The Blend Podcast EP008 – eLearning For Good

Tom Payani  00:29

Today we’re going to talk about eLearning as a force for good. We’re also going to talk about project relearn. We’re going to talk about some of our partners that we work with, we’re going to talk about how we think eLearning can really solve a lot of the problems we have in the education system. If I had to pick one episode that we have spoken about so far, I would say for myself, but I guess for you as well, this is the one that is the most important to us.

Brendan Cox  01:05

Yeah, so far.

Tom Payani  01:08

We can go back to the start, can’t we? We can go back to when we were talking about Blend and the discussions we had before the business was even created. And it was also joint frustrations coming from different angles. But me coming from the education system where, as I’ve said, a couple of times on the podcasts, I’m not a huge fan of the mainstream education system around the world and how it’s not preparing kids for the world they currently live in, or that they will live in in the future. 

You hear the statistics, over 50% of kids who start school now, there’ll be doing a job that hasn’t even been created yet. And then I think from your end, you speak from your own personal experiences of the education system. You’re a very creative guy and especially as you got further through the education system was your creativity honed? Were put in an environment where that creativity was given its best opportunity to flower and, you know, to view to explore that?

Brendan Cox  02:23

Yours was kind of like your experience when working in the industry, mine was just personally. My experience was that I was always a bit kind of not sure what to do with myself. And the soft skills aspect of that never really came into play until I was an adult, I started learning them. 

When I finished uni and actually started honing those skills. Whereas up to that point, I was just a bit of a lost creative as it were. The more people that we talk to about this stuff with soft skills, and learning in general – is that there’s always this personal aspect to all of everyone’s stories in terms of why they’ve arrived at this point. 

Personally, it was definitely a case of like eLearning. And helping other people with their soft skills, in some part basically helped me with my soft skills. At the same time it’s a combination – doing eLearning is a combination of everything I’ve ever done. All the way back to making things out of Lego as a kid building things based on instructions. 

Through to telling stories, hosting parties, during a pop quiz, writing short films, so it all comes down to using storytelling to connect with people, and either make them understand a theme or subject or story or character, or in this case, understand the subject in a methodology to be able to do something, and I think that’s why it’s at the root of everything we do and discuss.

Tom Payani  04:01

We’ve got Project Relearn that runs alongside Blend. It’s this educational platform, where it’s a Duolingo for soft skills or emotional intelligence. And it’s an application or it’s a platform that we hope will be accessible to any young person or older person all around the world who will have the opportunity to address their soft skills and emotional intelligence.

I think for us, that runs through everything we do at Blend, and although we are an eLearning studio that can provide work for any agency in any company in theory; we don’t want to lose sight of why we got into this.

We feel we can have a bigger impact in a positive way through creating content for organisations that align with us ethically, and those organisations tend to be ones focused on making education accessible and making learning accessible, and teaching people skills that are genuinely going to positively affect them in their life.

Brendan Cox  05:09

Yeah, I think that’s the thing, it is accessibility. I don’t think that anyone is in the position they’re in because they knew what they needed to do and just couldn’t be bothered. I think that most of the problems that people have with the skills they had the time they made a decision, they weren’t aware of what was available, and they didn’t have access to the choice. 

They weren’t able to make an informed choice, based on who they were. As a studio, our vision is that accessibility, to be able to choose, make an informed choice about what you want to learn, and be able to learn it for yourself is at the core of all our decisions. So like you said, you can kind of almost feel it,  when it’s the right sort of horizon point, the right sort of compass, our North Star kind of thing. 

Because whenever we chat to anybody who is passionate about it as we are, we can almost feel straight away whether or not we would happily work for them, as well as on our own stuff, or even instead of, because it’s serving the mission, rather than locking into just having one way of doing things.

Tom Payani  06:31

Around the world, there are so many people who have a skill set or have the ability, or talent or creativity that they don’t even know they have, it’s just locked and the amount of talent and creativity that is just in this abyss that’s never been tapped, is really sad. 

