Ed-tech firm makes splash on campuses with self-assessment courseware | Crain's

Ed-tech firm makes splash on campuses with self-assessment courseware

Perceivant President Christopher Johnson and marketing/content manager Nicole O’Neal at work at the company’s Fort Benjamin Harrison offices in Indiana. | Photo by Chris O’Malley/Crain’s Indianapolis

An education technology company that produces software and analytics for higher education has expanded its roster of university clients, accelerating a data-driven and holistic approach to delivering a college education.

Arizona State University, Ohio State University and Western University of Health Sciences started using Perceivant LLC’s Bearface courseware in January, according to the Indianapolis-based firm.

More than 6,000 students purchased access to Bearface courseware for the spring 2017 semester at eight universities, which is double Perceivant’s reach in the same period last year. Perceivant projects total enrollment to exceed 24,000 students for 2017.

Bearface learning products replace traditional textbooks and course materials in personal health and wellness courses offered in undergraduate and graduate programs.

Pomona, Calif.-based Western University of Health Sciences uses Bearface to teach medical students to coach patients on healthy lifestyles.

The three new university deals could add more than $200,000 in annual recurring revenues to Perceivant, which projects more than $1.3 million in sales in 2017.

Perceivant plans to fuel additional growth with the introduction of Kale, its mobile learning app and platform that helps students work on personal development skills in all areas of their well-being. These include physical, mental-emotional, intellectual, occupational, social, environmental, and financial skills.

CEO Brian Rowe said 4-year-old Perceivant has an advantage over competitors in that the instructional design of its products use “leading-edge data analytics capabilities that personalize students’ learning experience and give college faculty and administrators the ability to easily measure course efficacy.”

Data collected from assessments and labs captures changes in students’ perceptions, attitudes and behaviors, which are shown to have great impact on students’ success during college and after graduation.

Perceivant’s software is geared toward students’ metacognitive development, which is the ability to self-assess, reflect, problem solve and adapt. These are skills that employers look for in college graduates and are needed to succeed in all areas of their life.

Colleges, students struggle

The university setting may hold Perceivant’s most potential, given some emerging trends in education.

The U.S. drop-out rate for college students is 45 percent and student-load debt exceeds $1 trillion, according to Perceivant. Colleges and universities are under pressure to increase retention, demonstrate a return-on-investment to students and parents, and to graduate students will skills employers need.

Perceivant aims to help by addressing the needs of the whole student. For example, there is increased recognition of student mental health issues, which has been championed by groups such as Washington, D.C.-based Active Minds, with more than 400 chapters on college campuses.

Active Minds recently partnered with New York-based Kognito to provide role-playing software that helps chapter members learn to identify mental health issues and to steer students to resources such as college counselors.

“There seems to be an increasing, expanding field for supporting student wellness through technology,” said Laura Horne, interim director of programs at Active Minds.

Perceivant President Chris Johnson noted that mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, are a top concern for college students.

Financial problems and substance abuse also lead students to drop out of college or to underperform.

“We need to recognize that drop-out rates and academic performance are affected by all dimensions of a student’s being – physical, emotional, social, environmental, financial, and so on,” Johnson said.

“Colleges and universities are adapting to the reality that they are responsible for the development of the whole person, not just the intellectual part.”

That may explain the increasing prevalence of mandatory wellness programs at universities. Such programs may seem like a foreign concept to those who last attended college 10 or more years ago.

Perceivant’s metacognitive learning system teaches students to self-assess, reflect, set goals, create action plans and adapt the plan when they run into barriers. It gives students insight on areas in which they could stand to gain from additional development, such as financial or communication skills that will help them cope better with typical life problems.

In essence, Johnson said, “This is who you are, these are your risks, and here are tools you can use to mitigate those risks.”

Becoming more mindful of their own perceptions and behaviors increases students’ ability to see risks and create effective strategies for mitigating risks and achieving goals.

“This is exactly what a project manager does,” Johnson said. “We teach students to use the same basic skills to achieve success in all areas of their life.”

Johnson, former executive editor of McGraw-Hill Education’s Health and Human Performance group, founded Bearface Instructional Technologies in 2012. He said the need for such products has come in parallel with changing demographics of the typical college student.

Teaching methods, which have traditionally been geared to students who are accustomed to voracious reading and memorization techniques, are shifting to educate students who come from a vast range of backgrounds.

Johnson said colleges are starting to get their heads around students “who come from a different place.”

Critical thinking skills

Much of Perceivant’s software is tailored to developing metacognitive learning. “People learn in different ways, all based on how they grew up,” Johnson said.

Developing critical thinking skills is imperative, particularly now as many employers are saying college graduates lack skills such as problem-solving or working in teams. Many institutions are trying to better measure the efficacy of teaching.

That’s where Perceivant reckons its Data Dojo can deliver additional value to clients and expand the company’s revenues.

Analytics have been Rowe’s bread and butter for years. He previously worked at data-driven companies such as iGoDigital and ExactTarget, which is now Salesforce.

Rowe acquired Bearface Instructional Technologies in August 2015. Perceivant was already an analytics provider in the health and educational field. Bearface gave Perceivant a point of entry into the higher education market and a place to mine valuable data.

Perceivant’s Bearface courseware is now used at eight universities: Kennesaw State University in Georgia, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Ohio State University, Arizona State University, Brigham Young University, William Paterson University in New Jersey, Abeline Christian University in Texas, and Western University of Health Sciences in California.

Seven additional schools that will undertake pilot programs of Perceivant’s software this spring include Auburn University in Georgia, Carolina Coastal University in South Carolina, UNC at Greensboro, California University of Pennsylvania, SUNY Orange University in New York, Western Michigan University, and BYU at Hawaii.

So far, Perceivant has raised $2.5 million, largely from angel investors.

February 8, 2017 - 3:39pm