Suren Aloyan of PopUp School

PopUp E-Learning Aims to Bring Out Best in All Young Learners

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CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Suren Aloyan, a serial tech entrepreneur from Armenia, is a busy man. In fact, the day of our interview in early April, the Yerevan native and San Francisco resident was taking part in the Harvard Kennedy School Executive Education program.

He is not only a learner but also a proponent of online learning, first launching Dasaran Educational Forum in Amenia in 2009, and more recently, PopUp School in the US, a sort of tailored online tutoring for students.

Aloyan said that with PopUp, the end goal is giving young students the help he wished he had received as a student. Amazingly, this successful entrepreneur, had a hard time learning in the tradition vein.

PopUp offers help in four different styles of learning — visual, audio, reading writing, and kinesthetic. The latter group includes young people who need to needs to learn by tactile means. Students who want to take classes, take an online test to see which style of learning is best suited for them.

“We first diagnose their learning styles and then the algorithm goes and finds the teachers lessons which have been built matching with exactly this learning ability,” he explained.

Aloyan explained, “One of the biggest problems that we identified is that there is no one teaching style that can feed every student, even if you are the best teacher ever. Just like there is no one diet that can fit everyone. We try to understand how we can make the teachers be more efficient and to bring a much bigger impact because whatever they’re doing is not a job, it’s a mission they have chosen. … A major part of PopUp is the appreciation for teachers and allowing the number of hours in which they give of themselves to be recycled to help even more students.

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PopUP is focused on 8th-grade students in math and English in the US, however, Aloyan said he hopes within five years, they will reach at least a quarter of US K-12 students in the US.

“As a visual learner I have grown up being told that I’m not the smartest kid in the room and I should try harder to be like anyone else. I’ve spent over 15 years already trying to change this for everyone else, building a tech product that reached over 1.2 million users and at PopUp you know we are building the future of education starting from teachers,” he added. “Teachers are the most in demand, yet underserved category and also our goal is finally to have no student ever think that there is something they cannot learn or they cannot understand. Hence PopUp school is allowing teachers to make classes adapted to the students learning styles.”

“My team and I spent five and a half years to meet with 34,000 teachers. We interviewed them in person and understood the real persona of the teachers, why they are becoming teachers, why they’re choosing this profession, what kind of impact do they want to have and how to help them deliver this impact,” he noted. “Imagine that in the United States out of 332 million people only one percent, 3.2 million, are teachers…. and this 1 percent is responsible for education the population.”

Those who want can subscribe for a monthly fee of $34.99. In addition, with PopUp, teachers are able to get some revenue back, with 50 percent of revenue sharing goes to the teachers.

Aloyan noted he hoped the program would help students whose schools are small or underfunded. In addition to subscription fees for the students, the schools themselves are given the platform free of charge to enhance their teaching capabilities.

PopUp is registered in the US, with members of the team in United States, Armenia, Germany and in Thailand.

To succeed in this venture, he said, he hoped to use “the knowledge of my team that we have gained within the last 14 years.” At this point, he said, he is a proselytizer and not a businessman. “It stops being a job for us. This is already a mission and something that we love to do and the technology of the 21st century is giving us so many possibilities to create a new era of education,” Aloyan added.

One of the major aspects of PopUp is to make sure that students are encouraged rather than blamed for poor performances.

“Imagine a classroom where there are two students and you’re coming inside and saying alright Susan you had done a great job out of yesterday’s test; out of 10 questions you gave 9 correct answers. Bravo. And then you turn to another kid, let’s call him Mike, and then you say, Mike, shame on you. You have eight incorrect answers. When you do this, you immediately take the potential, the motivation of the student out because you don’t know how hard Mike tried to give those two correct answers and then if you come to the classroom and instead of focusing on what he couldn’t do…. but instead you say, ‘you know Mike, you have done a good job though you have answered only two questions.  If we focus and help you, you’ll give me a third correct answer then a 4th correct answer then a 5th correct answer,” he explained. With motivation and proper help, he said, that child will succeed.

Earlier this spring, Aloyan was recognized by the World Economic Forum (WEF) as a Young Global Leader 2021, for his work with his previous startup, Dasaran Educational forum, the first-ever Armenian national to get this recognition.

Delivering Education

Aloyan has a diverse background. Prior to founding Dasaran in 2009, he served in Armenia’s Ministry of Defense. He received a bachelor’s degree from Yerevan State University in economics, a master’s degree in marketing and management from Texas A&M University (Armenian Branch – ATC), and finally his PhD in Resource Management from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif.

Dasaran, which is being used across all schools in Armenia in grades K-12, offers tools for e-learning for students, in a variety of ways, including games. The program is especially beneficial in rural communities that have fewer resources and staff. It offers program management and  data analysis to help students, parents, teachers, administrators, and policymakers.

According to the literature on its site, Dasaran is in use by one-third of the country’s population.

In 2016 Dasaran was recognized as one of the best five innovative enterprises in the world in the United Nations Development Program Accelerate2030 initiative, aimed at supporting impact-driven ventures that contribute towards the achievement of the SDGs.

“It gives an opportunity generally for every parent to monitor their student’s daily activity and progress in the school, see the grades, homework, absences, and also in which direction their kids are generally going, whether they are data-driven, math oriented or humanities oriented,” Aloyan explained. “We managed to cover 100 percent of the Armenian market, penetrating 1,434 schools, giving them equal access, with over 1.2 million registered users.”

He added, “It is giving transparency of the school and their students daily learning process in the school and from the governmental approach it gives them data for data driven policymaking.”

From years of competing, Aloyan has learned many lessons. He said, “So at the very beginning I used to be a professional gymnast for almost eight years. And the most important  thing … that I learned is to never give up and forget the phrase ‘I cannot do it.’”

He added, “Going through different educational pipelines in my life, one thing that I finally understood is that education is at the core of everything in our life.”

With COVID, Aloyan said, more people are interested in distance learning. “People are looking for the best possible online educational platforms in this regards,” he said.

“At this point in United States we have approximately 3.4 million students doing home schooling out of 45 million students …so online education can bring a lot of positive impact from the other side it also brings a negative impact not giving people an availability to be next to each other and you know use this social atmosphere,” he noted. He stressed, however, the importance of socialization of in-person school.

 

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