I got into being a teacher because I always wanted to do something like that, rather than work in an office or wherever. Because, at least in my own small way, I felt like I could have a decent impact, on at least one schools worth of kids. And although a lot of teachers have these sort of noble objectives, a lot of teachers are rubbish, by the way. But although there’s a lot of teachers who really want to make that difference, they really care about what they do. 

For me, I got to a point where I was working within a system that had a lot of constraints and didn’t align with my view of what education should be. And so I was hamstrung a little bit by what I could do. Secondly, how big is one school for compared to the reach of eLearning. 

The internet in general is this amazing equaliser where everything becomes accessible: information, content, etc becomes accessible. And personally, I feel I could have a lot bigger impact reaching so many more people by creating positive eLearning rather than just one school. And this is just a very subjective opinion. People can argue with me about that. 

That was my thinking behind why I wanted to start Blend and don’t get me wrong, we’re not a charity, either. You know, we’re building our business and, and not every project we can do can be for some unbelievable, amazingly charitable, great company. As you said, it’s our North Star, isn’t it? So it’s bringing us back to what we’re about.

Brendan Cox  08:39

We can always go a bit around the houses. But the thing is, we always go back onto the road we go on because we know where our endpoint is. I think it’s important as well to say one shouldn’t feel bad about charging people money for something that’s good.

 If you’re good at the job, and it’s for the benefit of other people, I think it’s totally valid to be able to be paid for doing something that’s for the greater good. And I think that if we always use that as our point of reference and going in that direction, we’ll do jobs and work for people that have got the best intentions. It gives us the freedom to then pick a project where they maybe don’t even have the money to do it but we believe in what they’re doing. And we can follow that along. So it’s always a balancing act, I think.

Tom Payani  09:41

When we first started this, we realised that technology, in and of itself is not good or bad, it’s how we use it. And you can watch documentaries, like the social dilemma, and how social media can be really disruptive, and how we really need to be careful how we manage it and how it psychologically affects us. 

But there’s a counterpoint to that, we can use technology for good. This idea of creating, learning is accessible through creating our own Duolingo for soft skills, trying to encourage, emotional intelligence, EQ being a new metric to measure intelligence. There’s yin and yang to everything.

Brendan Cox  10:25

At the end of the day, it’s a tool, and it’s like a hammer is not bad or good. It’s just, what do you use it for? And basically how humans use it. That’s  the deciding point of whether it’s for good or bad.

Tom Payani  10:46

We see all the time, some really cool examples of technology being used in positive ways. We’ve spoken to companies that use VR to overcome phobias through exposure therapy. We spoke to somebody once; I remember they had simulated spiders, and they were very cute at the beginning. So the person with arachnophobia in this VR world wasn’t too scared. And then slowly that progresses to do something a bit scarier.

Brendan Cox  11:14

They did it in a way where it’s in VR, so you’re in a controlled environment, but they’re not immersing you – there’s not a real-looking spider on your desk. So you suddenly are panicked, because it’s in your home is invaded your personal space. 

So there’s all these sort of levels of psychology and thought that’s gone into these experiences to be able to make a difference to a person. And so it’s really interesting. I think the thing is, the more it’s a bit like a snowball at the moment, like with you, speaking to people and me speaking to people, is that we’re coming in contact with more and more people that kind of like echo chamber of positive use of E learning. It’s getting really inspiring, and some of the stuff they’re coming up with is really cool.

Tom Payani  12:01

We’re gonna hopefully get Jose on the podcast, someone we’re working with at the moment, a Brazilian guy called Jose started up Key2enable, and we’ll put definitely put a link to his business, in the show notes. He’s a really inspiring, fantastic guy. 

He has created a new piece of hardware, which a version of a keyboard, I guess. It’s not really a keyboard when you see it, but it’s hardware that kids with physical disabilities can use, especially with cerebral palsy. So, it is also used with kids with other types of disabilities, other types of hardware that can track their eye movement, or when they blink, or things like that. 

So they can use a computer in the way that anyone else could. And this guy is not a charity, he’s trying to build a business and he’s trying to sell this technology or this hardware to people out there. I think it comes back to what you said at the beginning, it’s not being afraid to charge for something you’re good at. 

