Providing curriculum that keeps pace with rapidly advancing technology in certain industries can be a major challenge for institutions of higher learning. In this episode, APU professor Justin Goldston talks to Jack Wong, CEO of LearnDay, about collaborating with traditional academic institutions to fill these curriculum development needs. Learn about efforts to create a symbiotic relationship between organizations to educate students about topics like artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain so they understand both the theory and driving force behind the technology as well as its practical and hands-on application.
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Justin Goldston: Hi, everyone, and welcome to the podcast. I am your host, Justin Goldston. And today, we have as a guest Jack Wong, CEO of LearnDay. Today, we will be talking about the trends within the industry, how his organization is filling the gap within the industry, and this is going to make out to be a good conversation. Welcome, Jack.
Jack Wong: Thank you for having me, Justin.
Justin Goldston: Thanks. So could you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your company?
Jack Wong: Yeah, my name’s Jack. I’m the CEO of LearnDay. The mission of the company is really to build an online education platform for certified and regulated industries, to really help fill that talent gap between what employers need today and what’s traditionally been offered through post-secondary institutions and other legacy educational programs.
Justin Goldston: Excellent. Excellent. So given that there are a number of certified and regulated industries out there, do you have a broad view of those industries which you address, or are you more specialized on certain industries or practices?
Jack Wong: We’ve got a pretty broad view, because we’re really looking to provide an option for everybody. So it doesn’t really matter what your preferences or predilections might be. If a four year degree isn’t for you, we’re here to help. So whether that’s providing courses for finance, insurance, health, fitness, we’re really trying to cover that spectrum, regardless of what your interests are, to be able to provide you with that certification or that license from the government that will allow you to build a great career without necessarily having to invest all that time and money.
Justin Goldston: Good. As a professor, I see that within higher education, there are certain industries that move too fast. They’re moving fast, I should say. For example, within the blockchain space, it would be very difficult for higher education institutions to keep up with the regulations, with the different laws. So for example, in the US, Wyoming just passed a bill to recognize decentralized autonomous organizations as LLCs. That was mid-semester, in the spring semester. So how are we going to be able to make that adjustment within higher education, back what we’re discussing on peer-reviewed journal articles.
And I think that that’s where your organization can work with higher education institutions, where on the surface, it may be like you’re competing with higher education institutions. But from my standpoint, it’s like, there’s a partnership. What’s your thoughts on that? What’s your feedback on that?
Jack Wong: I think I would agree with that, Justin. I think it’s more of a collaborative approach and it’s not so much like, “Okay, we’re trying to compete or trying to replace the post-secondary institutions.” What we’re really looking to do is to supplement that.
So whether that’s somebody gets a degree and then goes on to get a certification with us. Or whether that’s us being able to rapidly iterate and keep up with those changes in legislation, or in those kinds of emerging industries where things just change all the time, to be able to quickly integrate that new material and deliver it in partnership with those institutions to help them make their curriculum a little bit more robust, more relevant, and just more up-to-date with what employers need and what students want to learn.
Justin Goldston: Very interesting. So how did this idea come about? We’ll see different associations, such as the Project Management Institute, or APICS within the supply chain, or the Association of Supply Chain Management, or SHRM within human resources, where we develop a curriculum within higher education to prepare students to sit for those certifications, and then they’ll go and take those certifications. So where did this idea come about?
Jack Wong: For me, personally, it started with a bit of a personal connection with the insurance industry. The insurance industry is one of those ones, and I think it’s the same in all of finance, where you have certificates and licenses and credentials. It was just a great way for people to build a career that they can really rely on and have a skill, a license, something that really they can carry with them going forward, without having to do the degree.
I mean, I did a four-year traditional degree in computer science and I ended up not using it, but it was helpful, right? The stuff I learned along the way was very helpful. And so, the origin of the business really was around the regulated training for insurance and then just branched out from there to expand to other industries, and continue the mission just beyond the insurance industry, because it’s not always the right fit for everybody.
Justin Goldston: You made an excellent point in that statement, in that, the computer science degree was very helpful. You did not go into that discipline, but some of those nuggets, if you will, in that program were very helpful.
