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Member Spotlight: Odigia Challenges the Traditional Learning Model

One of the biggest obstacles for developing startups is facing established structures that are universally accepted, yet ineffective. Education continues to implement the traditional one-size-fits-all learning model despite its problematic obstacles.

In order to make an impact, 1776 member startup Odigia decided the traditional model needed to evolve to help teachers do what they do best: teach. Odigia’s learning platform provides a personalized learning experience and prepares students for success in the workplace by utilizing next generation learning principles.

In a conversation with 1776, Odigia founder Joshua Moe discussed the challenges in edtech and the principles that have led to Odigia’s success.

How did you become interested in edtech?

I graduated with a degree in finance from Boston College, with undergraduate and postgraduate studies in socially responsible leadership. Right out of school, I took a corporate finance job and lasted approximately three months. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the corporate lifestyle wasn’t for me.

In October 1999, I founded InnerEye Studios in Boston, a user centric design and development firm with a focus in the non-profit realms of education, environment, and healthcare. A few years later, I had the opportunity to work in higher-ed IT, where I supported the technology needs of faculty, staff, and administrators.

While in this role, I began to realize that most of the existing technology had been designed and built to support administrative and reporting needs — not to help teachers engage students and drive improved outcomes. I knew that in order to help students and teachers really succeed, we needed a set of tools built specifically for teaching and learning.

What is the Odigia story?

Odigia started with a simple idea: How can we make education more engaging, accessible, and affordable?

Many educators and schools started to recognize edtech was a way to achieve these goals, and the first major push was to introduce the Learning Management Systems (LMS) into the classroom. If we take a look at most LMSs, the core focuses and values are tied to reporting and administrative functions. They simply were not built to help teachers engage with students or to improve learning outcomes.

So, our question became — how is the LMS helping teachers teach?

The answer was — it wasn’t.

The goal and vision for Odigia is to evolve the traditional one-size-fits-all model of education. Research now shows that the traditional one-size-fits-all model doesn’t work for most learners and is also failing to meet the needs of today’s employers.

By adopting the principles of Next Generation Learning, we were able to create a product that makes education more engaging, accessible, and affordable for all — while better preparing students for success in today’s workforce.

What makes Odigia different from other edtech startups?

Most edtech companies have focused on digitizing or automating the traditional model of education. The problem is: the traditional model of education is no longer relevant or successful in engaging and meeting the needs of today’s students and employers.

We’ve taken a different approach. Odigia’s Next Gen learning tools improve student engagement and outcomes. Our platform delivers high-quality course materials using enhanced learning tools that help students develop the “higher-level” thinking skills necessary for success.

Odigia reduces costs, increases accessibility, and improves student outcomes.  We are also passionate about open source education, and as a thought leader in the open education community, Odigia represents one of the first sustainable models for delivering, curating, and enhancing OER content.

What approaches are you using to getting students and educators engaged?

Odigia embraces the principles of Next Gen learning to empower teachers and get students engaged. Our tools and platform are designed to support:

  • Self-directed and inquiry-based learning to naturally facilitate all learning styles, reduce the perception of risk, and empower learners to focus on the areas they find most engaging;
  • Game theory to promote learner engagement, measure progress, and inform peer-to-peer review;
  • 21st century skill development, such as critical thinking, problem solving, communication, and collaboration.

We are also big believers in the data-driven learning approach. With today’s technology, it’s easy to collect data — the trick is knowing how to analyze and utilize that data in a way that makes sense and makes it possible for educators to proactively recognize when students are in trouble — before it’s too late to make a difference! It is possible to monitor student progress and engagement. Why wouldn’t you want to see what type of activities are resonating with students or know what content isn’t working?

Given your experience in edtech, what are the most common challenges of innovating in the education field?

I feel like one of the biggest challenges in edtech is that the adoption cycle can sometimes take longer than the runway you’re given to get both traction and validation. Institutional-level decisions take a lot of time to be made. If your product or service requires institution-wide buy-in, make sure you have the proper resources in place for a long runway.

Another major challenge in innovating education is that most large systems are resistant to change, and the evolution of today’s one-size-fits-all model of education is a big change. Finding people in the field who are excited about this shift and willing to implement new technologies is key. Finding these thought leaders can be a challenge, but they will often turn into your biggest champions.

That said, I don’t see these barriers changing dramatically anytime soon. With the influx of edtech startups and products coming to market it has become even more important for entrepreneurs to figure out how to communicate and package their products or services in a way that makes it as easy as possible to adopt.

What market opportunities were available to Odigia in its early stages? Did you find any obstacles in becoming involved in edtech, and if so, how did you overcome them?