He’s an entrepreneur, he started out a business, he’s trying to make money from this business, but he’s creating something that has a hugely positive impact around the world. Being able to work with companies like that, who are using technology, who are using eLearning, to try and improve people’s lives. It’s a win-win for everyone, isn’t it, you get paid, but you’re doing something that really has a really good impact, and being able to create online courses with him is an absolute pleasure.

Brendan Cox  13:37

It’s that Japanese principal Ikigai, where you have what you’re good at, and what the world will pay you for, what the world needs, and what you enjoy doing. When the world needs things like Jose’s device, and we’re able to help him do that and he’s good at it, he loves doing it as well. It’s like that sweet spot, which you don’t often get, and I’m finding the more than we talk about the like, with eLearning, with people like Jose, the more you realise that that’s our centre sport.  To help people and to get job satisfaction, to have so much of a sense of purpose that it’s just a pleasure.

Tom Payani  14:30

Can you just give us an explanation about Learnappeal as well, another company we’re working with?

Brendan Cox  14:38

Oh, yeah. So they’re based in the UK and they’re set up like a charity, but they’ve come up with this really cool idea with raspberry pi, which is basically like a little device, it’s like an open-source computer module. It is half the size of a Gameboy or whatever. What they’ve done is they’ve converted some software, this eLearning software and they’ve made it so you can put a tonne of content onto this Raspberry Pi, this little device and then plug in a wireless, a wireless router.

Then anyone within a 50 metre radius, 100 metre radius, and anywhere up to 200 phones within that radius can sign into the device and have access to this content. And so what they’ve done is to get everyone access to the learning that they need. And their focus is on areas that don’t have or can’t afford a network. 

So they’re kind of focused at the moment in Kenya, and they’re basically building eLearning content that’s specific to those communities that are out in the wilderness, and basically don’t have a phone connection. But the cool thing is, is that literally, you can use any phone that’s got wireless capabilities. So you’ve got like old-school blackberries that can log on to this device. 

Then the content on there is all specific to where they are so that basically teaches you how to how to start a business. Like how to start a fish farm. And it talks about how to how to plan it, how to build it, how to run it, how to market it, how to set up the business behind it. It’s got things like cashews and how to process them, how to build your business around it. 

Even things like beekeeping, which is a super cool one. Because it turns out that there are issues with elephants trying to go to the water supplies in the villages out in the out in the countryside. And because elephants decide they are gonna go get that water. And the villagers were letting things like poachers just kind of be around and take the elephants if they wanted because they were a bit of a menace. 

What they found out was actually elephants don’t like bees. So on the eLearning they started using, they put a load of beekeeping eLearning and they started doing beekeeping. And the thing is, it kept the elephants away. So from a conservation or conservationist perspective, it’s like great, no more shooting the elephants, the bees basically, provided honey, provided wax, the people in the villages are able to like set up businesses around that as well.

Tom Payani  17:30

It has its own economy basically.

Brendan Cox  17:33

Yeah, it’s super cool. And the thing is this device costs like 150, odd quid, all in.

Tom Payani  17:40

That’s something I wanted to just quickly touch upon. Because when we talk about eLearning, it’s not just, standard onboarding for medium or larger-sized companies or for big universities – it’s these, Key2enable devices, these Raspberry Pi devices, these pieces of hardware, that are available in developing countries accessible for people all around the world, they can also contain really efficient, engaging eLearning as well.

Brendan Cox  18:11

A lot of the accessibility part of it comes from infrastructure or the interface in which the person has with the eLearning. So a lot of the thing is like, well, you don’t get high-speed broadband in areas where the average income is too low to warrant lots of internet shopping. 

So the thing is, is that if it means the lower-income households have less access to decent eLearning. And so there’s the first stage of what we’re interested in is the actual vehicle for this eLearning. And there are people like Key2enable or Learn Appeal that are basically removing the barrier of entry. 

And that’s when it starts to get really interesting, because for something like kKey2enable and Learn Appeal, they’ve built these proof of concepts, they’ve got them working. And now that potential is incredible, because you can basically take that little device, the Raspberry Pi thing, and you can work with bigger agencies, big organisations that want to help certain areas in different places. But under normal circumstances cannot, or teach people with disabilities. Suddenly, you can start building new apps, you can explore new avenues of content that basically directly impact those individuals and dramatically improve their situation because they previously had no access.

