Learning to Remember: Digemy Founder Kobus Louw Discusses the Importance of Creating a Meaningful Learning Experience Through Ed-Tech

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To be successful, a company must train employees to do their jobs. There are many EduTech platforms that aim to show staff the ropes. But learning is not a simple process. It is easy for staff to read some slides, take a test, and tick ‘training’ off the box. But this misses something vital: To apply what they have learnt, employees need to remember what they have learnt. This is where South African EduTech start-up, Digemy, stands out.

Where other platforms like Udemy offer a range of easy-to-use, but equally easy-to-forget courses, Digemy creates a meaningful e-learning experience. Companies can trust that with Digemy their employees will not only learn the skills needed, but that they will also remember them. Launched in 2017, Digemy has quickly become a popular start-up, winning a place in the 2020 Top 20 South African Small Business Awards. We sat down with one of the co-founders, Kobus Louw, to find out more.

Q:  Life-long learning and the training of employees is important. Can you tell me a bit about what Digemy does and its main goals as an organization?

A:When you look at learning at an organization, there are two components: learning for staff retention, whereby the learner gets access to a big learning library (for example, a LinkedIn or Udemy library) and can learn at their own pace, and then there is the hard skills training that enables the employee to do their job. Often organizations miss this. With learning aimed at staff retention, there is no accountability in that [learning] process. You can learn, but no-one is going to keep employees accountable to that. The problem with these learning systems is that it is a tick-box exercise. It tests comprehension, but you do not know what they have retained or remembered.

Digemy specializes in the second component of organizational learning: the hard-skills training which someone needs to be able to do their job. The type of learning I just mentioned is not great for hard skills. For hard skills, what matters is that learners can apply [what they have learnt], but they cannot apply what they cannot remember. If you do not repeat the training material over time, then learners forget, and knowledge gaps will form which places the business at risk.

Image source: Digemy.com
Image source: Digemy.com

We ensure that organizations can enhance their operational excellence and efficiency, and the application of what people learn. We do this by giving them access to a learning platform that is gamified, micro, and adaptive.  We use all the elements of the fourth industrial revolutions’ learning methodologies in one easy-to-use system so that we can enhance two things: we want to decrease the time spent learning, and increase knowledge and engagement, so that firstly we can get someone operational much sooner. And secondly, we can enhance retention. And by enhancing retention, we automatically enhance application. In this way, we fill the gap between training and learning.

Q: Tell me more about the difference between comprehension and retention. Why is it important and how does Digemy emphasize this?

A: If I wake you up at 4 o’ clock in the morning in six months from now, and ask you a question, would you answer that question correctly? To me that is a true measure of learning. You have not learnt anything if you cannot answer that question. We measure this long-term retention as opposed to fleeting comprehension and test scores.

If you learn anything new for the first time, within one day most people will forget 70 % of what they learn. In two months, it is as low as five percent, which means if I am an organization that is deploying e-learning for training my staff, then I do not have a measure to keep them accountable to what they know and what they do not know.

To close knowledge gaps and increase retention, our platform measures the learners’ knowledge of key concepts, and knows what concepts need to be repeated to each learner based on their unique engagement, comprehension, and intention. It is a full learning experience [powered by] our algorithms. So where other companies offer training, we offer a meaningful learning experience.

The retention rates from people using other training platforms stands at around 10 %. The completion rate on those platforms for courses is usually around 7.5 %. Digemy has a long-term retention rate of 92 % if the learner finishes all the concepts on the platform.  Our open-source learning completion rate is between 35 to 40 %. So, what makes us different is that if you learnt on Digemy, you are going to remember what you have learnt. It is a true learning platform in that sense.

Q: Digemy helps to create training programmes for companies, but it also helps to identify the areas in which employees need more training. Can you tell me more about this?

A: Other platforms, even if [they’re training hard skills], have an approach of, “Here is the training. Take it. And we are done.” But learning is a personal experience. Employees [might have] prior knowledge on a topic which needs to be taken into consideration. We ensure that takes place. Then we adapt the repetition of content and questions to that learner’s knowledge. The system is really focused on the learner. A lot of time is put into understanding our users and understanding what makes learners learn. It is no use in making a learning platform that does not fit in with the flow of work and the flow of life. That what is we aim to do.

Q: Could you mention what kind of clients you have worked with?

A: We have a big international database of clients. We have worked with the likes of Deloitte: This includes Deloitte Australia, and we have served Deloitte across Africa. We have also worked with Capitec Bank, which is one of the biggest banks in Africa. Another client is a Norwegian management consultancy firm for whom we have built a career focused academy. Our clients come from all over the world, but all of them have the same goal in mind. It is to create a learning experience in which you can truly measure the retention of each learner, and increase the probability of them actually applying what they have learnt.

 Q:  Training people can be difficult to do online. As the world moves more and more to the digital terrain, creating training programmes that are optimized for virtual settings is vital. How does Digemy aim to facilitate this? 

