Sramana Mitra: That’s a good thing because your contribution is in enhancing the quality of education, so the ones who don’t have that quality of education will gain more from your technology.
Norm Wu: Right. Just like with MOOCs, you can go out and find the best educators and the best content. We’ve had a major effort to build the world’s largest database of evidence-based medicine tying symptoms and diagnosis together. You can take all that and you can make it available not only to the other 90% of the US but to all the schools around the world in a very scalable way. You need nothing more than a web browser. There’s no software to download. There are no plugins.
We simulate everything in the cloud and then we push it out through just an HTML5 web browser. We’ve got a lot of technology behind that, which is why the NSF is funding us. When we think of our mission and vision, we are thinking about how we will take the best content and the best way of delivering learning through active simulation and making that scalable to the entire world. That’s what we’re excited about.
Sramana Mitra: Where do you see open problems and opportunities that need to be addressed by other people besides yourselves?
Norm Wu: We’ve been approached by folks that are very concerned about education in other kinds of markets. For instance, we went to a conference on workforce training. They said, “If you know how to simulate the physiology of the heart and how the heart reacts, you can simulate all sorts of things. We’ve got this problem. There are lots of minimum wage workers. At the same time, we have this shortage of workers in relatively high-paying fields, but we can’t take these people out of their day jobs and train them.”
For instance, welding. There’s a shortage of welders out there. Welding is very much an apprenticeship type of job. How do you train this person who’s flipping burgers to become a welder? They can’t stop their day jobs. Could you apply the same kind of simulation technology to these other kinds of vocations? We said, “We think it can be done but we have our hands full in healthcare because not only are there the schools, but there are the practicing physicians and nurses. They really need help in on-boarding and training and ongoing evaluation and remedial training.
We believe that any kind of career that involves apprenticeship training of some sort could be a great opportunity for somebody to apply cloud-based simulation technology and to accelerate and augment that apprenticeship training. If it’s just based on person-to-person apprenticeship, you’re not going to scale that effectively, so you have to figure out how to apply technology somehow.
Active learning leads to much better learning outcomes and much higher retention rates than passive learning where you throw things out online and you ask multiple choice questions. This has been a problem with the whole MOOC movement. It’s also a problem with the first-generation of virtual patients in our particular market. They were glorified PowerPoints thrown out on the Internet with multiple choice questions.
Sramana Mitra: For medical education and, as you put it, for other apprenticeship-based disciplines , that’s just not sufficient.
Norm Wu: We really believe that learning requires active engagement. We believe that mastery requires not only a lot of practice but also very objective coaching and feedback. That whole process is improved by lots of repetition. If you could use these tools both for self-directed learning as well as group learning, you’re going to develop great outcomes. We think that’s really important and there are a lot of different markets where that philosophy can be applied.
Sramana Mitra: Awesome. Thank you so much for your time.