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“With Hyper Class, we have created a ground-breaking learning experience that goes beyond anything we have offered before.”

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Hyper Class, our revolutionary online classroom, won the prestigious 2022 British Council ELTon Award for Innovation in Digital Innovation. Panels of experts worked through 150 entries from 45 countries worldwide to find which one best showed excellence in innovation and functionality to meet the needs of English language learners and teachers around the world. And they chose us!

We speak with Tim Ackroyd – EF EdTech’s Creative Director - and William Dekker - Vice President for Product Innovation – who tell us what makes Hyper Class such a revolutionary learning tool, and why they think we are just getting started. 

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Congratulations on the ELTon Awards win – in Digital Innovation! Can you tell us what feels special about this one? 

William: Winning an award that recognizes your effort to be a leader in a field is a great feeling!  The ELTons is an international competition with submissions from 45 countries so it really is a good measure of what is happening in the industry.

Tim: Learning languages at EF has always been about people. Building connections, understanding one another, and learning together. The reason we are most excited about this award is that, even though it’s for Digital Innovation, fundamentally the focus is entirely on enhancing the human experience. And the aim of Hyper Class is to build more meaningful connections between teachers and students to enhance learning impact.

Let’s go back to how it all started: how did the idea of Hyper Class come about, and how did you go about developing it?

Tim: We have been developing our online learning experiences for over 25 years and we have always had one of the best online classrooms in the market. But like every industry, during the pandemic we have witnessed a dramatic shift in learning preferences. Take our China business, for example, in 2019 - 70% of students would choose Hybrid learning which combines access to physical schools with online study.  By 2022, however, that had shifted to an 80% majority of students choosing to study online-only.

This really sharpened our focus to reimagine the online classroom to ensure we are providing the very best experience available. The key for us, was to not simply try and digitise what happens in a physical classroom, but instead, explore the opportunities that are unique to a digital setting to create a ground-breaking learning experience that goes beyond anything we have offered before.

We looked at industries like TV, gaming, and online streaming, who have been optimising for screens for a long time and blended those insights with our expertise in education to create a revolutionary online learning experience.

William: We listened to a lot of our learners and teachers as well so we could ensure what we were delivering would solve a real-world problem.  This was key because it is hard to develop a compelling solution for a problem people care little about.  Then, once we had some ideas, we worked closely with teachers to validate and work through the designs to make sure our solutions were well grounded in reality. I would say that was a best practice that we carried over from other initiatives – you often hear that attempts at innovation fail because they don’t work for the context for which they were intended.    

To me, traditional online classrooms conjure images of the Victorian classrooms of the past – a grid of expressionless faces – sitting still, eyes forwards, just listening to the teacher.

Tim Ackroyd, EF Edtech’s Creative Director

We hear about “Online classrooms” all the time, especially since the pandemic. Can you tell us what makes Hyper Class standout, and why it took a company like ours to build it? 

Tim: The model for the traditional online classrooms was built on top of tools for online conferencing, but this environment was never honed for education. As a result, they provide a very generic experience where a teacher is limited to lecturing students through a linear lesson presentation.

To me it just conjures images of the Victorian classrooms of the past – a grid of expressionless faces – sitting still, eyes forwards, just listening to the teacher.

We know that the modern classroom is not like this. It has become a very dynamic environment, built for collaboration, where students have the tools and agency to provide their own solutions to challenges, with the teachers acting as the enabler and guide.

This is exactly the type of learning environment we have built with Hyper Class.

William: We adopted a holistic approach that addressed the learning environment including the technology, the pedagogy, and the content.  Each component is highly integrated, and you really need to think about how a change in the technology impacts the pedagogy, for example, and vice versa.

It’s also worth pointing out that EF has the technical capabilities and know-how, combined with the design talent and instructional leadership – together with 1000s of teachers and students.    

Hyper Class combines virtual environments and interactive content with a “new learning design model”. Can you tell us more about that model?

Will: We adopted several design principles for learning, again based on that idea of an integrated “technology-content-pedagogy” model.  We wanted the teacher to have as much control over the interaction as possible so they could best identify and respond to learner needs.  The real value of a private lesson ultimately is being able to address specific needs so this was a guiding principle.  Another concept we wanted to address was the ability for students to attempt authentic task types almost as a rehearsal, get feedback from their teacher, and then be able to try again while applying the advice they had received.  Feedback on learning is such an important part of the teacher’s role in supporting learning and yet often, it isn’t well understood by the student.  In this design, students can actively work through the feedback with their teacher together, which should lead to better understanding and skill development. 

In what ways have you seen Hyper Class already change how we teach and learn English?

Tim: I think one of the biggest changes we are seeing is in the level of student engagement during the class.

With Hyper Class, everything you see on the screen is optimised to be precisely the most important information for each learning moment, and it continually changes and progresses, in a seamless way throughout the class. We do this by blending together webcams, rich learning media and interactive tools and removing anything that is unnecessary or distracting. Subsequently,  teachers can more easily guide students to focus on whatever will be most impactful for their individual needs.

 

William: We’ve also seen how the teacher’s presence in the lesson has been enhanced – this is always a challenge in a digital environment as compared to an in-person experience where a teacher has many tools at hand to be able engage with students.  As Tim says, teachers can direct student’s attention towards what really matters, simplifying and supporting where needed.  

We’ve also included a lot of fun surprises in the content for teachers to use that can help re-engage learners or emphasize a point.  When you can make something memorable, there is a better chance it will stick and creating delightful, fun learning is a great way to achieve this result.

Hyper Class is a really powerful instructional environment that makes use of authentic simulations, which can be effectively applied in a wide variety of professional learning settings.

William Dekker, Vice President, Product Innovation

Our Hult EF Corporate Education clients are always looking for new ways to engage, upskill and ultimately retain their people – how do you think Hyper Class will help them do that? 

Tim: As an education tool, the ability to guide students’ focus, keep them engaged, adapt learnings experiences and offer authentic simulations, has endless impact for learning.

We have been optimising our experiences to provide the very best way to enhance skills in communication. This already goes far beyond learning languages, we are already exploring experiences for leadership, sales, negotiation, human resources, DEIB skills and much more. Crucially it is all about building practical skills and confidence.

William: I think Tim hit the nail on the head – Hyper Class is a really powerful instructional environment that makes use of authentic simulations which can be effectively applied in a wide variety of professional learning settings.  Digital instruction is much more scalable than providing training in-person enabling companies to provide more training to more people at lower costs. 

Hyper Class has been live for less than a year and you’re already winning awards.. What’s in store for the future? 

William: New courses, new content, new teaching contexts.  I’m really excited to continue developing the product based on the data we’ve been collecting through observation and directly from teachers and students.  Additionally, we have a great opportunity through our digital instrumentation to collect and use big data to unlock additional insights that can be used to impact everything from the coaching and guidance we provide to individual learners to course and instruction improvements. I think we’ll continue to investigate opportunities to extend learning beyond the classroom both synchronously and asynchronously through a combination of AI and seamless platform integration. We really want to provide learners with access to great learning experiences, wherever and whenever they need it!

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