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ACKTEC redesigns learning

Lim Hui Jie
Lim Hui Jie • 6 min read
ACKTEC redesigns learning
ACKTEC founder Rayvan Ho does not believe learning only takes place in a classroom.
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Four years ago, Rayvan Ho went door to door to 20 schools, hoping to sell virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) content to enhance the learning experience. However, no one bought the idea. “Nobody [then] believed digitalisation is the way, because a lot of people feel that this violates or dilutes the content, and it’s not a way of learning,” Ho, the founder and CEO of education technology start-up ACKTEC Technologies, told The Edge Singapore in a recent interview.

But times change and schools are adopting. This is especially after Covid-19 arrived, as the pandemic has disrupted livelihoods. Students and workers alike have also not been spared, as social distancing measures have upended the conventional practice of centralised training lessons.

Sensing an opportunity, ACKTEC — armed with a $1 million backing, courtesy of angel investors who Ho declined to name — developed and launched a new platform they call ACKTEC KQwest, which was launched on July 31. The learning marketplace connects industrial partners that are developing accredited, immersive-learning courses with learners across Asia. KQwest digitalises courses by industry partners and accredited learning institutions, and converts them to bite-sized immersive learning content, connecting them with learners with training that is immediately applicable and relevant to their work demands and learning targets.

He calls it “the Taobao of content”, likening it to the popular Chinese e-commerce platform. This also means that learning can be done anywhere, anytime. As ACKTEC aggregates VR and AR content, 41-year-old Ho says its immersive learning technologies — such as virtual and augmented reality — will allow employees to access practical simulations they can immediately apply their training in a safe environment. Ultimately, his vision is for educators to be able to use the platform to deliver training and educational content round the clock, backed by an artificial intelligence to guide users efficiently.

Currently, Ho has SIA Engineering, NTUC Learning Hub and Hong Kong rail operator MTR providing content on his platform. ACKTEC is also now working with ITE Education Services — a subsidiary of the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), which was set up in 2003 to share its vocational education expertise — to pilot courses in China.

Beyond schools
Using AR and VR to teach is not new. Japanese carrier ANA, for example, teamed up with IT giant NEC in 2018 to provide enhanced safety training to flight attendants using virtual technology. With VR, the trainers can replicate a range of emergency scenarios, and train the cabin crew to respond quickly and effectively in the event of a crisis, such as an internal cabin fire, sudden depressurisation and in-flight equipment check.

However, existing immersive learning technologies are expensive. ACKTEC says it has found a way to lower any company’s entry to immersive learning, making it accessible to businesses across Asia. Ho wants his addressable market to go beyond schools, but to also any other setting where teaching is conducted. For example, adult workers can be taught via VR to pick up a range of new skills.

He adds: “Usually what we will do is we use PowerPoint slides, and then we understand the parts of the PowerPoint and imagine how it will work. So now if I can give you a particular 3D simulation on the mobile phone, where you can click and actually the pedal will move, or when you click and activate the steering wheel or actually when you step the accelerator, the car will move. This will translate into an immediate visualisation for the student.”

Furthermore, with digital content accessible on platforms such as mobile phones, companies can know that employees have completed their required courses, and as the content closely mirrors the actual situations, companies have more confidence in their capabilities to handle an actual situation.

Evolving education
Ho believes education has evolved beyond the classroom, where the simple “single directional” approach of the teacher to the student used to hold sway. He also believes learning now takes place anywhere, as technology can be used to deepen their learning experience.

The father of three children points to his kids as an example. He says they not only learn things at school, but also through their mobile phones. “They can tell me the history of Star Wars, even though they never lived in the era of when it came out (in 1977)”, he chuckles. But with the advent of such immersive digital tools, combined with the Covid-19 pandemic, is the era of classroom lessons and expensive tuition classes, over? Ho thinks not, “because tuition, and even learning in school, has a softer part of humanity where a machine or even a fully-humanised chatbot cannot replace. This means the feeling of actually understanding the student is lacking. That human connection and the side by side encouragement cannot be replicated by a machine.”

So while digital tools cannot totally replace classroom learning, it is a “good substitute” for situations like what the world is facing now, and immersive learning using VR and AR increases the effectiveness of lessons.

While the government here has done much to encourage life-long learning, Ho — who graduated with a minor in Entrepreneurship from the National University of Singapore — says there is more beyond a “classroom”, and that some things cannot be ‘learnt’ and only can be experienced. His time at university “taught me about things like project management, talking about the product life cycle, entrepreneurship laws in terms of employment policy.”

But there are other skills, “such as how to fundraise, how to manage customer and investor relations”, that cannot be taught in classrooms. Ho thinks that for students in Singapore and the next generation of entrepreneurs, we have to be exposed to what he calls the “hunger for success” and the start-up culture in Asian countries, “particularly in Vietnam and China, where they understand that at the start of every journey, they are willing to take a loss.”

He contrasts this with his experience with Singapore hires, who are mostly unwilling to take a pay cut. “In each journey, you cannot assume that you will start at the same point when you left, you decide to change a profession but you cannot use that profession’s benchmark to level up your pay scale.”

Ultimately, lifelong learning will remain the key to stay ahead of the competition. Ho believes that digital learning is “technology that can help people. It also can impact people, give people’s jobs. So long as we need to have jobs, we need training.” And solutions like KQwest can help to fill that need.

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