A Conversation with Steven Just

The other day I had a chance to catch up with my friend Steven Just, he and I met years and years ago and have both worked in the learning industry for a while. Steven is always busy.  He was the founder and CEO of Pedagogue Solutions which he sold to Saba and he is now working on an launching new venture called Intela.

Here is part of our conversation.

Kapp: You’ve been in the learning industry for a while, can you tell us what changes you’ve seen and what changes you’d like to see.

Just: I’m old enough to have seen A LOT of changes. When I first started in the field, the idea of using computers to teach people was considered somewhat heretical. I even had to create my own graduate program combining a master’s degree in computer science with a doctorate in educational psychology. Back then the field of instructional technology didn’t really exist. I remember the conversation I had with my first thesis advisor. When I told him what I wanted to do for my research project he kind of looked at me like he didn’t know how to process what I was saying and then pretty much said: “No you can’t do that. Find another advisor and another department,” which I did, so it all worked out fine in the long run.

Over the past couple of decades we’ve seen significant changes driven by two factors: (1) advances in technology and (2) advances in our understanding — based on cognitive research — of how people actually learn. In my career we have moved instruction from PCs with primitive graphics, to multimedia, to the Internet, to mobile devices, to the cloud. Each technological innovation has permitted us to do so much more to advance the state of the instructional art. My guess is that the next great change will come from the rapid advances being made in artificial intelligence, which will eventually permit us to build truly personalized learning systems.

My one caution is that it’s really easy to get enamored of the technology. We also need to pay attention to driver number two and not lose sight of what the research tells us about what actually works instructionally. It’s this motivating factor that led me to found, with two partners, my new company.

Kapp: Can you tell us a little about your new company, Intela Learning?

Just: I’m very excited about our new company and its product, Intela® (www.intelalearning.com). Intela is the first Continuous Learning System. For the most part corporate training is event driven, centering around a course of one form or other (instructor-led, eLearning, blended, a game, etc.). It is well known that most of what is learned in this type of learning experience is often rapidly forgotten. Intela provides all of the tools a trainer needs to turn a learning event into a learning process. It improves learning and promotes long term learning retention. It unifies into a single platform three research- based learning strategies, for promoting learning, with a serious assessment system for diagnosing learning gaps, prescribing remediation and measuring impact. It allows a trainer to improve learning and learning retention, before, during and after the learning event.

The four main learning strategies provided by Intela are:

  • Adaptive questioning
  • Gamification
  • Subscription learning (microlearning)
  • Assessments

We represent the process as follows:justimageThe green icons at the bottom of the timeline indicate where a trainer can use Intela’s tools to improve the learning process.

Kapp: Can you provide us some insights into the science behind your product?

Just:Sure. My doctorate is in cognitive psychology and measurement. Though it has been a long time since I’ve done original research I have always kept up with the research literature. And the literature is quite clear about what works and doesn’t work in learning. If you work in corporate training and keep up with the academic literature you quickly see that much of what is done in corporate training is not grounded in evidence-based practice. So our goal in designing Intela was to create an easy to use platform that enables trainers to incorporate all of the following practices into their training processes:

  • Spacing effect
  • Testing effect
  • Interleaving
  • Gamification
  • Priming
  • Diagnostic testing
  • Longitudinal testing
  • Authentic assessments
  • …and more

Each of Intela’s tools uses one or more of these learning strategies.

Kapp:What is the most exciting thing about your new company? What do you think will have the most impact on the industry?

Just:I spent many years building and running my former company, Pedagogue Solutions. Pedagogue, for those not familiar with it, is an assessment management system. We were very successful, particularly in the life sciences, where we probably had about an 80% market share. After I sold the company I thought that for my second act I’d like to do something a little different so I decided to focus on learning, not assessment. As I started designing Intela with my two partners, Bob Christensen and Pete Sandford, it became obvious to us that we couldn’t ignore assessment because testing is a big part of the learning process.

So, as Intela evolved during design and development we realized that by unifying a learning system with an assessment system we were creating a product that didn’t really fit into any single existing product category. Since Intela is used at all phases of the learning process we decided that Intela was best described as a Continuous Learning System.

Kapp: Do you have any advice for my graduate students in Instructional Technology who will be shortly entering the field?

Just:Your students have so many more options available to them than I did when I graduated: They can work on the client side, for a large corporation, or on the vendor side, creating courseware and learning systems for those large corporations. They can create courseware for the consumer market or for academic use. Clearly there are advantages and disadvantages to all these choices. Since leaving the world of academic research I have always worked on the vendor side within the corporate training market.

For me the vendor side is where most of the action is. Since most vendors are smallish companies there is opportunity to learn more quickly and have a bigger impact faster, though of course there are risks. That said, if your students do go into corporate training, which I guess is where most of them will end up, it is worth having some client-side experience if only to understand how corporate decisions get made, how training is valued (or not) and where training fits into a corporation’s priorities and goals. By the way, if any of your students want to reach out to me for advice I’d be happy to talk to them.

Kapp: Steven, thanks. It’s be great speaking with you.

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