Monday 20 October 2014

Education is on the move with online platform for study aids

Dualta Moore wants Examtime.com to become the world's largest website for creating and discovering learning resources

Sean Gallagher

Published 24/11/2013 | 20:30

Sean Gallagher with Examtime CEO Dualta Moore and Norman Mc Brien Chief Operating Officer.

'Technology is revolutionising the way students learn." So says Dualta Moore, the founder and CEO of Examtime.com.

The company, which was set up in 2011, runs an online software platform for second- and third-level education where both students and teachers can create individualised learning resources which can be shared with other users on the platform.

The company already employs 30 staff between its offices in Dublin and Belfast. Although still in a pre-revenue phase of development, the company is on target to achieve break even over the next 12 months and aims to see its projected annual revenues grow to over €20m within the next three years.

The resources created on the website cover a wide and diverse range of subject matter, with maths and science ranking top of the list of subjects that users appear interested in. Other high-ranking subjects include languages, history and geography, business organisation and IT.

Going to the Examtime.com website, I see information on everything from nature and living organisms to literature and the life and times of Martin Luther King Jnr.

There are lots of tips too on how to set study goals, how to study effectively online and how best to revise for exams. There are also plenty of sample exam papers and helpful sample revision timetables.

Dualta insists that the company is not a creator of content but rather a platform developer where the users actually create and share the content with their peers.

"What we have created, however, are key features such as Mind Maps, where students can brainstorm and record their thoughts on a topic, build out notes or plan out an essay or exam answer. There is even an option to add images and videos to help remind them of key points," explains Dualta.

"We have also designed flash cards where users can summarise and retain bullet points in the same way as the previous generation of students used traditional 5x3 cards as reminders of the salient points of the material they were studying."

Quizzes, too, are included which help make learning more interesting and fun and allow users to test their knowledge on subjects such as the flags of Europe or past American presidents.

Popular with those who are preparing for exams, the site allows students to test themselves for their level of knowledge on specific topics.

A key feature of the site is the option to create or join groups, allowing users to share ideas and collaborate.

Dualta wants the site to become the world's largest website for creating and discovering learning resources. And he is well on the road to achieving his ambition.

Although only in Beta or test stage, the site is already proving a big hit. It is currently signing up over 10,000 users each week and more than 250,000 learning resources or pieces of content have already been created.

"Our target market is both teachers and students from second and third level," explains Dualta.

With only 2 per cent of current users based in Ireland, Dualta has set his sights on capturing a global market. The business already has users in more than 130 countries, including the UK, US, Latin America and South America – with Colombia and Mexico being significant users of the site.

To support its global reach strategy, the site has recently been translated into German, Spanish and Portuguese.

I am introduced to Norman McBrien, who is chief operational officer. He is helping get the company's message out to the global market and is focusing on connecting with bloggers and key online influencers, particularly in the US, in an effort to get them talking about the site.

"Learning has changed and we now have to make the learning process more relevant," explains Norman.

"People will be consuming data in bitesizes and consuming education on mobile devices. Rather than doing homework, students in the future will move more towards research-based learning."

Dualta talks about the increasing evolution in learning whereby students are given advance notice by their teacher of the subject that will be covered in the classroom the following day. The students' homework consists of researching the subject in advance so that they come to class prepared and ready to engage in a 'questions and answers'-type session the following day.

"In that way, students are more likely to take ownership of their own learning. It's an approach that drives natural curiosity, and where learning is more enjoyable," Dualta says.

Dualta Moore grew up in Dublin. He studied economics in University College Dublin and later worked in a variety of tech-related companies including Microsoft, focusing mostly on the areas of business intelligence, database management and business analytics.

"However, I always held the ambition to get into business for myself," he insists.

Business is in his blood. His dad was an entrepreneur and one of the first people to start a contract cleaning business in Ireland.

Dualta spotted an opportunity in 2003, when new regulations were introduced to combat the problem of piracy where individuals and companies were using software programmes without a licence. He decided to set up Software Asset Management Ireland (SAMI), where he offered to audit companies and their staff to ensure that they were fully compliant with the new regulations.

"The business didn't take off, however," admits Dualta. "Because at the time, many companies held the view that if they didn't know about it, then it wasn't really a problem for them."

His first taste of success came when he started his next business, selling software licences to schools. He worked hard to build this new business and with more than 5,000 schools as customers, 90 per cent of which were based in the UK, he soon became one of the leading licence resellers to the educational sector.

He progressed to even greater success when he set up a student licensing website called Software4Students.ie where students could buy licences for products such as Microsoft Office at discounted prices. At its peak this business had more than one million customers.

It was during this time that Dualta realised there was an opportunity to build a platform application for both students and teachers which could create virtual learning experiences rather than traditional classroom-based environments. And so Examtime was born.

Since setting up the company, one of his greatest challenges has been the lack of supply of good quality software developers in Dublin. As a result, he opened a second office in Belfast where he feels there is a better supply of quality developers.

"We now have 10 R&Ders there, and 20 staff in our Dublin office who largely look after sales, marketing, finance and operations," he explains.

Dualta hopes to recruit a further 10 staff in the coming months, including additional developers and marketing personnel who speak fluent French. It's a sign of how fast the business is growing.

Dualta follows a fail fast philosophy.

"This is a relatively new space, so we have to continuously try new things," explains Dualta.

"You can't be afraid to fail. What you have to do is fail fast, learn from your mistakes and move on, taking on board all that you have learned from what you've tried."

He adds excitedly, "With 700 million students worldwide and 20 million teachers between second- and third-level schools throughout the world, the opportunity for the business is huge."

Talking to Dualta, I am reminded of how opportunity and entrepreneurial spirit are inextricably linked.

Dualta set out to become an economist. His journey took him into the world of technology and on to online software. But it was his desire to start his own business that led him to take the plunge when he spotted an opening in the market for a global online learning platform.

In hearing Dualta's story, what inspires me most is how he has set his sights high – on creating a truly global business that will help shape how students, the world over, will learn in the future.

And in so doing, he has helped create high-quality and sustainable jobs in both Dublin and Belfast.

What a great example of what can be achieved when entrepreneurial spirit is added to experience, innovation and opportunity.

Sunday Independent

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