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Guilherme Silveira, Alura: “EdTech entrepreneurs are bound to commit the same mistakes traditional institutions made in the past”

Today, education transcends physical boundaries, and knowledge is shared through digital platforms, and the importance of Educational Technology, or EdTech, can't be overstated.

EdTech has swept through the educational landscape, revolutionizing traditional teaching methodologies and creating new learning possibilities. But as we embrace the numerous benefits of EdTech, we must acknowledge the need for robust security measures like VPNs and antiviruses – educational institutions keep valuable student data, making them a prime target for cybercriminals' attacks.

Nevertheless, EdTech is the way forward. To gain more insights into the education industry and to learn the role of EdTech in shaping its future, we reached out to Guilherme Silveira, Director of Education at Alura – Brazil's largest online learning platform for technology courses.

How did the idea of Alura originate? What has your journey been like so far?

Before the inception of Alura, the founders Paulo Silveira and Guilherme Silveira had already established a successful technology education institution called Caelum. Caelum, founded in 2004, was a renowned Brazilian company providing in-person software development training courses. The company built a strong reputation for its high-quality education, experienced instructors, and practical, hands-on approach to learning.

In 2013, Caelum already had 100 employees and a couple dozen thousand students, being physically present in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Brasilia. Due to the founder's limitations, they realized the model would not scale to help students with the quality they wanted if they expanded to other cities. The discussion was frequent, and that year, they realized they could offer an online version of their courses to help those students.

The idea of Alura originated from the vision of its founders, the Brazilian entrepreneurs, and educators Paulo Silveira, Guilherme Silveira, and Adriano Almeida. They recognized a growing need for accessible, high-quality technology education in Brazil, especially as the country's tech sector expanded rapidly. The founders aimed to create a platform that would teach programming and other tech skills and foster a strong community for learners and professionals to interact, collaborate, and grow together.

Alura's journey began with a focus on providing online web and mobile development courses, data science, design, and more. The platform's success stemmed from its commitment to delivering high-quality content through a user-friendly interface and interactive learning experiences catering to various learning styles.

As the platform grew, Alura expanded its course offerings to cover a broader range of topics and skill levels, attracting learners from various backgrounds and experience levels. Alura has significantly emphasized nurturing a supportive and engaged community throughout its journey. This sense of community has been a critical factor in the platform's success, as it provides learners with additional opportunities for networking, knowledge sharing, and mentorship.

Alura's growth has allowed it to substantially impact the Brazilian EdTech landscape and establish itself as a unique and innovative player in the industry. By consistently updating its content and offering new learning solutions, Alura is continually evolving to meet the changing needs of its user base and the broader technology sector.

Alura's vision for long-term education has made it resistant to the pressure from buzzwords and fleeting trends often found in the technology sector. Instead of focusing on short-term blitz growth, the platform emphasizes the importance of building a lasting educational institution that genuinely impacts the lives of its learners. This approach allows Alura to concentrate on delivering high-quality content that transcends temporary fads, ensuring that its courses remain relevant and valuable to students in the long run.

By prioritizing long-term success over short-term growth, Alura has cultivated a solid and loyal user base and a thriving community of learners and professionals. This emphasis on sustainability and genuine impact has made Alura stand out as a unique force in the EdTech space. The platform's focus on nurturing its community and providing a comprehensive learning experience, combined with its connection to the reputable Caelum, has solidified Alura's position as a respected and trusted educational institution in Brazil and beyond.

Since Alura (through Caelum) has been around for 20 years, many of the Brazil's current startup tech founders, CTOs, etc., are former Caelum and Alura students, creating another positive cycle that can not be achieved through quickly buying leads in an extremely expensive CAC market.

Can you tell us a little bit about what you do? What are the main challenges you help navigate?

