, you know, with the government, so that the problem we were facing before Corona, but a big part of their challenge was the government and the regulations. And so the decision makers did not believe in technology, they said, No, this is a fancy thing is a luxury thing to have. After that they shifted and as you know, they start thinking of this as a necessity, not a luxury. And that's helped a lot. You know, when the decision makers even though there is a problem with the infrastructure, there's, of course problems with the with the budget, but when they start making this a priority, it changed everything, we start helping them by bringing them funding, certainly the bite, we always believe in, in a concept that if you don't do it all, at least half of its let's do parts. I mean, because yeah, some countries, maybe we can cover the entire country. But why to prevent the kids that do have X from getting their, you know, net wait until so we start you know, changing the mentality of some of those organizations start working with many semi government organization, like the Arab League, for example, Amina in the African Union and many other organization, we're trying to work with them so that they can help us with history makers. So it can make this a priority for all the governments to invest in technology education. And we are very optimistic that you know, it's a huge market, it's have a lot of potential there, there's several edtech companies to your question, working in the space, and maybe what you would expect, maybe there is not enough companies, there's some few warrior if you would, working in that hard environment. But you know, if a exciting, you know, solution, so we're exposed to both, you know, great ethics and in the US, Europe, and Mina, we have this window to see and we are seeing many creative at the companies that actually worth to go all the way to, you know, markets like the US and beyond, we actually host an annual event called inserra. Like, like, like innovation X era, like the era if we new innovation, where we it's the biggest ethic summit in the region. And we start seeing many of those innovative companies coming at presenting and they just need the access. And we have a lot of them to get to the markets. And we saw companies can fill up some examples, like our friends, for example, they are doing creative way to have a very interactive content for the schools. And the engagement level is just amazing. If you would look into that. There's other great companies like nap, which is having a great training courses for the teachers. And again, the way how we see the the reaction from the end user is so amazing. And even in what we're doing in class era, that the impact that we see on the students is amazing. We started part of our course, as you heard me in the beginning, with the concept of gamification, for our gamification in this give you an idea we have, we are integrated to more than 1000 companies in the region, that give reward based on our scoring system. So we imagine we having, you know so many kids, go to the teacher, please give me another assignment. I have that many points of view at Goldman, because you're going to get a 50% discount in the in the theme park next door. So we created a very fun system where the society at large is helping in our gamification. I love that it's a lot of work a lot of effort, but it is paying off. And that's why we had one of the highest engagement metric in the industry. Globally, we are optimistic that you're going to see some examples that comes out of those emerging markets that are going to be comparable at the global level. I'm excited of shows like yours, which highlights some of these rage scores. We actually wouldn't expect we so some you know some of our you know annual winners comes from countries which have some of the weakest infrastructure and some of the countries with the biggest problems, we have winners in the competition that we do from countries like Yemen, we have seen something from Libya, we have seen countries that you wouldn't expect. But creativity, have no location. And you know, creative people have no limits. Even if there is hardship, you would see them always be creative into using technology, they, the teacher and how they use that technology was super, super exciting and super inspiring. I find this whole conversation very inspiring. And opportunity is not equally distributed. But as emerging markets start to get technological solutions that bring education to as many people as possible that start bridging that all the digital divide, you start to have, you know, incredible, I think it's good for all of humanity that you know that more and more countries and more and more people have access to, to high quality education. This is why I came into tech, I love the global nature of the field. I love that technology can cross borders, you can work in commerce is a little island country that you know, and can have access to education from anywhere in the world. It's incredibly exciting, I hope to have you on for a longer conversation in the future, because I'm really excited to see where we're class Eric goes and how we can continue to make edtech reach all users including those emerging markets. Yeah, I can't come up with this. I mean, I really appreciate this show. It's super exciting, since we have a lot of the listeners keep doing it. But you have no idea into the impact you can create. So the impact that you have in people is profound. And we're so excited, especially in this era that we are working with some nationwide, you know, projects where we're seeing, unleashing the potential of somebody's entire country's entire generation to be something completely, completely different. And for any of your listeners and your vet tech companies, if you have something interesting that could, you know, have any impact in emerging market, please come and reach us by any means we can have an A an info info@coursera.com. He, as he as he says that there's an idea to collaborate. We'd love to have an impact together. And I want to thank you, yourself for such a wonderful, wonderful show. To keep the spirit of ethic going to excite more and more intrapreneurs to get to that space we needed the most. It's it changes people's lives. We need more of it. Thank you so much for being here with us on tech insiders. We'll have you back for a longer conversation as soon as we can get that scheduled. Good luck. I'm so excited to hear about this round and all of the impact you're having. Thank you very much. And we will be in touch. So for the funding and mergers and acquisitions section of the podcast, we have a few really interesting reports. So the San Francisco based but Middle East in North Africa focused class serif, which is an Arabic language supporting LMS with gamification and personalization features we've mentioned on this podcast a couple of times raised $40 million. That's, you know, apparently the largest funding round in the sector for a company with no prior funding. They have offices in SF, but also Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and Dubai. It's a really interesting play in the Middle East and North Africa region. We also saw the London based pyxera Raise 5.7 million euros to upskill staff through immersive play based learning. Much of the rest of this section is all India. So let's talk about all of the action happening in India right now. First off, you can't go far without starting with by Jews by Jews, again, is in discussions for yet another funding round of 250 to $300 million. That's following last month round with 250 million from existing investors, Tiger global and Qatar Investment Authority. The new discussion is apparently with private equity group TPG. So you're seeing by Jews just make massive, massive, massive moves. They're also apparently eyeing a $1 billion IPO for their physical tutor chain Akash, which they purchased recently. They're just sort of closing it all out. So Vijay is of course making massive moves. We also saw upgrade file a merger scheme to consolidate all of its mergers and acquisitions into its parent company. So it's sort of consolidating eight times eight, which is sounds like an incredibly cool company, a kerala based ad tech startup that is founded by six college students who are international level chess players raised $5 million in precede funding. Just a few weeks back is just announced and they provide live interactive chess classes to students in 20 plus countries, a chess a tech startup, how cool is that? And lastly, we see Alma better, which is a Indian upskilling platform is securing $2.7 million in its seed funding round to continue doing upskilling courses. You know, there was an interesting article in the Hindu business lines This week about the merger and acquisition seen this entire year in Indian ad tech. And basically they've seen 37 mergers and acquisitions since January of this year and the most recent ones are for Don to acquiring Deeksha for 40 million, and Veranda learning solutions acquiring JK Shaw education for 41 million. So you know, India has 4500 edtech companies. It's a huge industry. And you're starting to see the consolidation, the post pandemic gobbling up of smaller companies by big companies like the upgrades like the Vedanta is like the big news, of course, it's been a wild year for Indian Ed Tech. I think we're all seeing how it shakes out. So that's our funding and mergers and acquisitions for this week. That's it for this week in ed tech from Ed Tech insiders. It's been a super sized episode. Thanks so much to Matthew Rascoff and the Stanford team as well as Mohammed Al Madani from class era. We went around the world we've talked about cohort based courses, the elections and more. Join us next week right here on the weekend ed tech from edtech insiders. Thanks for listening to this episode of Ed Tech insiders. If you liked the podcast, remember to rate it and share it with others in the EdTech community. For those who want even more edtech insider subscribe to the free ed tech insiders newsletter on substack.