Pivoting Towards The Student

Pragya was founded on the premise that creating a solution to break content silos would unlock massive efficiencies in college campuses. We’ve of course seen this play out spectacularly in several industries. Our team was tailor made to solve these problems in education, since they built a lot of the systems deployed in higher education campuses. Backed by noted investors and the partnership of some of the best universities in the world, we started building a new content management system purpose-built to unlock higher-ed silos like Learning Management Systems, library and lecture video repositories etc. Higher Ed publishing is rapidly turning digital, the world of OER is evolving, and the elite Universities are valuing their courseware more. New opportunities to solve deeper problems like learning outcome tracking and accreditation compliance emerged.

However, 2 years into it, it felt like we weren’t moving fast enough. This wasn’t impatience. After all, many of us had worked in telecom and education all our lives – slow moving customers wasn’t a surprise! Our vision was to make a real impact on the economics and relevance of education. The content problems were real for faculty and administrators, and we were making progress. But once you got beyond the “elite” universities, there were bigger problems to solve. More importantly, the main stakeholder in education is the student, and we weren’t directly addressing their needs. Fortunately, we had enough miles on our tires to know when to listen to our customers.

Kenyon college, one of our early partners, was looking to help their students navigate the diverse campus resources and opportunities on offer. The same silo problem – only larger. Not just content – but Course Catalogs, Learning Management Systems, Career Services, Student Clubs, Alumni mentors etc. Kenyon was the best partner one could hope for – visionary, willing to experiment, opened their doors to all their data, made students available to help us listen to the voice of the user and most of all they were patient. Pragya created “Learning Streams” as a way to capture a student’s 360 degree, co-curricular footprint through college in one place. If Kenyon’s students (with the wonderful advisors and counselors that the college can afford) struggle with these siloes – imagine a student in the average university with poor student to advisor ratios. We started talking to colleges and universities of various kinds and sizes. The resonance was obvious and immediate.

We mapped out the student journey through college to help figure out the main gaps that students most suffer from. There were tools – CRM, case management, Predictive Analytics, Degree audit – but they were all built for the campus administrators. What do students have? They have student portals that should look as simple as a car dashboard, but in fact look as complex as airplane dashboards. They have course search and registration interfaces that are reminders of the early days of the internet. They are handed multi-page degree audit reports that are like crossword puzzles to figure out what they need to do to complete their degree.

75% of college students either enroll with an undeclared major or change within the first 2 years. More than half never even visit career services, or do so just before they graduate. Co-curricular, experiential learning and cross-disciplinary courses are being valued more and more by employers. None of them are easy to navigate with the tools at hand. The splintered information, and fast changing employer requirements make it a challenge for advisors as well.

Pragya saw an opportunity to end this predicament. Three purpose-built student solutions emerged out of the Learning Streams infrastructure and the machine learning powered recommendation engine behind it. An Explore tool that taps into both institutional information like programs offered, alumni data as well as labor market intelligence to help students figure out what they need to study with a context of careers. A personalized student Dashboard (which looks more like a car dashboard than an airplane one) that taps into relevant campus systems to give students a simple real-time snapshot where they stand in their progress towards a degree or any other credential. A simple Planning tool that helps students look ahead to do course planning as well as co-curricular planning in one place.

But one more important step was necessary. We needed student DNA in our team. Who is better equipped to solve student problems than current or recent students? Akhil Mantripragada was a student in the honors college at UTSA a few years ago and was frustrated with the learning solutions he had to use. While Akhil and his classmates felt collaboration was the key to learning, it seemed to take a back seat in how legacy LMS’s were designed. Blessed with an entrepreneurial gene, Akhil decided to start solving this problem in his honors thesis project. The thesis soon blossomed into a real product. Edulinc was born. As Akhil moved to graduate school at Columbia University, he continued to build Edulinc. Akhil started pulling together a small team of engineers and began collaborating with his UTSA classmate Joe Ybarra. The team was soon running trials of their social learning platform at UTSA and Columbia getting first hand feedback from students. Collaboration was central to the Edulinc vision. In our own conversations with campuses, it was apparent that students get as much information from their peers as they get from their advisors and counselors. However, students from disadvantaged backgrounds are typically too intimidated to approach their peers in person. It wasn’t a level playing field. It was clear that collaboration should be an integral element of any tool that we develop to guide students through their college journey – not just learning, but exploration and planning as well. The synergies with the Edulinc product and opportunities to increase our impact were clear. Pragya acquired Edulinc in 2016. We now have the student voice in our team.

Pragya’s mission is to improve the relevance of education. We are fortunate to have wonderful partners like National University, and their Precision Education initiative, to help us in this endeavor. While we continue to work with customers to break content silos, we now have a solution for the most important person in education – the student.

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