Expert Interview Series: Sotiris Makrygiannis of Eliademy About Simplicity in Virtual Education

Sotiris Makrygiannis, the founder of Eliademy, is an international expert on mobility and educational technology. We recently spoke with Sotiris to learn more about how virtual education is evolving and improving.

Tell us a bit about yourself. Why did you decide to create Eliademy?

The story of Eliademy is filled with passion and determination for a better world. Our history is documented in multiple public articles, but today I would like to tell something that we never said before. Eliademy was created in a dark kitchen room 50km away from the arctic circle in a town called Kuusamo, Finland. Two friends came together and brainstormed about how to change education, and we agreed on one word: simplicity. We wrote down our predictions about what was going to happen in the next 10 years and set a course to become a “catalyst” for the transformation of education.

I’m happy to report that we predicted that we would become a top brand in five years, and we have done that in four. Our goal is to make education more accessible and affordable for all – not by ourselves, but by forcing all the market players to move toward that direction.

What do you think are some of the most important technological advances in the last ten years that have impacted the ability to create and offer online courses?

None.

What we are experiencing is a change in demographics. Teachers are more familiar with content creation tools and feel more comfortable with being online. The change is not in the technology; HTML has been there all the time. The simplicity of interfaces, however, has played a huge role.

We had video recording before, but today many shy people are now willing to record their teachings and post them online. We had live conferencing before, and today people are using more of these tools on daily basis. We had online services before, but they were over-complicated and offered way too many options and buttons. The concept of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) is not new; Feynman Lectures on Physics from the 1960s is an example of course that you could find on tapes that were available to anyone. So even MOOC is not “new,” but rather a clever marketing way of rebranding something that was there for decades.

Complete this sentence: “The most unusual or innovative online e-learning course that I have ever seen offered or created is…”

By Facebook and Google search and ADs algorithms. The sad part is that is promoting consumerism right now; otherwise, typing a question into Google’s search engine will eventually lead you to learn something new every day if you consciously pay attention and skip all the ads. It’s a shame that this is happening with a motive to sell you something. But if we will keep talking about it, those great developers at Google and Facebook will get the point of what it means “not being evil.” (At least I hope so, for the sake of our kids’ minds.)

What are some of the elements of online courses that help keep the attention of students?

Students will spend 11 minutes in a learning platform on average and across the many platforms that I have studied. Typically, six minutes of those will be watching a video, one minute will be spent on navigation, and the rest is allocated for answering quizzes or reading a text. Every minute taken away from social media is a good minute, so we included live web conferencing in our platform so teachers can also see and discuss course material in real time with their students.

These days, how do traditional brick-and-mortar universities view online courses? 

I think there is a bit of denial here that this transformation will not touch them nor change them. I think is wrong to resist and deny – or even worse, take actions just to claim that you are doing something in that area. Look at television broadcasters. They are failing rapidly. Who is on the rise? The new star armed with a single camera who can create entertaining videos and spread them via YouTube.

I believe in the power of an individual, and if universities don’t find those individuals and empower them, these institutions will eventually transform into something else. It could be that they become incubation centers for entrepreneurs or just centers for certification and testing – but definitely not as content distributors like they are today.

What do you think the “next frontier” is in the evolution of online courses and e-learning in general?

The human interaction between a mouse and a monitor is limited to a certain bandwidth. We have the technology to send photons charged with information directly to our eyes and also do direct connections to our brains. Those are technologies developed years ago for military helmets of aircraft personnel, where you need the highest level of efficiency between a machine and a human. Once we are convinced that this approach is safe (hopefully after a good amount of testing), then I believe the direct input of information into the brain is the next frontier.

All the information crowdsourced right now will not go to waste, but will somehow visually transformed and transferred to humans as experiences. All that artificial intelligence talk makes no sense since teachers are emotional human beings and not calculators. Thus, in order for AI to be able to teach, it needs to be emotionally stable and aware. We at Eliademy still believe in teachers and helping them acquire skills to become better educators, and all machine learning initiatives are focused on that front.

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