Tom Payani  19:41

Yeah, and I think from a Blend perspective, as well, it’s a great challenge for us, because there’s one thing us doing content detectives, where you’re doing some serious animation and we really push the software we use as much as we can, to then having a challenge of listening to these guys. There are no data available. They can’t have big files whenever they’re playing eLearning. 

The technology is a bit more, let’s say like lo-fi or whatever, you need to create engaging, interactive eLearning within these constraints. And then that’s a fun challenge in a different way, isn’t it?

Brendan Cox  20:18

Yeah, I think that’s the thing is that it is kind of the same principle as low-budget filmmaking. If you can embrace the restrictions that you have, at the end of the day, we can help these sort of organisations and they are amazing to help because we’re applying our soft skills and our additional production skills or background business skills to help them. But then when you actually come to make the content, you’ve got a really interesting framework to work within, and you can start coming up with some really cool stuff as well.

Tom Payani  20:48

And I think you become more creative in a way.

Brendan Cox  20:51

Yeah, totally. I mean, you could basically, as long as the goal is the same-  which is to help that person and to give them something that they can see is valuable – you can do it in all sorts of different ways. 

Even something in our previous episode, we were talking about nonlinear storytelling. And the thing is, is that even in the most simple piece of software, you can make it go in different directions. So depending on what you click in, it goes to a different place. I mean, you could do nonlinear storytelling and branched scenarios with PowerPoint.

Tom Payani  21:24

Yeah. We had the example of Twitter, didn’t we.

Brendan Cox  21:27

Yeah. So you can do a choose your own adventure with Beyonce’s imaginary assistant on Twitter.

Tom Payani  21:34

And I really like these constraints that are forced upon you, because it does make you have to access and engage this almost different part of your brain. It’s like going on Ready Steady Cook, but for eLearning, you know what I mean?

Brendan Cox  21:47

You just get a basket of apples and nothing else.

Tom Payani  21:52

It comes back to what we said at the beginning of this episode about, you know, emotional intelligence, EQ, being the main change in how we try and basically put eLearning through –  like creating projects, creating games, creating content that helps people improve their EQ, that helps people address their own EQ, and that helps people understand what even emotional intelligence is, what EQ is.

We said it with Relearn, but companies bigger than us, like Google, they’re looking for emotional intelligence, with their employees in their resumes, in their interviews, asking open-ended questions, assessing different types of intelligence. And when Google is looking at that for their own staff, it’s only going to be natural for emotional intelligence to be a big, big deal when it comes to the next stage of eLearning. And what we’re trying to use eLearning for, in my opinion.

Brendan Cox  23:00

Yeah, definitely. I think that basically, Google is a very good example of early adoption and pioneering approaches to things. So, just from my side of it as an animator and designer, basically, Google was one of the first big companies to really embrace having their own internal animation for comms and basically, presenting stuff of learning. 

Once they did it, all the other companies were like, well, if it’s good enough for Google, there’s obviously something to it. And Google can prove the impact that having visible visual animated content has. And now they’re doing it with soft skills. And that whole thing of having an office Guru is less of a joke and more, actually, having someone specialising in soft skills in your company, improves the performance of all your employees. And we’ve got the data to back it up. And I think that’s why emotional intelligence and stuff and Google taking it onboard is a good indicator if that’s the direction everything’s going in.

Tom Payani  24:02

Yeah. All right. I think that’s a nice place to stop. Thanks a lot for your time and I will catch up with you again next week.

Brendan Cox  24:10

Yeah, and I think we can definitely chat to a few of those companies as we go along as well because I think that they’ve got really interesting stories to tell. So we look forward to chatting with them. For sure, for sure. I’ll speak to you soon. Cheers. Bye.

Intro/Outro  24:26

Thanks for listening to the blend podcast. It’s available on Spotify, Google. You can find blend interactive content on LinkedIn, or Don’t forget to like and subscribe. See you next time.

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