When schools across the country closed earlier this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most parents were in a panic about the impact on their children's academic year. Luckily, Adrian Marnewick, an alumnus of the Stellenbosch University Business School (USB), stepped up to lend a helping hand in the form of online lessons via WorksheetCloud.com, an online study hub.
For Adrian, a 35-year-old Cape Town based entrepreneur and business owner with a particular interest in online education, it was obvious from the start that his company, Learning Lab Apps, the company that invented WorksheetCloud, will help parents and learners in need.
Adrian co-founded Learning Lab Apps in 2014 with his father, who was head of physics at a high school for 15 years before resigning from teaching to start his own educational software development business in the 90's - back in the day before the term “edtech" existed.
He says his father invited him to join the family business when they both realised that the route of following a formal tertiary education was not for him. "In 2007, I was accepted to study a Business Management course part-time at the University of Stellenbosch Business School. I believe this sparked my love for learning and I quickly realised that working combined with ongoing learning was what interested me the most. Since my Business Management course at USB in 2007, I have committed to learning something new every year. I've now completed courses in Project Management, Product Design and Leadership to name only a few."
Adrian says Learning Lab Apps has a mission to create happiness in families. The way we achieve that is through the online educational app that we've developed called WorksheetCloud. We all remember stressing ourselves and our parents before tests and exams, and this is what WorksheetCloud aims to reduce or eliminate," he says.
WorksheetCloud provides learners with online, interactive worksheets and practice exams. The content is based on the South African CAPS and IEB curriculum and covers Mathematics, English, Afrikaans, Natural Science, History and Geography depending on the grade. They have content available from Grades 1 to 9.
“Parents no longer need to spend hours searching for relevant study content. WorksheetCloud's content includes detailed answers with model explanations, hints and tips. All the content is designed to help your child improve their school results quickly and effectively," he explains.
According to Adrian, it was obvious and understandable that parents were freaking out about the lockdown and the negative impact it will have on their children's academics. "It was clear that we had to do something that was going to benefit the country — that would be freely accessible to as many learners and parents as possible. I recall having a discussion with my father who said: 'Even if we lose money, which will very likely happen, I want us to help people.'"
They put their heads together and came up with the idea of offering free, live-streamed online lessons and called it WorksheetCloud Live Lessons. However, it did not go off without a hitch at first. “Even though we managed to live-stream lessons to 40 000 learners on the first two days, which is a record in South Africa, we experience technical difficulties. With seven teachers, all sitting at home with differing internet speeds, it quickly became clear that live lessons were going to end up frustrating too many users because some of the teachers' internet connections would bomb out mid-lesson."
Adrian says they then pivoted and rebuilt the entire site and system within 18 hours to cater for on-demand, recorded lessons and just replaced "Live" with "Online" in their name, WorksheetCloud Online Lessons.
Working long hours have also become par for the course. "Since we launched WorksheetCloud Online Lessons, I've been working 12 to 14 hour days, as has most of our team. But, that's okay because our team believes strongly in rolling with the punches."
According to Adrian, they have been funding the majority of the project themselves along with a contribution from their partner MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet. "We'll continue recording new lessons for as long as possible. However, once we stop recording new lessons, we'll still make all the videos available so that parents and learners can access them for free at any time."
He believes that the real heroes are the teachers and the team behind WorksheetCloud Online Lessons - who give of their days and nights to make this content available to learners across South Africa. "I feel proud of them."
So what can users expect from this platform in future? Adrian says later this year they will be launching the biggest upgrade to WorksheetCloud in three years. “We're launching Study Notes into the platform, which are basically “cheat sheets" that give learners everything they need to study in a bite-sized format.
“We believe firmly in the MVP (minimum viable product) process, which means that we develop small ideas, build them as quickly as possible, put them out to our customers and get feedback that we use to make improvements. This means it's very difficult to tell exactly what WorksheetCloud will look like in the future, because our product development is powered by our users. However, my vision is to have one million paying users within the next five years. It's very ambitious, but we didn't get as far as we are now by being afraid to take risks," he concludes.