So that’s one thing that I explain to a lot of students, in that I always talk about a systems thinking approach. And if you look at an entire MBA program, to be an effective and efficient leader, you have to take marketing, finance, supply chain, leadership, economics. And you have to blend all of that and look at an organization from a systems thinking perspective, look at an organization as a system, look at all of your business partners as a system, and look at all of those aspects to a MBA program and see how they are all interconnected, right?
So are you thinking about trying to take certain things from a certification, so things, because you need insurance. So even if you’re a leader in the organization, if you’re an entrepreneur, you need to know aspects of insurance, you need to know aspects of emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence and blockchain. You may need to know certain aspects as healthcare and the healthcare industry, right? You may not be in the healthcare industry, but you need to understand certain aspects of the healthcare industry, right?
So do you have things, or are you thinking of things like that, where you’re taking certain courses out of different programs to give a broad view for entrepreneurs or for VCs that are looking to get certain certifications?
Jack Wong: Yeah. We’re looking to make the material really bite-sized and digestible, and to be able to take broad lessons from maybe some more of the niche topics and how to apply those in other areas. Just to give you an example, my schooling in computer science, it wasn’t directly applicable to what I’m doing here in business with education. But the concept or the idea when you’re trying to develop a computer program, write an algorithm, write code, the thought process that you learn from taking an end goal— what you want this program or this piece of software to do—and then breaking it down into simple steps, which is essentially what programming is, a simple set of instructions that a computer can follow to do what you need it to do.
So that way of thinking really helped when it came to designing curriculum, or even when we were starting out, creating marketing material for the website. To be able to break things down in that way was very helpful. So it was just an indirect skill that you learn that you can apply broadly.
Justin Goldston: Excellent. So Jack, could you tell us a little bit about how you went about designing the curriculum and what the curriculum actually looks like?
Jack Wong: Yeah, so, I mean, as far as what the curriculum looks like, it varies depending on the program. I’m a little bit more intimately familiar with the insurance and the finance programs, so maybe I would speak around that.
But the whole concept of the curriculum design is, obviously, the regulators have different learning outcomes and goals and things that they assess using the exam. So we really design around those goals, as does everybody else, but what really sets us apart is the way we teach and the way we communicate those concepts.
Going back to what I was referring to with the computer programming type of skills, what we really try to do is break it down into really basic steps. We use plain language, we really try to avoid jargon, wherever possible. There are, obviously, some industry terms and lingo that you do need to know in order to operate and to do your job properly. But at the end of the day, when you’re dealing with a client, using insurance as an example, they don’t know what this jargon means, you know? To be able to communicate it to the client in a very simple language is really beneficial, and even for students, right, to be able to understand it and then start to add those layers of complexity on top. So that’s really the approach. It’s really building it from the bottom up.
Justin Goldston: Excellent. Yeah, yeah. And you make an excellent point in terms of jargon, in that, we have a lot of jargon within the blockchain space where I’m at, a lot of jargon within the supply chain space. I’ll never forget one time, this one student from India asked me the question of, “What does cushion, when they’re talking about inventory cushions, what does that mean?” And I said, “Man,” I said, “We have jargon in our exams.” I said, we have to look at that, you know? So that makes an excellent point.
And that story leads me into the question of, is your focus primarily in the US? Are you looking to partner with institutions in other countries? What markets are you focused on right now? Or can you speak to that? I know it might be your strategy.
Jack Wong: No, I can definitely share a bit about that. Primarily, right now, our market is within Canada, but with the raise, and maybe we’ll chat about that later, is to really fuel our expansion into the US. We also have partnerships in different countries, India, Mexico, and these other places that we’re looking at, to deliver the blockchain or the emerging technologies certificates.
Justin Goldston: Excellent. You mentioned raise, so could you tell me a little bit about that raise and what’s going on there?
Jack Wong: Yeah, so we are doing a crowdfund on WeFunder for, I believe, a million dollars US to really help us fuel what we’re doing. Right now, we’re profitable. We could continue to expand on our own, but what we’re really looking to do is to raise these funds so we can go into the US very heavily and just really accelerate the rate of growth that we’re currently experiencing.
Justin Goldston: Excellent. So as I think about this in more, and I look at the industry and as I look at the organizations in which I consult with, in the future, in the roadmap, is there any thoughts into how you could create more specialized programs? So, for example, what I’m getting at is, yes, you have an insurance certification, but let’s just say that you have this construction industry and they want specialized training for their employees for this certain certification. Do you offer specialized education for certain industries or organizations?
