It is always good to speak to driven edtech entrepreneurs who play a critical role in creating new age educational institutions.
To understand deeply the impact technology is having on how students are learning in higher education institutions, we reached out to Mr. Brian Peddle, CEO, Motivis Learning to learn from his experience.
For our audience to know more about you, tell us about yourself experience, projects and achievements. How has the career journey been for you till now?
I grew up in Somerville, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston. At the time, it was a blue-collar town, where many first-generation Americans settled to work and raise their families. My parents among them. My father worked 2-3 jobs and my mother worked in a department store. Neither one graduated high school. Even though they never graduated they always believed in the value of education, my father would tell me that money would never be an issue if it involved learning. If I wanted to learn how to do something, I walked to the library, got a book and taught myself.
On the verge of adolescence, I was inspired by the movie War Games and in 1983, I got a Commodore Vic-20 and was locked in on learning everything I could about coding and how to leverage technology for world domination—or least hacking into something.
This was where my passion for coding was born. It’s what motivated me, and it was a critical turning point.
This is also where I developed grit, because I had to figure it all out for myself. If I wanted to make something, I had to do it for myself, there was no one at home to teach me. Every failed line of code was a lesson on what not to do again. The dopamine would flow for every victory and I would run to show my parents or grandmother. Each success, no matter how small, was creating positive reinforcement causing a repeated release of dopamine. In this, I became addicted to learning, even if I didn’t recognize it at that time.
Fast forward a bunch of years to when I arrived at College for America at SNHU to help architect a system to deliver competency-based learning. The team was thrown into the deep end and had four months to deliver new systems and curriculum. We succeeded in delivering the first entirely online, competency-based program, and we grew the program to thousands of students. During that period we realized we had an opportunity to take what we built, expand it and launch Motivis Learning.
Having a tech background, share your understanding of impact technology is having on how students are learning in higher education institutions.
I have always understood that tech isn’t as important as the people it serves, especially in education. It should be in the background to support educators and students. It should help ease cognitive strain and be an enabler not a blocker. We find that many schools will try to adapt their pedagogy or philosophies to fit into a specific system; however, this is backwards. This is where edtech quagmires, it is often designed for data architecture and not on the holistic educational needs of today’s learners. I am deeply interested in education principles and psychology, finding my home in the edtech space just makes sense. I could work in any field and use my tech background, but working in education — a space that needs so much innovation and whose stakeholders have so much on the line — I know I am making a difference by improving the learning experience. That is something I am humbled by and deeply grateful for. I read everything I can and leverage my network of experts and thought leaders in both education and technology to better understand, analyze and synthesize to ensure we encapsulate best practices, are strategic in our design and most importantly, we are serving those in education most impacted by our solutions.
What do you suggest should be a starting point for university transformation? When do you understand that the current system requires change?
Any change that takes place to address gaps, improvements and innovation to the learning environment as a whole, needs to be endemic within the system. A change in leadership is key to a successful transformation. We find transformation from the top down is incredibly effective when there is sponsorship both for the change and for the team responsible for being and making the change. I’d like to believe change shouldn’t have to be this dramatic shift, and that there should be constant reflection and iteration.
No More Legacy Thinking
I came across a tweet that said, “How can we make this amazing and flexible thing rigid and ugly? We want to make it into what we already know. “That needs to stop. Let’s not bastardize a great movement just so it can fit into what we already know. Let’s not listen to naysayers knocking new ideas because they don’t understand its power or just want to keep going along with the status quo--we can’t afford that. I get tired of seeing the same folks knock change, while never providing solutions.
It’s time to disrupt the legacy thinking and infrastructure, and bring the focus to helping our students and our educators achieve their goals. Change is difficult, but not changing can be fatal.
Change is essential for a more meaningful, individualized learning experience that enables students to learn at their own pace, on their own terms--and that actually results in useful, marketable skills. Having students that are not afraid to fail in their learning is a game changer in the world of education and beyond. Imagine what impact that will eventually have on our workforce.
