Getting personalized learning right in Asia: Q&A with David Joo, Co-CEO of Korean adaptive learning company Knowre

March 1, 2017

Getting personalized learning right in Asia: Q&A with David Joo, Co-CEO of Korean adaptive learning company Knowre

Companies providing education technology products such as personalized learning platforms face a unique set of obstacles working globally. We had the pleasure to get some first hand insight into this topic from David Joo, CEO of Knowre, an ed-tech provider offering adaptive learning math products in the United States, South Korea and other international markets. He will be participating in a SxSW panel discussion “Winning the Asian EdTech Market”, moderated by Emerging Strategy Director, Satoko Okamoto on March 8.

Emerging Strategy: Product localization is often a hurdle for US companies and ed-tech providers expanding into other geographies. Tell us a little about your company and the what challenges you’ve faced bringing a program from South Korea to the US?

David Joo: Knowre is an education technology company focused on delivering a personalized learning experience to students around the globe.  At our core, we are a technology company that has built two primary technologies.  First, the ability to identify why a student answered any math question incorrectly – pinpointing each individual student’s unique learning gaps.  Second, an algorithm that leverages that data to deliver a personalized curriculum to fill those gaps.  We integrate our technology with our curriculum to provide a comprehensive learning solution for students, teachers and parents.

Although our roots as a company are as an after school math academy in Korea, the first market we tackled as a product was the US.  This idea of product localization is one of the most fundamental issues that companies, and in particular ed-tech companies, must overcome.  While “x” equals “x” across the globe, there are not only stark pedagogical differences, but also operational ones.  Education is global, but educating is local.

ES: What are the top product localization issues facing US ed-tech companies launching their products in Asia?

DJ: Although Knowre operates in several spheres within education, our primary vertical is the private, after school supplemental education market.  While it goes without saying that understanding your market is absolutely critical, you need to also tailor your product to fit the nuances and needs of each region.

In the spheres where we operate, the top localization issues are rooted in understanding the operations behind how the product is going to be used, not just differences in language.  As an example, Chinese students attend learning centers on the weekend, as opposed to the US and Korea where they attend largely during the week.  Also, in Korea many students are expected to stay later than the scheduled time, which is possible because students as young as 3rd grade will walk home from the learning center.  Whereas, in the US, most students are picked up by their parents.

Curriculum-based products also come with additional challenges.  Underlying the operational understanding of the different markets is, of course, pedagogy.  Not just scope and sequence, but the way that students are taught to answer questions can be entirely different across different regions.  This nuance needs to be very clear to stake holders – that the local approach to education is properly represented in the product.

ES: What do you think is the future of personalized learning with such rapidly evolving technology such as artificial intelligence, augmented reality and the internet of things?

DJ: Very simply, I would say that the future of personalized learning is more and better personalization.  At Knowre, we take a fundamental view that no matter what the technology is (and I’d say that this outlook is sustainable for the next 3-5 years), that technology must be integrated with a teacher.  We do not believe that technology can be a replacement to great teachers; we believe technology can make great teachers even greater.  As technology evolves and improves, it will be able to replace much of the “traditional” work that a teacher would take on, allowing them to spend more time performing higher level teaching/learning functions with their students.

I believe the next phase in personalized learning will be when technologies are not only able to deliver the right content to a student, but also to deliver it in the “right” modality.  Whether that may be a VR experience, a hands-on-project, or just a paragraph to read or to listen to, the technology will be able to curate both the content and modality by which that content is delivered in order to have the greatest impact on that student’s learning.  Once again, the technology’s goal is to free up the teacher from doing this curation and analysis, to providing learning environments that touch on deeper aspects of developing the student.

ES: There is a lot of optimism about what is possible with personalized learning specifically and ed-tech more broadly, but there is always a gap between what is technically possible and what is realistic for schools in South Korea and in the US. What challenges has Knowre faced providing its adaptive math programs to schools around the world?

DJ: I think the one thing that really needs to be clear as the industry discusses “ed-tech” is product type.  Currently, I see a distinct chasm between platform products (focused on attendance, behavior, or communication) and curricular products.  While the adoption of platform products in classrooms has become somewhat more commonplace with schools much more open to trying new tools, the paradigm for curricular product acquisition and evaluation really hasn’t shifted dramatically from textbooks.  Until we see an inflection in the speed of ed-tech adoption within schools, these products will only slowly gain traction.

How that inflection point comes about will be dictated very much by perceptions in the market.  Shifts in buying norms from large one-time purchases to subscription purchases will need to occur; this idea of “one solution to rule them all” will need to change as administrations face teachers that use different products within a particular institution; and teachers will need to become more accustomed to using multiple products within their own classrooms.  Although the velocity of change is not where we would desire, we are, of course, seeing this shift in specific schools, teachers, and administrators who are actively innovating the approach to acquiring and using curriculum-based ed-tech in their classrooms.

For more insight into opportunities for education technology providers in Asia, download our complimentary report on China K-12 market entry strategies for international education companies.

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