Open English and NextU, two cases strengthening academic quality

E-Learn Team
15/12/16
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By: Alejandra Hamann

Miami, FL, United States

Open English and NextU are two educational platforms that became successful cases for incorporating new learning technologies and by bringing different generations close to new digital methodologies.

Thanks to the strategies implemented by Open English and NextU in countries such as Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, and Argentina, the concept of online education has been strengthened and popularized.

The goal is to continue strengthening NextU through quality academic programs supported by platforms like Moodle. Another goal is to meet the future needs of a corporate market that is defined by acquiring new skills and displaying their digital abilities. Gabriel Montoya, Chief Business Development Officer and Andrés Moreno, Open English founder, shared the extraordinary path these academic initiatives have taken.

E-Learn Magazine: What is NextU?

Gabriel Montoya: NextU is a scalable online educational platform, which seeks to provide competencies to our students in the areas of digital technology with greater labor demand. It currently offers courses in Digital Marketing, Web Development, Javascript Development, Android Programming, and iOS Programming. NextU also has important communication strengths, such as a chat window where there is a tutor who will answer any concerns from a student in less than 30 seconds. The conversation with the tutor is unlimited, but each interaction lasts about 10 minutes, ensuring a well-versed dialogue. Students can take classes at any time and place and receive a certificate that will specify the digital skills they learned at the end of the course. 

E.L.M: How did you get involved in NextU’s digital and educational project?

G.M: I’ve known Andrés Moreno, the Open English founder, for nine years.  I was lucky enough to start working with him from the beginning, helping him as an investor and a member of the Board of Advisors, with alliances, advice, and contacts. At the end of 2013, we came up with the idea of creating a new online educational platform, and that’s how NextU was born. I started as an investor, then became CEO and now my presence in both projects is transversal.

E.L.M: How did NextU begin?

Foto AFP Andrew Innerarity - Gabriel Montoya - Open English - NextU (6)G.M: We started by developing the platform and contents. Next, we set up the equipment, a task that took us all 2014. In early 2015, we launched the platform to the public and we started to enroll students. We did not expect such amazing growth. The work group had to be increased from 6 to 60 people in just 7 months. This phenomenon caught the attention of people in the sector including Open English’s main investors, who proposed to combine with us and take advantage of the synergies between both platforms.

E.L.M: Why did you choose Moodle as NextU’s support platform?

G.M: Moodle is an excellent tool that offers great flexibility. Open English educational platform is independent of NextU’s. We take the Moodle interface, and add our ‘layer’ and interactive ideas with the user. With it, we can integrate diverse learning elements, and in addition, our technology team feels comfortable adding other tools to improve the students’ experience.

E.L.M: Why did you decide to integrate Open English and NextU?

G.M: We carried out this transaction because we found an opportunity to accelerate the growth of many areas and to take advantage of both platforms. In December 2015, our parent company Open Education, also began to ‘shelter’ NextU. After this alliance, my role began to be holistic. I moved from being NextU’s CEO to be the head of corporate business for both platforms.

E.L.M: How many users do you currently have in Open English and NextU?

G.M: We want to finish 2016 with more than 120,000 new students. Our most important market concentration is located in: Brazil, Colombia, Peru, and Mexico. Now, over 600,000 students have passed through the Open English platform.

E.L.M: Which courses receive more registrations?

G.M: Digital market is an area of interest for everyone. We are in the process of offering new certificates that have a massive appeal, such as graphic design and data analysis, among others. Interestingly, for men, issues related to Android’s mobile applications development and Web Development are more successful.

E.L.M: How do you plan to work with the corporate market?

G.M: The corporate market is different. The products these customers need are not the same, even if the learning experience is the same. To work with the corporate market, you have to make some adaptations to meet the needs of a company. Another one of our challenges will be to educate the corporate public so they know that we are a company that serves this market.

E.L.M: How will you involve Open English in this corporate market?

G.M: Most corporate clients are looking for our main strength, which is employee fluency when it comes to speaking English. This is our biggest advantage.

E.L.M: What are the keys to your success?

G.M: The development of our sales force and having regional directors in countries where we have a greater presence. In addition, regarding Open English, we differentiate ourselves with live classes for groups of up to five students or private classes led by native teachers. Likewise, our success is related to the current condition of society, which is changing as technology advances. The digitalization of service models, business models, and how we travel are transforming consumption habits. Today, there is no university in the world that does not have an online offer.

Moodle is an excellent tool that offers great flexibility. We take the Moodle interface, and add our ‘layer’ and interactive ideas with the user.

E.L.M: Will you also involve NextU in the corporate market?

G.M: We are in that process because we need to develop the right skills and strategies to reach these customers. However, we have companies that have bought both licenses, as they are interested in having employees with a diverse set of skills. We expect to have a more complete offer for both platforms by the beginning of 2017.

E.L.M: What do you take into account when developing your contents?

G.M: We are always evaluating where technology goes, how the labor demand behaves, and which capabilities companies need. With the input, we decide the contents that we must develop for hard skills. This assures that we have current and relevant certificates for the labor market. As far as soft skills are concerned, we currently have two programs: the first is oriented towards entrepreneurship and the individual, called Corporate Innovation. This program is aimed at employees looking to become entrepreneurs and help organizations grow. Andrés Moreno’s life and learning experiences were essential to develop this program. The second program is about leadership; its contents will be built beside Ismael Cala, a journalist, writer and CNN presenter. Cala is recognized for his programs on personal growth. All these ideas will be oriented to provide practical and dynamic knowledge that can be applied to real life situations.

E.L.M: What are your students’ observations? How comfortable do they feel when navigating your platforms?

G.M: At the end of each course, we conduct a voluntary survey that measures the user’s opinion. The question “Would you recommend this course?” is the clearest indicator for measuring, in a very simple way, the student’s level of satisfaction. The results have been excellent so far.

E.L.M: Could you list the technologies you implement in your platforms?

G.M: In the case of NextU, we have a tool that uploads videos and educational materials. There are also online tutors available at all times to clarify questions, through a chat tool. The Tutor Café is a real-time, interactive forum for learning and conversations between teachers and students. We have integrated code editors and special technology to provide an excellent system of customer service and payment processing, allowing our students to use different means of payment, no matter where they are located.

NextU will continue to grow as it is clear that it does not seek to replace people with technology, “On the contrary, we use it to provide better learning outcomes. With technology, we will not eliminate the relationships between teachers and students, we just use technology to leverage and improve that interaction. People’s mentality and the perception about virtual education continues to change in a more and more favorable way,” concludes Montoya.

*Gabriel Montoya – Chief Business Development Officer at Open Education

*Photos by: FP Andrew Innerarity

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E-Learn Team
Openness Initiative
E-Learn is a community openness initiative started by Blackboard. It’s a partnership designed to help educators share insights, perspectives and practices for the purpose of achieving student and institutional success.
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