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Technology company addresses 21st Century demands

Technology company addresses 21st Century learning demands

New technology that automates the laborious task of converting text books and other learning resources into meaningful online educational material is turning a New Zealand combination into a successful export business.

Intuto, an online learning development company, and its software development subsidiary, KoComm Ltd, have an agreement with the world’s oldest publishing house and one of the world’s largest academic and educational publishers, Cambridge University Press, to work on Web delivery publications.

Intuto is also starting to develop a global network, with offices in China, Australia, United Arab Emirates and Canada, opening up new markets for its Internet learning resources.

Until now, there has been no easy, efficient and fast method of converting the millions of educational and academic titles, reports and presentations into online material suitable for tertiary study courses. With investment of $305,000 from the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, KoComm is developing technology that could halve the time it currently takes to create online formats from existing study programmes.

Foundation Business Manager, Tom McLeod, says the new technology has the potential to provide spectacular growth for KoComm and Intuto, capturing a niche, e-learning market that is worth billions of dollars.

“This is a high margin, Web-based business in a high growth market. It is just the type of knowledge based technology that the Foundation’s TBG (Technology for Business Growth) investment is designed to support,” he says.

The new RACE (Rapid Assessment and Conversion Engine) technology consists of an artificial intelligence system to capture expert knowledge and formats it into useful blocks of information for web based study. It separates paragraphs or sections from textbooks into reusable learning objects that can be incorporated into a range of different study courses and be easily updated. RACE sorts information according to a set of rules and specific criteria, replacing the time-consuming work of instructional designers. It is able to analyse documents quickly and indicate additional material required, such as pictures, animations or assessments, to make the material more engaging for students. There is also a unique online authoring system that allows collaboration between authors from around the world who can work on course formatting simultaneously through online discussion forums or chat rooms.

KoComm Managing Director, Adrian Sallis, says the technology goes a long way in solving a major international bottleneck caused by the shortage of skilled instructional designers and a lack of quality online course material.

“There appears to be nothing else similar on the market and overseas companies employ huge teams of people to do the job that our technology will achieve, says Mr Sallis.

“It is a bit like an online book store and RACE means that a greater number of courses and products can be offered through Intuto to a much wider international market.”

The technology will enable courses to be constantly updated and improved to meet specific demands, such as developing foundation level educational material for African students or adapting existing courses for sector specific learning, such as health or rural sectors.

“New Zealand companies often have a mental block when looking at big overseas brands and thinking ‘we can’t compete because we’re so removed’. But we’ve been a bit daring and audacious, concentrated on a good business model and not been afraid of making overseas connections.”

The concept for the new technology came to Intuto founder and CEO, Dennis Murray, in the middle of the night several years ago when he was contemplating new opportunities in the publishing industry. Intuto was originally developed to deliver online high quality, low cost education in New Zealand and has used the efficiencies learned here to support its push offshore. That work included large training institutions and supporting leading multinational dairy company Fonterra to introduce training to raise rural productivity.

In China, Intuto is providing online English language training, aligning it with the national training curriculum, with seven of its 50 staff based in Beijing. Software subsidiary, KoComm, has 14 fulltime developers in its New Zealand office.

“The appetite in education sectors for blended programmes is enormous. Our product allows training providers to focus on quality, supports face-to-face training and releases tutors from some classroom responsibilities to concentrate on special projects,” says Mr Murray.

“Web systems will play a huge role in classrooms in the future and give students access to learning at any time of the day.

“Geography is no barrier. Intuto programmes can run anywhere - inside large institutions in the most demanding environments in the world, such as Asia, or in small rural communities, as it is all browser driven.”

Mr Murray says his company’s edge is applying mature business models to an emerging market using world class technology.

The new technology concept has taken five years to develop, with company predictions that RACE will return a net annual profit of around $3 million within five years.


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