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The tech-savvy, point-and-click iPod generation that are today’s students now have a global community of like-minded learners, teachers, and parents at their fingertips, thanks to Melbourne-based IT firm, Etech Group. Monica Higgins reports.

Within the space of four years, Etech’s primary online learning programs, StudyWiz and Four Point Learning, have been successfully implemented into schools, universities, and other learning institutions around the globe.

The company began in 1993 as a producer of multimedia CDs for the education sector as well as clients like The Wiggles, Hi-Five, and Bananas in Pyjamas. The in-house development of patented online learning tools was a natural progression after what general manager of business development, Conrad Spendlove, describes as “steady growth” within Australasian markets.

“We had built quite a sophisticated online grocery warehousing and distribution application for a client in Hong Kong,” says Spendlove. “That same client then asked us to build a virtual learning environment for a group of schools.” This became the company’s first learning customer.

As an SME new to the export market, the company qualified for Austrade’s New Export Development Program (NEDP), which, coupled with Etech’s own revenue, helped to fund their first crack at an international market.

StudyWiz sits on a global scale very comfortably as a platform for delivering teaching content to educational institutions including teachers, learners, and parents. From a Year Seven student wanting to polish their knowledge before a test to a teacher looking to simplify the way they monitor student progress, it is the immediacy and global connectivity of Etech’s services that has fuelled the company’s success. There are now some 50 worldwide users of StudyWiz, including schools in Japan, France, Hong Kong, the UK, and Russia. As support for the growing demand, the company now has 15 full-time staff in Melbourne and additional offices in Hobart, St Petersburg, Hong Kong, and the UK.

Online Focus

Buoyed by success in the education sector, online learning has now become Etech’s strategic focus. “We focused on the education market because there were no other products at the time that had been specifically designed for schools, most were for universities or corporate entities.”

Part of that strategic focus is Fourpoint Learning, Etech’s virtual learning extranet. This tool acts as a facilitator of interactive self-paced learning for professional education and training purposes.

Spendlove adds that to achieve greater success and market stability, Etech are also making use of progressive partnerships in many of their international markets. “We are a small organisation and we are in many culturally different markets across Asia, Europe, and the US, and so we make it a rule to work closely and supportively with local partners to ensure that we’re tuning into the real issues facing each area.”

The most recent example of this is Four Point Learning’s collaboration with Apple Computers and HarvestRoad to create a world-first enterprise initiative. The Global eLearning Object Repository Initiative (GLORI) will support a real-time learning exchange that will help shape and further develop virtual learning around the world.

But in a market that is already saturated with educational resources, what gives Etech their edge on an international level? Spendlove says that the key lies in product flexibility and dedicated customer service. “Our customers tell us that we are very good at listening to them and very flexible when it comes to adapting our applications to suit their particular requirements.

“We can do this because we designed flexibility in from the outset—and we see ourselves as providing the technological tools to help achieve the educational outcomes that customers need.”

Spendlove adds that at the core of going global is the sense of community between users and providers. This serves a dual role in providing excellent service for the customer as well as much needed feedback for Etech and its partners.

“We have a global support centre and are proactive in encouraging our customers from all over the world to talk to each other about virtual learning and object design.

“When you put all of this together, you get an inexpensive, easy-to-use virtual learning platform coupled with an active global community of innovative and passionate educators. It is very compelling.”

Spendlove says encouraging customers to talk with one another has proven to be a smart avenue for further product development and marketing. “We’re constantly embarking on new developments to support the educational trends in different markets. The exciting thing is that no sooner have we completed a module for customers in the UK, than customers in Australia hear about it and want it too, and vice-versa.”

With a tech-head generation that can’t do without their iPods, it seems that online learning tools are a welcome and necessary option for our evolving educational needs.

“Online learning is here to stay and it is growing,” says Spendlove. It isn’t taking over the professional development, educational, or corporate training markets, but it is becoming an essential part of the supply mix in each of them.

“Our future looks very exciting. We’re developing strong and promising partnerships with dynamic businesses and innovative customers. The common thread seems to be passion. I couldn’t say precisely what is next in our pipeline, but I do know that we will be taken to new places by our customers and partners and we are raring to go!”

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