The PIE: The interesting thing about E2Language is it’s entirely online. There’s been a lot of talk about digital disruption. How do you think the digital and online is disrupting English language learning?
Jarrad Merlo: I don’t think it is. I think we’re the first to make some sort of headway into disruption, but I think there are three issues that aren’t being addressed. One is that the Australian ELICOS industry is touching 0.001% of the English language learners out there in the world. Basically, the kids who can afford to travel to live in Sydney or Melbourne. The vast, vast majority are not being educated by ELICOS providers.
“Australian ELICOS industry is touching 0.001% of the English language learners out there in the world”
The second thing is people are using little bits and pieces of other websites; they might use Google Drive to inform writing feedback, and they might use some sort of app to do some spelling, but there’s not a one-stop website that’s solved all the little parts and big parts of language.
The third thing that relates to point two is: people are repurposing technology to do language learning instead of actually building it themselves for language learning. So, for example, they’re using Learning Management Systems that are not meant for language learning, and they just use that, and it becomes their LMS. They’re the three big issues that are not being solved, and that’s what we’ve solved.
We purpose-built the platform; we’re comprehensive, teach all aspects of language, and we’ve got reach into every country on the planet. Well… maybe not North Korea.
The PIE: So within the learning space, and other levels, there needs to be more thought put into why providers want to go online?
JM: A lot of the suspicion about online has come from the fact it’s ineffective because it’s repurposed. So, what we’ve done, for example, is we’ve thought about how do people learn grammar, what are the principles behind grammar learning and then we built our technology around those principles.
We can be less suspicious with approaches like that.
The PIE: How are you finding it with brick-and-mortar providers getting over the suspicion of online?
JM: They’re too busy to do online. Online is extremely time consuming and very expensive, and I think it needs to be a company outside of that system that builds it for them. I don’t think they’re going to build it themselves. It took us six years from the start, seven years from the beginning [to this point]. I think the big revolution is not going to come from an institute.
The PIE: What is the process of purpose-building a platform?
JM: I’ve got a degree in applied linguistics, and I specialised in technology in language learning. We’ve hired people who are specialists in language learning who have experienced teaching the English language. They inform what we do, the literature informs what we do, experience informs what we do. We also get a lot of feedback from students.
The practical aspect of purpose-building technology is: it’s time-consuming, and it’s expensive! We’ve got a programming team of 12 working on this, and we’ve got content writers, test experts, we’ve got 15 people in our office, and then we’ve got the 25 teachers around the world as well. We’ve got the theory that backs up what we’re doing, but then after that, it comes from adaptive improvements.
The PIE: How are students responding to your approach?
JM: We’ve got quite radical reviews and testimonials. For example, we deliver one-on-one tutorials using Zoom, and our satisfaction survey is about 4.8 out of 5, and either 99% would recommend a tutorial to a friend. I don’t think we’re there yet. I don’t think we’re perfect. But people can sense that there’s something there which is interesting, and they actually tell us that.
The PIE: What sort of missteps have been taken?
“A lot of the suspicion about online has come from the fact it’s ineffective because it’s repurposed”
JM: We’ve found that the one-on-one tutorials work better than group classes. Group classes online become chaotic and hard to manage just like a classroom. People like the personal aspect. We’ve had lots of missteps in building this stuff, but we learn from trial and error. When we get a complaint, that becomes the focus for improvement.
The PIE: You are one of the instructors. Was that a goal for you?
JM: I’ve been a classroom teacher for eight years, and then I just got bored of teaching the same stuff to the same kids. I realised I could have greater reach. We started live streaming on YouTube and doing live group classes like webinars, and we built a subscriber base that is now close to 250,000 in 18 months. And that’s huge for us because 50% of our registrations come from YouTube, for example.
We’ve sort of become popular. I get seen sometimes. A couple times a week people will come and hug me on the street or say hello to me which is odd.
The PIE: Do you think digital is bringing in an era of rockstar teachers?
JM: Totally! I reckon learning is moving away from bricks-and-mortar, it’s moving away from publishers. It’s moving onto the free market of YouTube where the cream rises to the surface. I’m watching this channel at the moment called Geography Now, and he’s a geography teacher who makes these awesome 10-minute lectures that I don’t think anyone else in the world is doing something so interesting.
“Group classes online become chaotic and hard to manage”
I think the future of education is going to go towards YouTube. They just need a platform which we’re building!
The PIE: As a teacher, you go by Jay. Why the differentiation?
JM: When I taught in South Korea for a couple of years, they couldn’t pronounce Jarred, so I just went with Jay and stuck with that as my teaching name. It’s a bit of a Koreanism because Jay is actually a Korean name. It’s one part of a Jae-beom.
The PIE: Where do you see E2Language going in the future?
JM: We wanted to become the place for test preparation for everyone. Like the Facebook, the Uber, the Airbnb. If you’re taking an IELTS test or a TOEFL, or a PTE or OET, it’s the first port of call. We’re going to keep building up the online, but we’re also going to look at partnering with institutes as well to make that interim step from the suspicious online world to wholly online.