Must Read Founder's Five April 7, 2023

Founder’s Five: Manoj Kulkarni, Realizeit

Founder’s Five is a continuing series from Tyton Partners that invites education company founders to shed light on their own success and illuminate the landscape for other education entrepreneurs and investors by answering five basic questions.

Realizeit was founded in 2007 to leverage learning science and technology to create an adaptive learning platform that focuses on the individual learner’s mastery of knowledge.

Realizeit was founded in 2007 with the goal of leveraging learning science and technology to create an adaptive learning platform that would help shift learning from its traditional focus on tasks, content, and time to one focused on the individual learner’s mastery of knowledge.

Today, the company serves both the corporate and higher education markets with a comprehensive adaptive learning platform that helps educators translate their learning goals into courses that can efficiently bring learners to mastery of the required material. Its end-to-end solution includes collaboration with subject matter experts, the production of tailored courses, and the requisite training of instructors.

In 2020, Realizeit was recognized by the Brandon Hall Group as the winner of the 2020 Excellence in Technology award. Manoj Kulkarni has been on the board of Realizeit since 2012 and CEO since 2014.

What is your company’s origin story?

The story of our origin is really born out of personal experience working in underserved and underprivileged areas, as to how much the presence of the right teacher gives the opportunity for success to students. When the right teacher shows up for these kinds of students, the probability of success goes way up. But if not, then many of these students get left behind. The question for us then was, how do you create the best teacher for every student? That was the genesis of Realizeit. It was never about being “adaptive.” It was about how can we provide the right teacher for every student through technology in a scalable fashion? Whether it’s called adaptive, or personalized, or individualized, or whatever, the idea was to be able to provide the right kind of capabilities for a teacher to be able to help every student realize their potential.

How will the market be changed by your company’s success?

Teaching and learning is being done the same way that it was 200 years ago. It’s still a very traditional model designed for the industrial age: how can you put a lot of people into a small space and put them through their paces? The big problem with that is it’s a one-size-fits-all model. And with a one-size-fits-all model, it helps some, but leaves out a lot of others. Realizeit is changing the face of instruction from this one-size-fits-all model to one that gives every person what they need at scale, while optimizing the effort and maximizing the outcomes.

The other part of what we’re changing is the idea that content is all that is needed for learning. Instruction should be about trying to help people understand how to factor in the right content that impacts their learning outcome. What’s needed is for learning to shape to the individual and the right content then follows. Moving to a learner-centric and skill-centric model is key to helping people change. In an academic context, this means moving from a focus on course completion to a focus on competency. The same holds true in a corporate or workforce context where the objective of learning should be about helping the individual perform their best in the role. The linking of learning and training to performance is what we are helping corporations and academic institutions shift towards.

In a post-pandemic world where more people are working remotely, the big question we ask our clients is, ‘How do you really know that employees know what they need to do their job? And how will you go about trying to enable and empower them to be able to get what they need to to perform?’

Manoj kulkarni

In a post-pandemic world where more people are working remotely, the big question we ask our clients is, “How do you really know that employees know what they need to do their job? And how will you go about trying to enable and empower them to be able to get what they need to to perform?” While a lot of focus has been given to learning, not enough focus has been given to development side of L&D. We’re trying to help people understand how you connect the learning to the development. AI algorithms and machine learning are tools, but the basic value that we’re trying to provide is to elevate the level of every individual inside a corporation at-scale.

What do you know now that you wish you had known when you began?

One of the things I’ve learned in this journey is that just because I see the value, and I know that it can be done, doesn’t mean that other people know it, understand it, and appreciate it. And even if other people know it, it’s important to understand their incentives and their reasons for doing something and the timing associated with it. The biggest thing we struggle with is understanding the time it takes for people to change their mindset and approach. What we’re doing has transformational elements to it and being able to step into the shoes of the person who’s making the decision or sticking their neck out and really understand their motivations, their challenges, their constraints, and their incentives is important and something I wish I’d focused on sooner. It’s important to understand what people are prepared to do, as opposed to what you think they should do.

The second part is understanding how to make it easy for people, particularly when you’re doing transformation. Some of the folks we’ve dealt with initially were ready to put in the effort and take the risk. But when you think about scaling, it needs to be made easy for people to buy into it, believe in it, and make happen. Organizations cannot talk innovation and then be only ready for marginal improvement. Helping our clients strategize and design innovation and adoption with incremental benefits is key. That’s a challenge to overcome for success and we have to build that into our product and people capabilities.

What non-intuitive insight have you gained through this work?

That you have to motivate people to go through the transformation. Early on, I probably didn’t appreciate the level of readiness that was necessary inside an organization. I didn’t appreciate the importance of people, the environment, or the context being ready – not just the influencer or the buyer being ready. I came from the standpoint of having implemented the change and innovation myself and saying, “Well I could do it. So why couldn’t they do it?” But what I didn’t appreciate enough is how much support and readiness and alignment and resonance I had in my own context. To make an implementation work, you need a champion, but you also need the context to be ready for the champion to be successful. So today, when we talk to prospective clients, it’s not just about identifying a champion, but we probably have 20 questions around context.

What other education company besides your own do you wish you had started?

Looking to play a part in the future of education and training (by bringing it into a modern context and taking the risk that goes along with it) itself is reason to want to start a company in this segment. I like the aspect of taking an idea and making it happen at-scale. I’ve always admired companies that have known how to stay in their lane and really figure out how to achieve scale. This includes companies DreamBox, SNHU, and 2U. I also admire companies that break away from an old model and put up a new one, like Minerva. You only succeed when you can figure out how to scale, particularly in education and training. So, I respect and admire them for what they’ve done. And there are many many more.