Founders of Republica Edu Ryan Trainor and David Trewern don’t act like traditional education providers. They don’t talk like them, they don’t think like them, and their office doesn’t feel like the hub of an education offering that currently sits at five schools covering the creative economy – BSchool™ (entrepreneurship), Beauty EDU™ (beauty), Mercer™ (interior design), Tractor™ (graphic design) and CG Spectrum™ (animation).
But according to them, this is exactly what the education sector needs.
“We had a paradigm shift early on, where we said ‘are we an education business or a content business?’ [We’re] a content business that’s in education, so we need to be able to create great experiences,” says Ryan.
“Digital marketing has lead the charge over the last 10 years in terms of turning on its head the old style of pushing ads in front of people to ‘how can we improve their experience?’ so that they stick here and spend more time with our brand,” adds David.
“I think that all of those same dynamics can be applied to education, where the outcome isn’t selling more products, it’s pushing people through a course better and faster and enjoying it more.”
It’s revolutionary thinking, but it resonates – the schools have close to 180,000 people following them on social media, they’re influencing the industries they operate in and their courses are attracting mentoring from a variety of top tier talent including prominent sportspeople.
And technology is fundamental to what they’re trying to do – not only for the education sector but for the Australian economy.
The creative economy
As mining and other traditional operations contribute less to the national economy, both David and Ryan believe creative industries can go a long way to filling the void. With the Creative Industries Innovation Centre’s Valuing Australia's Creative Industries report stating the creative economy contributes $45.89bn to Australian GDP and is an exporter of $3.2bn worth of services each year, it’s not hard to see why.
“We’re a country that was very reliant on hard-working people in agriculture, then we’ve had this huge mining and resources opportunity that’s powered our standard of living for many decades,” says David.
“Because we’ve had a higher standard of living for a long time… there’s a lot of intellect and human capital in Australia, and now we’re working in this completely global society where other countries can manufacture and produce things far cheaper than us. [So] we’ve got to be inventing and generating ideas and coming up with things – that’s all creativity.
“There are three times as many jobs in the creative sector as the mining sector in Australia now, and we’re moving more to a service-driven economy.”
New ways of thinking
The pairs’ strength lies in the fact that they both come from backgrounds that are fast-paced and reliant on thinking creatively – Ryan as a serial entrepreneur and David as the founder of creative technology agency DT.
“I think we’re really focused on being the most agile education provider, and you can do that when your infrastructure is technology infrastructure instead of physical infrastructure,” says David.
“I think that there was a report out the other week that said 60 per cent of jobs that students are training for aren’t going to exist in five years. We believe that is true and it’s going to keep happening, computing power is doubling all the time and that is changing the workplace and this is where we think traditional education can come unstuck.”
Being adaptable to the changing workplace is central to Republica Edu’s ethos and they both speak about taking education to students in a way that works for them, and about being “agile” “evolving” and “mobile-first” – words more associated with a tech startup than a school.
“In 10 years time, education won’t look anything like today and the big disruptors won’t be educators, it’ll be the people that sit outside education,” says Ryan.
“I think that the big challenge is going to be [that] the currency of qualification will be completely challenged. Currency is relevance rather than certification in the future.”
So how do you make sure you’re relevant, first and foremost? You use industry leaders instead of teachers, and you find the technology that can help these leaders work with students, rather than just preaching a message.
“We use technology to group the masters and the apprentices. It’s gone on to be that we can have someone at Pixar rendering for a major film, while still educating students and giving them the real skills.”
“[It’s important] to be able to access the talent anywhere… rather than just putting a job up on SEEK® and hopefully get someone with some skills.”
Making it happen
To facilitate this, they use a diverse set of applications including Canvas™, Skype®, Yammer® and social media that are crafted to encourage students to interact.
“Within Canvas there are ways that students can talk to one another, they have their own discussion groups,” says David.
“Allowing people to do things when they want [is critically important], not just the students but also the staff. Canvas has some really smart stuff built into it. You can see graphs and charts where your class is at, their progression through the course, how many people have completed a topic and who got what result.”
“[Additionally,] you look at the dynamics of social media and how that can bring people together to collaborate, it’s obviously very powerful. Over the next few years I think that will keep evolving.”