LearnKo tutors non-English speaking students

Most of us take our ability to speak, read, and write English for granted, when in fact, there is a very big market for English education. The market is probably bigger than most of us realise. It’s about 75-80% of the world’s population.

Most of the respected jobs, recognised qualifications, and economically significant markets revolve around English-speaking countries. Those wanting a piece of the action must learn to speak the English language to communicate effectively.

David Cameron, founder of LearnKo, knows this all too well to be true. LearnKo teaches English to Chinese students online so that they can improve their linguistic proficiency before they travel abroad.

“Chinese students are reliant on spoken English for their exams, university entrance and jobs,” said David.

That’s a pretty big problem seeing that, for every native English speaker in Chinese, there are 3,000 students trying to learn English. To effectively speak English, students must carry out conversations with native English speakers, and this has led China to rank lowest of any country in the world in terms of their spoken English ability.

“LearnKo has created an online platform that connects Chinese students to English language teachers in NZ and the UK – we do live, one-to-one teaching via an online classroom – this is similar to Skype, but with the ability to document share, download items and display curriculum.

“All of this means that Chinese students now have the ability to connect with English speaking teachers at anytime.”

The idea came to David when he was teaching in high school and noticed how many students struggled with self-directed study. A small amount of help would produce disproportionately large results, and this would in turn boost students’ confidence. But David could only tutor about 100 students at any given time, so he turned to the internet to broaden his horizon.

With idea in hand, David then approached the “two best people” he knew, his mother and brother, and they wrote two workbooks and created a website that housed several video series.

“This site went live in October 2012, by November we had over 3,000 registered users, who were watching more than 40,000 video tutorials per day. This was really exciting!”

David went to the Wellington accelerator Lightning Lab to get his business established. As a university tutor, he could teach 10 students. As a high school teacher, he had taught 100. With Lightning Lab, David realised he could have the opportunity to teach 10,000 or 100,000 students. 

“I really appreciated being given a full three months to completely focus on my your idea. Previously I had been working after work, weekends or in my holidays, which means slow progress because often you are already tired before you even start!”

Lightning Lab also provided David with mentoring, which he found equally as helpful.

Something many startup founders find difficult once their businesses begin growing is the concept of management. For David, this has been especially challenging as he is managing a business that is in two different countries.

“In a startup you are constantly dealing in conditions of uncertainty,” David said, “therefore, you are constantly looking for more clues and information that will help you.

“Having a group based in NZ and in China meant that both groups were learning different lessons, and naturally, that leads to a different focus and direction. Keeping everybody on the same page and creating open channels of communication became so important.

“This was a big learning curve – from working alone several months earlier, to working in a small team together, to being based in different countries. In the end we needed to change our structure, systems and even some employees.”

David sees LearnKo being a link between foreign students and international learning experiences in the future.

“LearnKo is more than English competency training, we give people a taste of what they’ll experience before they travel abroad; English language, connecting with people, and experiencing a foreign world.”

LearnKo gives Chinese students the same experience we would appreciate having if we, Kiwis, were about to go live in China for a year to two.

“The desire to travel, have an OE, and experience more of the world is everywhere.

“The problem is that students currently have no connection to foreign places, they experience anxiety surrounding the ‘unknown’ aspect of study in the west, and, in many parts of the world, learning/exams need to occur before travel.”

The tutoring company is able to connect students to great teachers from around the world, engaging these students with their desired countries, learning institutions, and individual people before they travel.

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