A: There are two kinds of barriers. Firstly, many people [in South Africa] cannot learn online because they do not have access to a lot of data or Wi-Fi. For that we have created a very data-lite solution. It is just text with animated gifs and a graphics solution so that there is a great learning experience, but it does not consume tons of data.  For learners who have access to data, there is a video version, too. They can choose which version they would prefer to learn from.

Then the second barrier is understanding the platform and understanding how to learn. When learners are onboarded [onto the platform], they can go on an onboarding tour. Through this we explain what this form of e-learning is, and how they can best use it to their advantage. Then we take them through a tour of the platform and how the platform works. [Beyond that], we also focus on teaching learners how to memorize information and how to learn in the digital world. For example, there are courses focused specifically on memorization.

Q: Can you tell me a bit more about what it means for the platform to be ‘gamified’? 

A: We use a point and reward system for questions answered for, and multiple points when you answer a few questions correctly in a row. The moment you earn a certain knowledge level on a module, you increase your points, and you unlock certain badges. We know you can physically incentivize learners, with cash prizes and awards. And that really enhances people’s experience. A lot of people ask us, “Why should I incentivize my people to learn?” Well, the thing is, if you do not incentivize people to learn, then what is your change rate going to be like? When you are using gamification, you can create cash prizes, weekends away for two, or whatever can fit within your budget and can motivate your learners for success and.. People can learn for something. They have skin in the game. And our natural competitive edge comes out. This increases engagement, and so retention.

Q: What are the biggest challenges you have faced as a growing start-up?

A: When we started out, we were like any other start-up out there. Often there will be guys with a great idea, but the question is: Is it a business? When we started, we did not do enough testing. We had a great assumption. Theoretically, we knew what we could create would probably be the best platform out there. Then we built our first iteration, spent a lot of money on it, and used an external developer. But then once the product went live, it just started falling apart. Nobody had thought about [how] the number of users [would impact the system], or whether there could be bottlenecks in the code. So that was a massive nightmare. The other problem was outsourcing all the work to different parties without vetting those parties in the right way. If you do this, you are going to be in big trouble if you do not watch out.  After a while, we had to re-do everything. We had to re-do our platform, and we had to re-do our content.

Q: How did you progress from that point onwards?

A: It was important for us to do re-do the platform to stay in line with our values. These values include   excellence and stewardship. Stewardship is basically saying, “The client’s business that I am nurturing is not mine. But I know how much it means to them and what it is worth to them, and because of that I will look after it as if it was my own. As for excellence, it does not mean perfection. It does not mean I do not make mistakes. What it does mean is that when I do make mistakes, I ensure that I implement the systems and processes to ensure it does not happen again.

Those are the two values that we really needed to apply, and when we had those mindsets, it changed how we work. Now when we change anything or add new things to the business, we ensure it has been vetted, we do background checks, and we ask ourselves: “Is this the best for us at this point?”

But growing from that, the other crazy thing is that we have not raised a lot of capital. We have raised 400 000 US dollars, but [from that] we have built a business that is an eight-figure US dollar valuation. This shows that we can do a lot with very little. We are going through quite a big funding round now, too.

Through this journey we learnt that you need to give your business the right fuel that it needs at the time based on its maturity. Standing where you are at your maturity [and knowing where the company is in its progression at a certain point in time] is exceptionally important.

Q: Looking back on your progress as a start-up, what are the most important lessons you’ve learned as a start-up founder and owner?

A:For up-and-coming upstart-ups, I would say the one thing you need to focus on is asking yourself, “Who is your ideal customer? Who should you be speaking to and who should you not be speaking to?” Do not just assume anything, because you are going to burn cash. Spend time doing customer discovery.

We did not do that in the beginning. We assumed our product was right. We did not speak to our clients, we did not speak to our users, and we did not define what they want in a product. And we learnt the hard way over time. If we did that from the beginning, we would have created a completely different business. Everything we do now is customer centric. We are doing customer discovery before launching and making sure that we can apply that within our niche. If you do not do this, you are just building different tech for every single client, everyone is running around in different directions, and you are not focused on one thing. That is possibly the most important thing. That you know exactly what you need to focus on. But you continue learning. And I think that is the most important thing.

Q: What are your goals for the future of Digemy? 

A: Now that we understand the South African market, we are scaling internationally. That is the next learning journey for us. We are aiming to become a multinational organisation, and so really making Digemy global. In terms of shorter-term goals, we want to continue to enhance our product, and to work on certain elements within the platform that will optimise user experience and the user journey.

Our long-term mission is to become the best performance-focused learning company in the world, and our vision is to change a hundred million lives through that of adaptive learning. The question is: how do you measure performance? It is simple, I cannot apply what I cannot remember. So, if you want to enhance performance and you want to become the best performance-focused learning company in the world, create learning experiences people can remember. And that is exactly what we do.

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While there are plenty of quick, tick-box courses and learning platforms out there, Digemy focuses on true and meaningful learning. While it took some trial and error to get focused, they eventually found themselves a niche where they can stand out among other EduTech start-ups. If you are looking to train your employees in a way they will remember, look no further than Digemy.

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