Guilherme Silveira, one of the co-founders of Alura and Caelum, is an experienced entrepreneur, educator, and software developer. He is critical in shaping the Alura platform's strategic direction and overall vision regarding learning and innovation. As a seasoned software engineer and educator, Guilherme's expertise spans various aspects of technology education, including curriculum development, content creation, and instructional design. One of the main challenges that Guilherme helps navigate is maintaining the high-quality educational experience that Alura is known for.

This involves ensuring that the course offerings are current, relevant, and comprehensive, addressing the most pressing needs of learners and the evolving demands of the tech industry. By staying informed about emerging trends and technologies, Guilherme is able to contribute valuable insights to the platform's course offerings and continuously improve the learning experience for students.

Another challenge that Guilherme faces is fostering a strong, supportive community of learners and professionals within Alura. He understands the importance of this community in enabling learners to connect with others, collaborate, and grow together. Guilherme plays a vital role in ensuring that the Alura community remains engaged and supportive, ultimately contributing to the platform's long-term success by promoting a culture of mentorship, knowledge sharing, and networking.

Besides his contributions to Alura and Caelum, Guilherme Silveira is also known for his ventures and interests in various other fields, such as magic and artificial intelligence (AI). These diverse interests showcase his multifaceted personality and drive to explore the world beyond the boundaries of technology and education. In the past, Guilherme has published scientific papers in conferences and journals regarding generative magic – the use of generative concepts within magic.

They also have a patent regarding magic and 3d printers in the field. Guilherme has also ventured into multiple forms of exploring digital computer power for several areas of human knowledge, bridging the gap between computer scientists and several professionals when teaching those subjects.

How does Alura approach the challenge of making technical education accessible and engaging for learners of all backgrounds and skill levels?

Alura approaches the challenge of making technical education accessible and engaging for learners of all backgrounds and skill levels by employing various strategies that cater to the diverse needs of its user base. These strategies create a supportive and inclusive learning environment while ensuring the content remains relevant, comprehensive, and up-to-date.

A broad range of courses: Alura offers various courses across multiple disciplines, including web and mobile development, data science, design, and more. This allows learners to explore various topics and find the ones that best align with their interests, goals, and skill levels. By providing courses catering to beginners, intermediate, and advanced learners, Alura ensures that everyone can find content suitable for their learning journey.

Modular and flexible learning: Alura's courses are designed to be modular and flexible, allowing learners to progress at their own pace and according to their own schedules. This approach makes the platform more accessible to people with different time commitments, learning styles, and prior knowledge. The courses also include practical exercises, quizzes, and real-world examples, ensuring learners can apply their new skills and knowledge immediately.

Supportive community: Alura emphasizes building a strong, supportive community of learners and professionals. This community offers mentorship, networking opportunities, and knowledge sharing, creating a collaborative environment where learners can grow and thrive. By fostering a sense of belonging and camaraderie, Alura encourages learners to engage with one another and helps them overcome challenges they may face in their learning journey.

High-quality, engaging content: Alura is committed to providing high-quality content that's both informative and engaging. This involves working with experienced instructors and industry professionals to create up-to-date, well-structured, interactive learning materials. The platform also incorporates multimedia elements like videos, interactive exercises, and real-world examples to create a more immersive and engaging learning experience.

Personalization and adaptivity: Alura continually works towards offering more personalized and adaptive learning experiences to its users. This may include using data-driven insights and AI-based technologies to tailor content recommendations based on individual learners' needs, preferences, and progress.

By providing a more customized learning experience, Alura can better cater to learners with different backgrounds and skill levels. By implementing these strategies, Alura successfully addresses the challenge of making technical education accessible and engaging for diverse learners, helping them acquire valuable skills and knowledge while enjoying a supportive, interactive, and immersive learning experience.

The shift from Caelum's in-person training courses to Alura's online platform has made technology education more accessible and affordable for a larger audience. Previously, a Caelum course would cost around 2000 reais, which could be a significant financial barrier for many learners.

On the other hand, Alura offers an annual subscription of approximately 1000 reais, providing access to a vast library of over 1300 courses spanning various disciplines. This more affordable pricing model makes accessing quality technical education easier for learners from diverse backgrounds without breaking the bank.