Jack Wong: Actually, yeah, we do. That material is incorporated as part of our continuing education package. So if you’re an insurance professional, you’re a finance professional, even healthcare, you have to get a certain number of professional development hours every year in order to maintain your license. And so, we have a package of courses to help people with that. And some of them target different niches, right? Construction, directors and officers, blockchain, for example, specifically as it relates to insurance.
And we’re also looking to develop, in partnership with post-secondary institutions, a certification for certain niches, right? So you could be a certified construction insurance professional, or a managing general agent, that kind of thing. So that is something that is in the pipeline and actually have some very exciting announcements for that, probably coming up in the next couple quarters.
Justin Goldston: Excellent. Excellent. So, this is something that I’m very passionate about, and I think that this is one thing I often talk about, where there is some room for improvement within higher education. And within higher education, yes, we have people that are doing some amazing things in terms of research to further the body of knowledge. But what I’m approaching the conclusion of, is that there needs to be more collaboration with organizations such as yourself, as well as higher education institutions. That way we can bridge that gap. Because one thing I’ve seen in the industry is that, yes, we prepare these students at the undergraduate, at the graduate and the doctoral level of the knowledge, but in some cases, those people aren’t prepared to actually apply that knowledge.
So, it goes back to your slogan of, you’re preparing people for higher, higher education. So my question is, how are you looking to develop those collaborations? How are you looking to develop those partnerships with these higher education institutions? And how are you going back to, on the surface, it looks like you’re competing, right, but it’s not. How do you demonstrate that to these higher education decision makers that this is a collaboration, this is a partnership, right? It’s a win-win. How do you communicate that?
Jack Wong: Yeah. So, I think one of the challenges a lot of post-secondary institutions face, and Justin, maybe you’ve experienced this yourself, is the approval process for creating a new curriculum or a new course. It is quite onerous process, perhaps there’s layers of approval that needs to be done. And especially, if you’re maybe a smaller scale institution, you don’t necessarily have those resources to invest in curriculum development, especially in industries that change very rapidly, like blockchain, like AI. You just don’t necessarily have the resources to dedicate into the continual R&D process involved in keeping those courses up-to-date and practical, like you said, right, a little bit more tactical and more applicable. The principles are great. You need to know that. You need the foundation, of course, but then there’s that gap between foundational knowledge and then actual, practical application.
And so, for those institutions that aren’t necessarily able to do that on their own, we have the capability to do that because that’s all we do essentially is create curriculum and market it. So we can create that for them and partner with them to deliver it, right? I guess you can almost think of it as they’re outsourcing their curriculum development, right? So they outsource it to us. We make sure that it’s good, it’s always up to date, because that’s all we do. All we do is R&D, essentially, for curriculum. That’s what I would say is the main benefit in terms of the partnership between us and the traditional educational system.
Justin Goldston: Okay. So you’re more partnering with organizations to identify what the current gaps are within the workforce, so the majority of partnerships are with organizations as opposed to higher education institutions?
Jack Wong: I would say most are with educational institutions, but we are looking at partnering with organizations and businesses as well.
Justin Goldston: Excellent. So this was an excellent conversation. So, Jack, where could people find more about you and where could people find more about your organization, about LearnDay?
Jack Wong: Yeah, you can go to our website, learnday.com. If you want to learn more about the raise, what we plan to do with the funds, and all the exciting things we have in the roadmap, I think you can find us at wefunder.com/learnday.
Justin Goldston: Excellent. Thank you for that. Jack, do you have anything else you would like to share?
Jack Wong: Yeah. I mean, go to the WeFunder website, check out our raise, learn more about all the success we’ve had and what we plan to do for the future. And if you want to support us in revolutionizing education, check us out and look forward to your support.
Justin Goldston: All right. Jack, thank you for coming on the podcast.
Jack Wong: Thanks for having me, Justin.
Justin Goldston: All right, everyone. Thank you all for listening. In this episode, we had Jack Wong, the CEO of LearnDay, where we were talking about the current trends in the industry, in a number of different industries, and how his organization is looking to partner with other organizations, as well as higher education institutions, to address the current need with the evolving business landscape, to better prepare employees, entrepreneurs, and leaders for this future business world.