The days of overhead projectors and frantically scribbling notes in lecture theatres are long gone.
Lessons may now be delivered remotely; resources are accessed electronically; apps and websites can help in areas such as exam preparation; and there are platforms offering access to digital textbooks.
However, the potential to transform the modern learning experience through technology is only just beginning to be realised.
“At the moment, education is a very dispersed, segmented market,” Chloe Barrett, CEO of Immersify Education, tells BusinessCloud. “There isn’t a platform allowing you to access everything in one place: information, workshops, lectures, revision sessions, feedback.
“We want to bring all those resources into one platform. We’re building towards becoming the go-to platform for educational resources: the ‘Netflix of educational content’.”
As a dentistry student, Barrett became frustrated by the lack of content and resources which made the learning experience fun and interactive. Later, while developing a chain of dental training academies, she spotted a gap in the market for a platform bridging the gap between the theoretical and practical elements of dentistry.
She joined forces with CTO Maxwell Boardman in 2018 to found DigiDentistry, with the aim of bringing interactive technologies such as augmented reality, 3D animations, personalisation and gamification into the learning process.
The startup rebranded as Immersify Education when they realised the true potential for growth across areas outside dentistry. The next focus for the company is on nursing content, with civil, mechanical and electrical engineering to follow. There are then plans to enter automotive and aeronautical engineering.
“We partner with publishers, but break that content down into more digestible written, audio and visual information,” explains Barrett. “It’s right for all learning domains and means you don’t need to leave the platform to find an informational video on YouTube, for example, or read up on a subject in a book. It’s all in one place.”
She adds: “A student with dyslexia recently told us the application has been amazing and helped her achieve a really high grade. Beforehand, she was using books and really struggling: she said the platform allows her to learn in a visual manner, which is perfect for her. I love that type of feedback.”
Co-founder Boardman demonstrates how a student may be challenged to find nine problems with a randomly generated set of teeth – a form of gamification to engage the user – while they can use their phone as a ‘dentist’s mirror’ to examine the mouth.
“The platform is built with the user experience in mind,” he says. “We’re differentiated in the market by our personalisation: we don’t just provide expertly written theoretical content with immersive 3D visuals, but enrich the topic with experiences.
“Each individual user that comes through will see different content according to what they are interested in, or struggling with.
“The latest version we are building takes you through the whole process, for example selecting an instrument then using it on the patient. The scores can be used by insurance providers for risk assessment, or to get a better understanding of the quality of the clinician in recruitment.”
The Immersify Dental platform is embedded within academic curriculums. Barrett has led research-driven pilots across eight universities in France, Germany and the Netherlands – producing multilingual translations of its content – after receiving European funding. UK accents have also been incorporated.
The commercial platform is now used by tens of thousands of dentistry students, predominantly across the UK, US, Australia and India. Queen Mary University and Cardiff University are amongst the learning institutions currently offering it to students, while the application is being used in a total of 142 countries.
The recent launch of a paid content subscription available to all dental students – priced at £8.99 per month, or discounted over the course of a year – could be a game-changer before Immersify expands into new subjects.
“We’re going to deliver fresh, updated content every month which will be highlighted in a personalised way – that’s why we call it an ‘educational Netflix’,” explains Barrett, who aims to have 100,000 users by the end of the year.
“We have a community of 300,000 people but they are very much on social platforms: we’re now bringing all that into the platform itself.
“We saw a huge amount of downloads and traction around our offering during COVID, amid the move to shift everything online. We were trending at No.3 on the Google Play Store in the education category, and that trend has just grown and grown.”
The company moved to premises in Manchester to accommodate growth but pre-pandemic was based in The Landing, a tech hub in MediaCity, Salford which rebranded to HOST – the Home of Skills & Technology – last year when IN4 Group took over its operation.
IN4 Talent partnership
The company works with recruitment agency IN4 Talent, led by Andy Almond, to source the talent it needs to flourish.
The ‘talent partner’ has successfully placed more than 10 tech, creative and marketing professionals into the business as it has grown.
“I was looking for somebody to support our recruitment as we grow because I’ve done a lot of recruiting in the past and it’s very time-consuming,” says Barrett. “Finding the right people is so, so important – people help you build.
“When I met Andy, I felt like it was a good fit: IN4 Talent was a startup like us and also growing, while within the team they had a number of people who were very experienced at building and connecting within that tech area.
“Our head of development came from IN4 Talent: we had to make sure we found the right candidate because it was really important that Max could hand off some of the development work and bring on people with specialist skills to supplement what he can do.
“As we were bringing on investment, we were looking to support in growing the team: IN4 Talent have been efficient and we like working with them. We’re building a good relationship.”
She adds: “We’re growing and don’t have the same budget as a corporate, which could pay probably triple the amount – so we’ve brought in share schemes to make sure staff can get equity in the company. It’s important that we retain the staff and once we find great team members, we want to keep them.
“The great thing is the team go out together at weekends, so they’re creating friends as well. As we grow as a company, ensuring we have the right people and keeping an eye on that is really important. I feel that IN4 Talent cares about finding the right team members for us.”