Startup OpenLearning disrupts the education industry

- August 13, 2013 3 MIN READ

Forget blackboards and chalks. Forget long, theory-heavy lectures at 8am in the morning. Forget the online platforms that failed to make learning a more enjoyable experience. OpenLearning is set to excite students and teachers around the world who have long suffered the inadequacies of outdated educational tools.

It all began when Associate Professor at the University of New South Wales, Richard Buckland started recording his lecture videos and uploading them to YouTube, when discovered the transformational power education has when delivered on an online social platform.

It’s been five years since he first uploaded his lecture videos to YouTube, and in that period, they’ve been viewed over 1.5 million times. Thousands of people worldwide have thanked him for changing their lives by making his lectures more accessible and inspiring.

This got the Professor thinking; and in 2011, he decided to team up with UNSW alumni Adam Brimo along with David Collien, Ricky Setiawan and John Garland to develop an online learning platform that brings the joy back into learning.

Launched in October 2012, Brimo says the OpenLearning’s avid team of engineers and educators have experienced some of the best and worst in education; and it is through those experiences that they were able to recognise the shortcomings of current online educational tools and what solution is required to move forward.

“We believe the best way to learn is to be part of a community, to help others and to be engaged in the course.”

This new learning platform is based around the principles of student autonomy, diversity of learning materials, openness of resources and social interactivity.

“While the platform supports student grading, automatically marked quizzes/tests and content distribution around a wiki, it’s the comment and collaboration system, and the subtle features to keep students motivated that makes it special,” says Brimo. 

OpenLearning’s key point-of-difference is that it has a student-centred view of learning while other learning platforms – like Blackboard, Moodle and Coursera – focus more on the management and administration of education.

The business is licensed on a software-as-a-service model similar to GitHub.

“We enable individuals and organisations to teach open online courses (i.e. anyone in the world can join) for free while charging fees to organisations that run private courses,” says Brimo.

“We’re excited to have found a business model that strikes the right balance between promoting and supporting open education while allowing us to build a sustainable business.”

The user response to the new learning platform has been overwhelmingly positive – even generating interest in developing countries.  

“Students and teachers worldwide love it! We regularly receive comments from students around the world, in some of the poorest countries who are thrilled to have taken courses on OpenLearning,” says Brimo.

The first Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) in Australia and Malaysia have been taught on OpenLearning; and the team has already worked with UNSW, Macquarie University, Taylor’s University and Australian Writers’ Centre to deliver a more engaging learning experience through the platform.

Proud of his team, Brimo says they’ve enabled the business to grow its use-base to over 24,000 students since it launch in late 2012 “without any paid marketing or SEO by focusing on engaging our existing users and building features that make our platform inherently social.”

“I’m really proud of our team. A startup is never easy but they have stuck with the vision and ideas of OpenLearning, which has enabled us to change students’ lives around the world.”

Like all startups, bringing a new product into the market has been challenging – especially when competing against well-funded and established players.

“In Australia, it’s not likely that you’re going to raise a substantial amount of funding so you have you be extremely efficient. This means that we can’t hire people for every function of the business. That said, I’m proud of what we’ve been able to achieve on a shoe string budget.”

To set themselves apart from industry heavyweights, the OpenLearning team plan on responding quickly to their customers’ needs – from both a product development and customer engagement perspective.

Brimo’s advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is to focus on finding and servicing customers from an early stage.

“It’s easy to get carried away trying to build a great product but if you don’t have customers then you won’t know if you’re developing the right product or if you’re solving a real problem. The best idea in the world means nothing if it’s not executed well.”

There is no doubt that OpenLearning heralds the next stage in the evolution of online education. Take a tour of their site for more information at www.openlearning.com.