A Look into the Educational Technology Field: Kate Lewis, Commercial Director at Frog

Kate Lewis, Commercial Director At Frog.Frog is a leading education technology solutions provider. Kate Lewis, Frog's Commercial Director kindly talked to Adriana Galue of her rise in becoming one of the leading figures at Frog, within an industry almost entirely dominated by men.

With her vast experience spanning across several countries and working for some of the sector’s biggest businesses, Kate has helped shape a company that now has an annual revenue of £9.5m, offering learning tools to over 12million students, teachers and parents worldwide. 

How important are emerging markets in your near future business development strategy? Why are governments such as Malaysia choosing your platform?

KL: Emerging markets are extremely important to our business strategy. The large scale of users helps us to understand learners and teachers even better and use that varied and extensive data to positively affect all of our customers all over the world.

We have 14 years of experience in education and our solid and expanding UK customer base provides us with pedigree and credibility for other states to replicate.

We have hundreds of examples of schools that are using technology to really make a difference in the classroom.

Governments wanting to make nationwide purchases need confidence that the partners they are working with understand the unique needs of learners and teachers and are focused on providing a solution with tangible outcomes - raising standards. We want Malaysia to become our blueprint for nations/states wanting to transform their education system with the intent (like Malaysia through their education blueprint) of becoming a more competitive global economy.

What advantages do ou see in Frog over open source learning platforms such as Moodle or Open Class?

KL: There are a growing number of companies that offer you tools to build a solution, but without providing any support for the teacher who needs to use it to make a difference in the classroom. Some of these options require a dedicated technical support in order to implement it properly, and this creates a bottleneck, with the whole school relying on a single person for their platform changes. 

Frog puts the creative control back in the hands of the individual teachers enabling them to build what they want, when they need it.

The fact that we are community led also means that every user can benefit from changes or additions to their platform that other educators have suggested. Working with schools to develop our roadmap means that the software is focused on teaching and learning outcomes and not just ‘cool tech’. With open source platforms you are reliant on other people developing the software and this can be for varying motivations.

School users also have a different set of needs to consumers, yet the majority of the open source platform work well for the individual teacher, but less so for an organisation. Frog has a set of enterprise tools from integration with a school’s MIS to eSafety and group analytics. This means that everyone in a school, from the classroom teacher, to the head of department or senior leader has a vested interest in Frog and we know that if something is implemented top down (as well as bottom up) it increases its chances of being successfully used and making a difference.  

Could you please describe some of the challenges of trying to stay ahead of the competition yet focused on the core competency of the business?

KL: Frog is focused on providing solutions and services to transform education using technology.  For too long the education sector has been subject to software and tools of a lower quality than that of the corporate sector.

To support the revolution in education, we need players that are designing and creating high quality software focused on the needs of teachers and learners.

Rather than efforts to stay ahead of competition, we are focused on creating engaging software that works. Technology moves at a real pace and given that our children tend to be the ones embracing new technologies – it is imperative that software used in schools is representative of the world that they live in. We therefore track technology trends, understanding the positive impact they can have on education and predicting when they need to be implemented to ensure Frog stays ahead of the curve.

Could you please desscribe some key point differences between your business model and positioning, and that of other available platforms such as Blackboard, HaikuLearning or Instructure?

KL: Frog is not about replacing the teacher; we aim to provide tools that allow the teacher to be the facilitator. Through facilitating learning and moving away from traditional lecture environment, learning can be personalised at the correct pace for every student.

We have a sophisticated partner ecosystem within the product, so rather than building everything ourselves and being all things to all people, we understand that many education systems around the world have already made sizeable investments in technology and we aim to help them see a greater return on investment of legacy purchases by integrating with them in a meaningful way. For instance, why create an email system when Google and Microsoft do this so well?  Instead, we make it easy for our users by going beyond single sign on and really thinking about how communication tools can be optimally consumed in a teaching and learning system.

Our target market is schools. We license teaching and learning platforms (and professional development) to schools. Some of the newer players have a freemium model either at consumer level or school level whereby teachers or schools have to buy the additional functionality they require upon the vase platform. Instead, we support a consultative approach.

We work with our schools, trusts, groups or governments to understand their strategic objectives for embedding technology at the heart of teaching and learning and provide them with a tailored platform to suit. We will not sell Frog to a school without training. If they do not value training or acknowledge that it is a key ingredient for change, then this is a sign to us that the partnership may not be a successful one.

We want every school who adopts Frog to see a return on their investment in the form of educational outcomes and cost and time savings.

Learning on mobile platforms is difficult because, in general, Internet content is presented in a way that is difficult to consume on mobile devices. Do you see Byte­‐Sized Learning as part of your future strategy? If so, how costly is that adoption?

KL: Making learning more accessible is so much more than thinking about how it is consumed on mobile devices. Whilst it is important to harness trends in technology and ensure that children do not have to ‘down tool’ when it comes to accessing their education, it is more important to ensure that a curriculum objective is being delivered using the most appropriate medium.

For instance an interactive, video or animation demonstrating the properties of locus of a point may allow a child to access that understanding far more readily than chunks of text. There is also the consideration of learning styles and special needs and making sure that education is accessible for all. I say this, as whilst byte-sized learning is a trend that we are tracking with interest; there are other priorities that come before it.

