WATCH: This Silicon Valley edtech startup is working with Oxford University Press to make language learning easy
Edtech startup Ardor Learning was launched to help organisations identify communication weaknesses and target outcomes. The language learning platform, which currently caters to the B2B market, offers training in 14 languages, and soon plans to make learning accessible to all with their app.
For someone who has spent more than 20 years in the learning space, building and managing learning solutions for organisations, starting up with a language learning portal seems like an obvious choice. But Deepak Desai, the Founder and CEO of edtech platform Ardor Learning, had more than one reason to embrace the entrepreneur’s life.
Firstly, his vast experience in the education industry and the superior technological resources at his disposal made an online platform facilitating language learning a natural progression. Secondly, as Deepak explains, it was his way of “giving back to India”.
Language learning aided by technology
Founded in 2014 in Silicon Valley, California, Ardor Learning is a bootstrapped edtech platform that offers learning solutions based on the best language learning science. Its stack of offerings includes a full range of distance and in-person teaching services, which in turn use a mix of e-learning, audio, and video platforms.
Ardor Learning currently operates in the US, Spain, Mexico, Netherlands, China, Japan, and India. With the aid of their partners, the platform – web-based and app – currently has the ability to deliver learning in 14 foreign languages, including Spanish, Portuguese, Turkish, and others.
In India, the team – comprising 50 plus-members – works with around 20 clients. Across the globe, their client list boasts more than 150 organisations from the banking and finance, hospitality, IT, and services sectors.
Aimed at helping organisations identify communication weaknesses and target outcomes, the platform, at the moment, caters to the B2B segment. In the long run, however, Deepak’s goal is to transform learning across all segments.
“The technological developments that have taken place in the recent past have made a significant difference on how people engage with learning in general, but more specifically with language learning, which is a very difficult thing to do,” he says.
“Our hope is to have the best content from an educational perspective and marry that with the best technology available in the Silicon Valley,” he adds.
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A global experience that set the stage for Ardor
“I started my career in the media business with Time Warner Inc,” Deepak recalls, taking us back in time. “With Time, we had an educational business, a books business, and that’s where we really understood the power of language learning. We realised how people in China and (overall in) Asia were spending significant amount of money on acquiring English language skills,” he says.
Over the years, he goes on, they saw how the internet changed the game, making everything accessible to people via e-learning.
“So I spent the last dozen-plus years in online learning, specifically in English language learning. I started Ardor to take this mission forward and blend superior technology with a human touch to provide the ‘best of both worlds’, and to ensure learners achieve demonstrable skill improvement.”
Ardor recently purchased My Oxford English, now known as My Ardor English, which was developed by Oxford University Press, the world’s leading creator of English language learning materials.
Deepak explains, “We started working with Oxford University Press, essentially taking their educational effectiveness and merging it with top technology.”
The scope of language learning in India
With more than 20 officially recognised languages, and over 1,500 identified mother tongues, India is undoubtedly a ripe market for language learning. Especially, given how most businesses here are conducted in English, the need to nurture English language skills along with the already superior technical skills of the professionals here, is more important than ever.
Deepak makes another interesting observation. He says, “One may think that in India a lot of people speak in English, but that is true to some extent because it is one of the largest populations of English-speaking people in the world. However, that’s not true for everybody. When you go to Tier II cities and smaller villages, you will see there is a huge lack in English communication skills, and this creates a divide.”
This is where a platform like Ardor Learning comes to play, with its vision to provide a level playing field.
According to Deepak, one cannot articulate well without appropriate language skills, which tends to have a detrimental impact on an individual’s career graph. At Ardor Learning, all efforts are directed towards harnessing these hard skills – something that Desai believes Indians have in abundance – by complementing them with adequate language skills.
“When we started our business in India a couple of years ago, we were working with corporates, IT services companies, and financial services companies that work with companies overseas. Now, we are also going after educational institutes, universities, and finishing schools. Recently, I have had discussions with the government as well,” he adds.
The company works on a subscription-based model, and a majority of its revenues also come in through this mode.
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Programmes and videos
From on-site workshops to virtual classes, executive coaching, phone classes, and other assessment tools, Ardor’s learning tools takes into account a wide range of learners and their individual needs. They have even segmented their courses under the broad heads of “companies” and “educational institutes”, boasting a video-first approach regardless of their target audience.
“We have more than 400 hours of video in our programme,” says Deepak adding, “The video is also structured like a TV show. There is a little storyline there, so you are learning and at the same time you are also entertained and engaged.”
A learner signing up with Ardor would typically begin with a placement test to understand where s/he stands in terms of the language skills. Following which, s/he would need to go through the various units of the programme, including tests to determine self-progress at every level. It is only after a learner has been through all self-checks and all 12 units of the programme that s/he gets a course-completion certificate.
Mission behind Ardor Learning
No entrepreneurial experience is a straight curve; it’s always a journey full of ups and downs. And Deepak’s experience with his online language learning platform has been no different. Through the past five years, in fact, the founder says the one thing that has kept him on track is having his “eyes on the prize”.
For Ardor, this means expanding their base beyond B2B and consolidating their learning resources on their app that will be available by the third quarter of this year.
“Unlike most other apps that exist today, especially on the B2C side,” Deepak promises, “ours is going to be a more comprehensive one with videos and everything.”
“The vision I have is that if you are a learner and you are having some difficulties, the system is intelligent enough to see that, and a chatbot opens up to answer your question. And if it is too complex, it switches automatically to a real person,” he says.
(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)
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