Early learning education programs are not new —they’ve been around for years in multiple forms. Whether that’s Dora the Explorer taking you on her latest adventure, or hopping on your computer to travel along the Oregon Trail, the traditional education system has been supplemented with various platforms and programs for ages. The issue is, though, very few of them actually show or measure tangible results.
That’s Stephanie Dua, the Co-founder and President of HOMER, an early learning program that is primarily focused on helping children get the best possible start to their education. On this episode of IT Visionaries, Stephanie explains how she was in a unique opportunity to not only help jump-start her own daughter’s education, but to bring a scalable education product to market. She also explains what separates HOMER from its competitors and why phonemic awareness is the secret to the product’s success.
- Educating and Entertaining: There are multiple gaps in the education system that have created complexity when it comes reading comprehension. By streamlining and simplifying the reading process for kids, HOMER is creating a less messy hand-off system that is providing kids with the foundational skills needed and it’s working in a way that can scale.
- Can I Get Some Feedback?: Feedback loops are incredibly important in designing a personalized education program for young children. The more a student engages with the program, the more the A.I. and machine learning abilities of the platform learn the likes and dislikes of the student, but also the comprehension level of the student. So not only is the program then offering personalized content to each student, it’s also continuously challenging them.
- Have to Give them a Reason to Learn: Studies by the HOMER team prove that kids have a natural desire to learn, but the key ingredient is finding a way to present learning to them to where it is fun and enjoyable. This means creating multiple programs based on a kid’s individual likes and dislikes. If a kid naturally likes baseball, and you are constantly providing them with content that is centered around bugs, the likelihood of engagement drops, but if the same content is presented in the form of baseball, the child is much more likely to re engage with the process.
For a more in-depth look at this episode, check out the article below.
Early learning education programs are not new —they’ve been around for years in multiple forms. Whether that’s Dora the Explorer taking you on her latest adventure, or hopping on your computer to travel along the Oregon Trail, the traditional education system has been supplemented with various platforms and programs for ages. The issue is, though, very few of them actually show or measure tangible results. Which is why it was time for a change.
“I didn’t start HOMER to be a tech entrepreneur,” Stephanie Dua said.” I was a mom with three little kids and I was the CEO of the fund for public schools in New York city. My oldest daughter was struggling with reading, and she was a nervous reader and she was just starting kindergarten and she kept asking me, ‘Can I help her?’ She was seeing her friends reading more and she wanted some support.”
Dua is the Co-founder and President of HOMER, an early learning program that is primarily focused on helping children get the best possible start to their education. On an episode of IT Visionaries, Dua explains how she was in a unique opportunity to not only help jump-start her own daughter’s education, but to bring scalable education to market. Dua also explained what separates HOMER program from its competitors and why phonemic awareness is the secret to the product’s success.
As more parents were forced to turn to online learning amid school closures in 2020 and beyond, online platforms saw an uptick in their use. HOMER is no different, and this was actually the perfect time for the product to shine. HOMER offers personalized learning plans to children ranging from 2 to 8, and is aimed at helping them learn their ABCs, accelerate their reading comprehension, and level up their math skills. It’s a unique program rooted in data and built on feedback loops provided by the user in order to routinely present children with content that not only continues to build on their educational foundation, but also keeps them engaged.
Sure, programs such as Math Blasters and the Oregon Trail have existed for years, but Dua said there really weren’t any games or programs on the market that continued to learn from their users in order to understand their educational needs and adapt the programming to meet them where they are.
“[Education experts] said that there’s great fun games that are entertainment oriented, where you assume that a child’s being taught something in school and they may have reinforced some concepts or you have products in schools that teachers use that are very educational, but you really require a teacher to use those,” Dua said. “So I thought, on the one hand, I’m in this incredible position to have access to these great literacy experts and I can’t find anything for my daughter. I realized that I wasn’t alone. So we thought, it was the first year of the iPad and could we provide the best of the technology and really build something very scalable and different.”
According to Dua, there are a few things that set HOMER’s program apart from competitors, and what Dua wanted to do was build a program that was a best-in-class platform that wasn’t dependent on a family’s zip code.
“The product uniquely teaches a kid to read, where other products are supplemental and they assume a child’s getting teaching and instruction in the classroom,” she said. “HOMER actually teaches a child step-by-step to read and we teach tiled step-by-step math. I didn’t want to just build another game. There was enough entertainment out there. It was more important to me that we actually delivered something that works.”
According to Dua, two-thirds of children entering third grade across the country are not at the level of reading proficiency that they should be, and when you dig into the data there are multiple reasons for that problem, including the various ways kids are educated within the school system.
“There are a couple of problems in the system that we identified as issues, between preschool, pre-K, and K, your child might have three totally different institutions that teach completely differently,” she said. “So they’re not talking to each other. The handoffs are messy. In preschool, they may start with one methodology and it’s a different methodology and pre-K and so on.”
The process can certainly be improved, so Dua and her team got work, designing a platform centered around phonemic awareness, which teaches children to hear and identify phonemes at an early age.
“No teacher can teach 300 pages in a single year, and there’s no personalization for the child,” Dua said. “We built HOMER on the foundation of phonemic awareness, which is the way you hear the sound. When you’re a dad teaching your son or your daughter to read, you might say, ‘Look at the letter P it makes the Pa sound,’ so if you actually isolate that sound and we do, we did mouth models, cartoon characters, that isolated the sound perfectly and trained the child’s ear to hear that sound. A child can understand those sounds with a lot of accuracy at a very young age. And when they hear it over and over again, they do what is called decoding and encoding and they can glue an unglue word. So they learn to read and spell it at the same time. And that’s the magic recipe. So it’s a combination of phonemic awareness, which is the sounds and learning to read and spell at the same time.”
Dua said the end goal of HOMER is to create a scalable learning environment that provides the child with the best learning environment possible regardless of the education system they are put in at a young age. But what other advice would she give to parents trying to consistently get their kids to engage with their textbooks?
“15 to 20 minutes a day, just make it a habit,” she said. “We know a lot in tech about building habits, whether it’s wellness habits, whatever those habits may be, we know about how important it is to have predictability and a routine.”
To hear more about HOMER and Stephanie Dua, check out the full episode of IT Visionaries!
To hear the entire discussion, tune into IT Visionaries here.