Hi Rob, tell us what The Really Great Teacher Company does?  

We provide bespoke services to companies in the online English training market. Our clients include online training providers, as well as offline providers (and traditional offline providers with an online capacity).

Our core services include:

  • The management and development of online ESL teachers within either TRGTC’s state-of-the-art Teaching Centers or Custom Built Virtual Teaching Centers.
  • The provision of Online ESL Teacher Training Courses and Certifications

Our guaranteed promise to our clients is that they will have the World’s Best Teachers delivering exceptional lessons to their students without disruption.

Can you tell us about your experience of working during the SARS epidemic (2003)?

My career in the online teaching industry started when I was teaching English for a private ESL company in Taiwan in the early 2000’s. In 2003, the big SARS flu epidemic struck in East Asia and I was there throughout it.

Due to the SARS outbreak, the students couldn’t come to class so the owner of the ESL company decided to take the classroom to them! We did this by providing online English lessons to these students so that they could join in from home as long as the SARS pandemic lasted.

It was so popular that the owner of the company founded TutorABC, which is now one of the most well known online teaching companies in the world. At TutorABC, I was responsible for all aspects of global operations and the delivery of millions of online lessons from multiple locations across several geographies.

For the business of online teaching, what are the similarities and differences between the SARS pandemic, in 2003, and Covid19, in 2020?  

In terms of running an online teaching company, there are more differences between SARS (in 2003) and Covid19 (in 2020) than there are similarities.

One similarity is that there’s a major spike in demand now.
Like in 2003, the demand for education services is undiminished by the pandemic, social distancing and lockdowns (as well as from the additional demand resulting from brick-&-mortar learning establishments closing down for health reasons). Again like in 2003, there’s a massive drive to find alternative ways to deliver lessons while people remain in lockdown and continue social distancing.

Some of the main differences between now and then are:

Scale: The Covid19 pandemic is far bigger and having a greater global impact (in terms of job losses and other socio-economic challenges) than the SARS pandemic did back in 2003, as well as forcing more schools in more countries to have to close down for the duration of the pandemic.

Technology: Another big difference is that in 2003 online learning wasn’t very common and students’ access to online technology was limited. Back then, there were very few communication platforms and apps, while smartphones hadn’t been created and Cloud computing and bandwidth wasn’t anything like it is today.

As a result, the barriers to entry for online learning were different because everything had to be built bespoke and from scratch!

Digital Natives & The Consumer Experience: In 2003, there weren’t many companies providing online learning, so it was hard for students to find and understand this offering.

Also the user-experience of the Internet wasn’t great. For example, there was lagging, video quality was poor (requiring teaching content to be greatly simplified) and you couldn’t teach more than one or two students at a time in an online-lesson.

Also, nearly all communications were done by email and MSN (as there wasn’t IM). People had to be seated in front of their PC at home in order to receive your communications and do their online-lessons. Connectivity was all dial-up modems. [Remember those!]

Today, with Millennials and Gen-Z, who’ve grown up with digital media and mobile computing, there are lots of consumers who are very comfortable learning online.

Without the creation of smartphone in 2010 this would be a very different industry.

Industry Standards & Norms: Back in 2003, there wasn’t an established online learning industry, so there weren’t industry thought leaders and there wasn’t any best practice guidelines, which meant we had to learn as we built it. The knowledge and experience of online learning was very limited, so all aspects of building and running an online teaching business were unfamiliar (such as: marketing, sales; while teachers weren’t familiar with delivering lessons online and nor managers with supervising them in this format).

Catalyst Vs Accelerator: The SARS pandemic in 2003 was really the catalyst for this industry. Without it, no one would have bought into online learning back then. Investor money didn’t come into our industry straight away as a result of 2003, but the need for online learning caused by the SARS pandemic did hasten the flow of capital into the sector in the proceeding years.

Compared to SARS, the Covid19 pandemic will be more of an accelerator of a long-term trend toward delivering education online.

How Are These Trends Going To Change The Education Industry?

The disruption caused by the Covid19 pandemic is going to be an accelerator of a long trend already in place – namely that towards more acceptance and use of online learning.

This will reduce the reliance on brick-&-mortar learning provided by the traditional education sector.

More and more students will expect educational providers to offer online services, even if this is a blended learning solution.

The challenge for online learning providers is to maintain a human-centric learning experience for their students. A key component of a human-centric learning experience will be the quality of the online teachers provided to online students.

What’s your advice for executives and managers of online training companies to survive the impact of the global Covid19 pandemic?

It depends on the type of education business you had at the start of this year, when the pandemic hit. Was it a traditional offline ‘brick-&-mortar’ establishment; an online business; or a hybrid of both online and offline.

I’ll speak to each of these business models for the best way to navigate the market in these challenging times.

The advice I’d give to education providers who’s business model is an offline traditionalbrick-&-mortar’ one is:

Make decisions NOW. You can’t think you’re going to ride this out without making any changes. You need to makes plans for next 12-24 months and then go for it! This includes developing online delivery systems ASAP. (The disruption caused by the pandemic may last as long as 12-24 months, which is too long to try ride this out without changing your business model.)

Provide Leadership: Making decisions provide direction and purpose for you and your team. This is the sort of leadership that’s needed during this pandemic.

Communicate: Keep communicating with your team throughout this period, but if you don’t make a decision about how to get your business going online then there’s nothing to communicate. Consistent communication with your team provides them with a level of certainty and comfort during these uncertain times, which assists with the improved engagement and productivity of your people.

Move Your Business Online: Moving your business model online can be a daunting challenge, but you don’t need to work out everything out or do it all yourself. There are suppliers and third party vendors who are experts in this stuff and who can assist you with tech’ platforms and online teachers. More importantly, they can dramatically speed up your time-to-market, which is critical for cash flow right now.

Often education providers with a hybrid model mostly deliver their programmes offline with a bit of an online programme to support it. For many of these companies before the pandemic, online programmes were often seen ‘as a nice to have’ rather than a core delivery system for their students.

For companies in this position, I’d advise that you start to treat your online model the same way you treat your offline business. It’s not just something to ‘tide you over’ until the pandemic is ended and then you can return to a predominately offline model again. There’s a much bigger consumer base for online learning now and a significant amount of this new market will stay there even after this pandemic has ended and social distancing has stopped.

Education companies with an online business model, now is the time for product innovation! But you don’t have to do it all yourself either. Working with the right third party specialists can help get new products to market quicker as well as scale up faster. Now’s the time for go for market share!

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Our promise to clients:

The best teachers, 24/7. Guaranteed.