One of the primary issues we faced when starting Odigia was the lack of knowledge about edtech in the education field. Helping educators understand how the combination of Next Gen learning principles and technology can transform their classrooms and how to properly use it was definitely a major obstacle — one we still have to overcome on a daily basis.

In our early days, we had to identify and create our own opportunities so Odigia could gain traction. Staying aware of upcoming education trends led us to incorporating Next Gen tools into our platform. Our early work resulted in being awarded one of the first Next Generation Learning Challenges grants (in partnership with Wake Forest University) and we have also had the opportunity to contribute to multiple Department of Labor grants (W.I.R.E.D. and TAACCCT).

Following lean startup methodology and a MVP product approach has allowed us to remain flexible. A lot of the early feedback we received about our platform showed that users thought our learning tools were great, but users wanted to know what courses we offered. That feedback resulted in a pivot, which has resulted in partnerships like the one we have with OpenStax College. Odigia can now offer classroom-ready courses complete with engaging learning tools, dynamic data analysis, and high-quality OER content that teachers can modify to fit their needs.

The edtech industry is constantly changing. Having the insight to anticipate and incorporate new trends in edtech has served us well — so far at least! As with any startup, we’ve faced our share of roadblocks, but the good news is that over time they seem to be fewer and farther between. Interestingly enough, every so often, working around the roadblock not only strengthens your business but can lead you to a new opportunity.

What are some of the problems students and teachers face in the conventional classroom setting? How can edtech address these problems?

In my mind, the biggest problem facing education today is the traditional one-size-fits-all model of education because, in reality, it’s more like one-size-fits-none.

We know that multiple styles of learning exist, meaning every student has a unique set of skills and needs. Next Gen learning gives teachers the ability to proactively identify and provide support for students, while improving learning experiences by providing a variety of tools and methods for students to become more active learners — in the ways that make the most sense to their learning styles.

It’s time to update our metrics for student and teacher success. Edtech has the ability to help teachers transform learning, making it more affordable, accessible, and engaging for all.

What trends do you see emerging in edtech?

Obviously, data is here to stay. We are big believers in data-driven learning and feel like there will be consolidation in the field as different approaches are tried and vetted. We are seeing the tip of the iceberg as far as data-driven learning is concerned. It will be exciting to see what direction data pushes the next generation of edtech in.

The emergence of OER is also presenting big opportunities. Open source has been something that has been slow to get traction in the education space but has garnered support from some of the best minds and thought leaders in the industry. With so many institutions concerned about the cost of education, OER is about to have it’s breakthrough moment. Wide-scale OER adoption will hit all levels of education in the not-so-distant future.

Finally, there has been a big push to make education a more collaborative experience. OER allows teachers to share, modify, and reuse materials to create custom courses that target the needs of their students. We’re also seeing a move for students to be active participants and take ownership of their education.

That’s where Next Generation Learning principles really shine. Giving students tools to self-direct their learning experiences and ways to creatively collaborate with their peers is building a solid foundation of problem-solving and communication that will serve students long after they leave the classroom.

What are the next steps for Odigia?

We’re now over four years into the development of Odigia. I feel like we’ve finally made it to the point where our vision and platform are aligned and ready to make an impact. Now that we have overcome the most trying obstacles that plague startups, we’re ready to start pushing boundaries and gain large-scale adoption.

Our long-term vision of success is to drive the adoption of Next Gen Learning and OER in order to achieve exponential-scale impact on today’s students, teachers, teaching institutions, and employers. That said, we have kept the flexibility to partner with traditional content publishers by providing the tools to embrace the transition and distribute enhanced Next Gen content.

We are currently working with Forsyth Technical Community College to develop interactive assessments under the Department of Labor’s Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant. We are using this work as a foundation to build a framework that utilizes a set standard of data for interactives so all activities can connect to pre-existing LMSs, next gen learning environments, and big data aggregators.

We’ve got a few other really cool ideas in the pipeline but need to keep some surprises!

If you could give rising edtech startups any tips, what would they be?

Edtech is a tough industry with lots of competition. There will inevitably be winners and losers along the way. However, everyone on this journey is helping to contribute. Our team sees education as the great equalizer — it’s important to remember why you got into edtech in the first place.

Understand that change, let alone success, doesn’t usually come easy or quickly. It’s best to figure out a way that your product or service can be incorporated into the existing landscape. Once you establish a foothold, it’s much easier to push innovation from behind-the-scenes.

Remember, the technology that will have the biggest impact on the future of education hasn’t been invented yet. The best thing you can do is focus on a problem that you’re passionate about solving and build your business around it.

Martin De Leon

Martin De Leon is a senior from San Diego, CA studying culture and politics at Georgetown University. As an editorial and marketing intern at 1776, he assists with writing for…