What are some key ways you would suggest to improve industry-education collaboration?
Collaboration between industry and education is key to transforming learning. During the last century, the involvement of industry partnerships in education deteriorated creating a silo of educational practices with no real connection to industry needs. This has unfortunately led to a professional sector with unfilled job vacancies desperate for a trained workforce and schools simultaneously producing graduates unqualified for the jobs that await them.
By increasing industry involvement in education, two amazing things happen:
- Educational institutions are able to meet the rapidly changing needs of business and industry
- Businesses and industry are able to hire employees with the skills, knowledge and abilities to be successful in the workforce.
Industry leaders are therefore key to innovation and employment, and serve as exceptional resources for professional expertise, mentorship and relevant and engaging instruction. Access to educational institutions provides a conduit for sharing informed and practical requirements for career readiness. Business and industry stakeholders want to have a prepared workforce emerge and can help create a relevant, engaging curriculum that offers students a socially and professionally appropriate space to practice knowledge, skills and abilities gained in the classroom. When students are able to apply what they learn through meaningful and authentic real-world application, they engage in deeper learning and understanding of the world around them. Building upon students’ intrinsic motivation will improve their academic progress as well as prepare them for the rigor of the workforce.
What is your take on EdTech experimentation at both the state and local levels?
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What is your take on EdTech experimentation at both the state and local levels?
Motivis is fortunate to be based in New Hampshire, the Competency-Based Learning hub of the nation both in K-12 as well as higher education. At the state level, New Hampshire worked with expert educators to create statewide graduation competencies as well as Performance Assessments for Competency-Based Education (PACE) that take the place of high stakes SBAC (common core aligned testing) at some student benchmarks/milestones. The state was granted a waiver by the US DOE, but has to show evidence of student performance and demonstration of mastery of competencies annually. Educational technology at the state level is essential to enable and support the collection of student evidence and artifacts, validation and calibration of assessment rubric criteria. It has been meaningful to work with both the state and local school districts to help them manage, calibrate and authentically measure student learning.
Southern New Hampshire University is key to the fertile soil that grows innovation in education. College for America encourages learners at all points of the learning journey to complete their degrees by providing accessible and affordable programs. Additionally, programs at Southern New Hampshire University’s School of Education have moved to competency-based systems to ensure that emerging educators are prepared to teach in competency-based schools.
Tell us about your team, who do you have supporting you? How did this start?
We spun out of the innovation lab at Southern New Hampshire University and created the platform that supports College for America - a fully online competency-based learning program. There are many here on the team that have been a part of those early experiences. I am grateful to the President of SNHU, Paul LeBlanc who truly understands what is meant by transformational leadership and has been an amazing mentor. Paul took a chance and hired me at SNHU and he serves as the President of our board of directors.
Every team member on board is here because of their unique skill set and insight they bring. Most importantly they believe in our mission. In 2 years we have grown from 9 people to almost 60. As our products have evolved, so have the roles of the early Motivis team players. When there were 9 of us at the beginning we all pretty much did everything from marketing, research, dev, etc. Today, we still have an “all hands on deck” mentality, but we are better able to appropriate and utilize people’s strengths which has resulted in an amazing collaborative team deeply invested in student success. I am extremely grateful that I get to show up to work each day and collaborate with each of them.
Being the CEO, what would be your key tips to other EdTech Startups in relation to new business models/revenue streams?
Focus on the things that will truly make you a great company. Reputation, customer loyalty and trust. Realize you won’t have all the answers and that is okay. It has been said many times, “It won’t be easy, if it were everyone would be doing it.” You will have people who may not get what you are doing and knock your ideas, use it as fuel to push you harder. There is no playbook for success as every situation is different.
Trust your gut, build a solid team and do good. Everything else will fall into place.
Who would you call your competitors? And how are you different?
We are creating something new in education called LRM (Learning Relationship Management). We keep an eye on what is going on in our space but we don’t obsess over it. It is much more productive to obsess about what are customers are doing and how we can help them do better.