Moreover, since Alura is an online platform, it's not limited by geographical boundaries. This allows the platform to reach learners in Brazil and the entire Portuguese-speaking world, further expanding its impact and democratizing access to technology education. Alura's vast selection of courses caters to learners with different interests, skill levels, and career goals.

This comprehensive library, combined with the platform's user-friendly interface and engaging learning experience, makes Alura an attractive option for those looking to develop their technical skills and knowledge.

By offering a more affordable and accessible alternative to traditional in-person training, Alura has successfully broken down barriers to technology education and empowered a wider audience of Portuguese speakers worldwide to pursue their learning goals and thrive in the rapidly evolving tech industry.

How did the recent global events affect your field of work? Were there any new challenges you had to adapt to?

The current stream of layoffs has not directly hit student growth as much as it has hit other companies in the sector. Since aluras growth was organic, there were no strong push tactics in use to acquire clients.

Therefore clients are naturally inclined to come, versus an approach with high CAC that will suffer as possible students will not incline so easily into buying if it is not in their primary need.

In your opinion, what are some of the biggest mistakes teachers and institutions make when it comes to online learning?

Perhaps the biggest mistake is not made by teachers and traditional institutions but by EdTech companies who jump into the latest buzzword assuming two critical points: (1) teachers and traditional institutions are bad, and (2) the buzzword will disrupt the learning process.

For (1), it shows a complete disconnection from the reality of schools. Schools are not the same place our great parents studied at. Coursework changed. Teacher-student relationships changed. A lot has changed. While they assume they have nothing to learn from teachers in the field, EdTech entrepreneurs are bound to commit the same mistakes as 100, 50, or 20 years ago.

For (2), there are many failed promises in EdTech as described in [Failing to Disrupt] (the book): while believing there's something entirely new, they were bound to face the same problems institutions have faced in the past, only to fail with the promises. Is it really true that no one has ever taught about the social and emotional aspects of children in schools? Is it really true that no one has ever taught about the complexity of preparing children for adulthood? Is it really true that no one has ever been taught of income share agreements when training for jobs

As educators and entrepreneurs, we must pay attention to the history of education and find where those buzzwords and ideas have appeared in their variations in the past. And they have, multiple times through small and big names in education for the past century or so.

What do you think are the biggest benefits of online learning?

Online learning allows us to reach students in places where we would never be able to reach with face-to-face teaching.

It's one of the variations of async learning. And in an open courses environment, students can follow their own path on their own rhythm.

In the age of online learning, what would you consider the essential security measures institutions should implement?

Personal data information. Too many data points on students. While some believe "the more the better," most institutions do nothing about their data points and keep information that might be dangerous if opened to the public.

In what ways do you see the role of online learning platforms like Alura evolving in the future?

Alura is an entire ecosystem of solutions that follows the path of our students. Alura has ~500k k12 public school students taking courses on programming in its K12 platform. Alura has a tech book publisher called Casa do Código. It runs the tech professional education online school with over ~300k students. It runs FIAP, a higher education university with undergraduate and graduate courses. It runs Brazil's most important podcasts in tech and entrepreneurship.

Alura will keep its vision of Brazil's largest and most respected educational ecosystem in tech. Just like important institutions worldwide have their online, k12, graduate, undergraduate, publisher, and professional education services, Alura will keep its path in creating something lasting.

All numbers are paying students, not freemium.

What does the future hold for Alura?

Same as before, plus…

We are using generative AI now. It has improved many of our internal processes, such as enhancing four times the productivity of teachers in some of their daily life activities. We are using AI to help students find their career paths.

To help teachers understand the mistakes they have made in their classes and so on. All of that's happening and is implemented right now, in use. The future involves taking it to the next level of productivity in two ways:

  • Teachers create more and better courses
  • Students can practice with better content and find their paths faster

There are other current uses of AI in our companies to be announced publicly soon.

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