Edtech Startup Bets Branded Learning Can Reinvigorate E-Learning

(Forbes, Apr 11th, 2016) Edtech Startup Bets Branded Learning Can Reinvigorate E-Learning


A Cape Town tech startup is hoping to find a new way to invigorate E-Learning using short video tutorials; and has partnered with Ogilvy & Mather, the largest global advertising agency, for its first course on behavioural economics.


Called 42courses.com, the South African edtech outfit offers TED-style short talks and bite-sized learning modules that the founder Chris Rawlinson says aims to change the perception of E-Learning.


“E-Learning generally is something people cringe at and their eyes glaze over. It’s rare to find anyone who has really enjoyed taking a course, even if it’s in a subject they really like,” he told me. “We’ve tried to create something fun and enjoyable and short. In the digital world we are impatient, we want immediate feedback to know if we are right or wrong, we want the information to be in the format we personally like most and we want to be able to skip to the bits we really like, when we like.


“For most online courses most of the time it’s like eating broccoli – you know it’s good for you, but it’s not that pleasant. By comparison our courses are enjoyable, short (no course is over 20 hours long) and affordable.”


The first course on behavioral change stars ad industry veteran Rory Sutherland, who has given three TED talks (two of which have more than 2-million views). “Ultimately, all marketing activity should be about behavior change. You can do the best campaign but if you get the behavioral bit wrong you’ll drive people to a gate they don’t want to open,” Sutherland says. The entire course – which involves the basics of behavioral economics – takes 17 hours to complete and costs $60.



Rawlinson, who is the former head of Innovation for Ogilvy & Mather in Africa, says: “To make learning as fun as possible, the course comprises a series of short, entertaining and easy to understand stories. It also plays much like a game: you are granted ‘lives’ to retake questions, you can chat to friends, and there are videos, images and links to help you along your way”.


Well-known in South Africa digital and ad industry circles Rawlinson helped build the Ogilvy Digital Marketing Academy (ODMA) and has been a director for its holding company WPP renowned Stream unconferences.


“I was always frustrated that we couldn’t scale the classes (we kept them personal and limited classes to under 30 people). I used the lessons learned in ODMA on how to get people to easily understand a topic or subject, and combined them with lessons learned from advertising on how to capture people’s attentions and put across complex messages in an easy to action and understand way”.


Describing 42courses as “branded learning,” he says this “is about learning from the thought leaders and brands that actually do the work day in, day out. They tend to be the ones with the most interesting insights and helpful tips. There is a big difference learning about finance from a local academic institution versus learning it from someone like Warren Buffett. There is real value in learning from the horse’s mouth”.


Future courses will focus on fintech, entrepreneurship, using social media, design thinking and advertising. “It’s all around [user experience] – making it easy for people to engage, making it user friendly and sticky to keep using it, and adding a gaming element to it,” says Nicole Yershon, head of innovation for Ogilvy Group and the founder of Ogilvy Labs. “Technology has disrupted all walks of life. It has all converged. Learning is available to all and not just the elite few. The labs have proven itself both within the industry and outside to have an amazing reputation at pushing boundaries looking at new ways of communicating and effecting change – especially within the global start up communities,” adds Yershon, who was named one of the top 100 people in tech by Wired UK.


Adds Sutherland, who is vice chairman of Ogilvy & Mather Group UK, about his course: “Ultimately, all marketing activity should be about behavior change. You can do the best campaign but if you get the behavioral bit wrong you’ll drive people to a gate they don’t want to open. What’s really great about this course is it helps you understand and influence the way people really think, behave and act”.


Rawlinson believes previous E-Learning attempts haven’t worked for two reasons. “Firstly in today’s always on world we are time pressured – most learning courses take a huge amount of time to complete (no wonder the best MOOCs in the world only have an approximately 10% completion rate). Secondly, much like other industries, e-learning is at an early stage so most players just take physical courses and essentially digitize them.”


“Our courses solve this by giving people immediate feedback. We use clever design cues to make navigation and exploration easy, and the subjects are explained as a series of short stories that always include links for further reading, as well as images or video to help put the points across. You also get a personalized certificate to show off what you have learned to peers or future potential employers.”