Q&A with Allan Mashabe, Founder of Lightbulb Education
1. How did LightBulb Education come to fruition, and what are some of the objectives that the organisation has in mind?
South African tech startup Lightbulb Education connects educators, trainers, schools and organisations to subject matters experts through a variety of digital tools through the internet and through static resources. We saw a need to provide learners with access to quality education. Having a background in telecommunications, we realised that technology was a means to achieve that objective. All over South Africa mobile internet infrastructure has a great footprint so we thought why not use that as a delivery mechanism for such services.
Our platform has been built on Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud. AWS provides the building blocks that has allowed us to innovate on the cloud, in response to our customers’ needs. The platform allows for scalability as the demand requires, reduced costs and time, removes logistical hurdles, automates numerous tasks (eg. marking) and provides in depth analysis and data about learner performance. Beyond just providing access to learners, the analytics and learner feedback systems easily demonstrates how the educators/experts can improve their classes/courses.
2. Is your app aimed at high school or tertiary students, and can it be catered to different learner levels or needs?
The technology is aimed at any educational or training facility. We usually state that we can transmit or teach anything through Lightbulb as long as it doesn’t require smell, touch or taste.
3. How do envisage students benefiting from this app?
Students have the ability to engage with digital content at any time and from any place. The ability to engage with educators and peers from anywhere and in real time. This has been enabled by AWS cloud with its serverless real-time data processing capabilities. The fact that a student in rural Eastern Cape can learn from an educator in San Francisco, that could be some of the benefits we see one day.
4. What courses does LightBulb offer, and how is the curriculum decided upon?
The courses and curriculum are decided on by the educators and organisations that use our technology. We just provide the ability to create the content and distribute it. We rely on the experts to still provide the content and curriculums.
5. What role do teachers play in using the app and how can they benefit from it too?
Teachers have multiple benefits. Beyond just creating new fun and relevant means to educate their students, moving into a virtual space allows them to automate numerous repetitive tasks for example marking. They can also receive detailed analysis of how well a course is doing. The data allows them to zero in on problem areas and reinforce them with maybe more material. Being AWS cloud based also allows teachers the ability to engage with all learners at the same time.
6. While using smartphones opens up access to a larger learner community, it also brings with it possible distractions. How effective do you think smartphones can be as a learning tool?
We believe they will be very effective in line with how most industries are going in respect to the 4th Industrial Revolution. The ability to learn and engage while on the go is key. There are ways to control what learners have access to by just adjusting firewall policies. This then restricts them to only focussing on the class material. Also it’s very easy to track if learners are online or viewing something else these days.
7. What role has Amazon Web Services (AWS) played with regard to how LightBulb is able to function. Have they helped in addressing hurdles like lack of sufficient data locally?
We host all our services with AWS. Our entire infrastructure currently resides with them. It’s been a great partnership. I think our biggest issue that we were constantly plagued with was down time. We have never experienced it with AWS.
8. With AWS planning to bring a fully fledged data centre to South Africa next year, what kinds of opportunities does this afford LightBulb?
It will be massive for us we should theoretically be able to improve all latency related services to our clients and improve the overall user experience.
9. Looking towards the rest of the year, what exciting developments are on the horizon for LightBulb?
We hope to start expanding our services to clients in the rest of Africa and making cloud based learning a reality for learners, educators, schools and other organisations.