Our take on mobile is to bring the ‘smaller’ technologies in as a tool to enhance teaching and learning – rather than a device to consume content 24/7. With the increased use of mobile devices in teaching and learning, we have developed FrogSnap, which allows a user to take a photograph on their mobile device and directly upload it onto our learning platform, FrogLearn. It really is a quick and effortless way of capturing events taking place throughout the school year.

Of course, we look to support all OSs and devices as standard so Frog itself could be considered to be a responsive app.

The world has a fairly heterogenous eLearning market, with different geographies having very different drivers. How do you stay on top of the game? Who in your team is responsible for understanding eLearning evolution in different markets?

KL: Frog operates in over 25 countries, so we have great insight into geographical, political, economic and social drivers. Whilst the pace at which regions implement technology, the spend they have available, and cultural and political factors may vary, we have found that by placing teaching and learning at the heart of all our technology, the opportunities and problems that face educators, students and their parents worldwide have common themes. Given that we have offices in Europe and Asia and partners in several other countries, we establish strong reference sites in new markets. This helps us get to know the intricacies and complexities of new markets.

We have created our own Education Advisory Board made up of policy makers, educators and innovators to help us to understand the market and e-learning evolution.

Also, by tapping into the knowledge of organisations such as BESA, NAACE and the UKTI we gain valuable insight into international markets.

US and Europe have relatively mature eLearning markets. Could you elaborate on some of the most recent exiting M&A’s the industry has seen? (Mergers & Acquisitions).

KL: Education technology is seeing a shift toward a less centralised, more learner-directed model in the UK. Some of this is being driven by student expectations for customised learning (based on what they experience in the consumer space) but also by education reform and drivers globally.

I think we are seeing the market respond to this in the UK and Europe by way of mergers and acquisitions as well as rapid development. Publishers have been acquiring curriculum and assessment tools that give them this personalisation functionality. For instance, Oxford’s acquiring of MyMaths has now resulted in a complete course offering from text books and homework books linking to the differentiated online material.

One of the most exciting mergers is the one between Frog and iEducation, creators of I am learning. Frog is a teaching and learning platform, and by bringing the powerful I am learning assessment and analytics engine into the very fabric of Frog has meant that teachers, students (and even parents) can not only identify gaps in understanding or problems areas but be able to intervene in real time using the powerful content search and delivery tools within Frog. This closing of the teaching and learning loop means that every child can be guided through their own personal learning pathway and encourages the teacher’s role to become facilitator or mentor rather than content deliverer.

We now have tools and platforms available that can help us generate lots of interesting data points and carry out deep analysis of such data. On the other hand, there is increasing push from learners to customize learning as per their individual requirements. Do you see any business opportunity there? How costly is it to innovate at the "personalization of eLeaning" level?

KL: Our vision is to enable teachers to teach every student as if they were the only student they teach. By giving teachers the tools to personalise the learning pathway of every child in a simple and meaningful way, we can encourage learners to lead their own learning. We seek to understand our students in a holistic way – understanding what motivates them inside and outside of the classroom. While developing the platform in this way is costly, we believe that our considerable investment in R&D each year will give each child the access to the best possible education.

How do your current government customers evaluate ROI (Malaysia for example)?

KL: As we are two years into the Malaysian project, our first target has been to ensure that as many teachers as possible are using the software, so ROI has been based on platform usage and engagement. The next stage is to ensure that Frog is being used to create high quality lesson material and ensure a consistent quality of education being accessed by children whether they are in rural Saba or on the Peninsular in an urban area. We now plan to execute an efficacy study to measure the impact the new technology is having on attainment.

Learning Management System providers are being pushed to add strong search capabilities, enhance both the user interfaces and the usability of their systems, and add mobile compatibility in order to stay relevant in the coming few years. Could you comment on your current strategy to achieve this goal?

KL: We have introduced a search function called Discover, which quickly allows teachers to search all their education software resources through one place. By deeply integrating with partners such as Encyclopaedia Britannica, teachers have access to the best quality resources quickly. Our future strategy is to develop a recommendation function that enables teachers to choose from resources that others have found useful.

Frog’s simple to use interface has always been popular with teachers. Our intuitive design echo’s the technology people use in their own homes, with drag and drop functionality and fresh looking designs. 

What suggestions would you have for new entrants in this space? How costly and how important is it to have proof of concept prior to securing an investment round?

KL: Education is ripe for innovation. Technology has the ability to revolutionise education and suppliers, while partners need to make sure they are supporting this by developing software that pushes the boundaries.

My advice for entrants would be to focus on being disruptive – this could look like providing more opportunities for learners by extending learning beyond the classroom, or by offering experiences that are not supported by their school etc.

Proof of concepts are important in the education sector. There is a fine line between innovation and risk taking – and no one wants to gamble the life chances of a cohort with the implementation of something that is unproven and untested.

Based in Boulder, CO Adriana Galue, started working with web startups following a career in Neuroscience. She is truly passionate about technology and entrepreneurship. In addition to owning a consulting company, Adriana teaches seminars in entrepreneurship applied to technology in several South American universities.

Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, Adriana worked for 10 years as research associate and scientist for both the academic and pharmaceutical sectors. During her scientific career, Adriana co-developed the pre-clinical studies of Kalydeco, the only treatment available up to date for patients suffering from Cystic Fibrosis.

Adriana holds a Master’s in Neurology and Neurosurgery from McGill University and an MBA from the Leeds School of Business – University of Colorado at Boulder.  Born in Colombia and educated in Canada, she is fluent in English, Spanish and French.

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