When the Great Recession struck, Ned Zimmerman-Bence was working as the executive director of an online high school. He soon began receiving calls from an unexpected demographic that wanted to enroll, people in their 30’s and 40’s, just to receive the last few credits they needed in order to acquire their high school diploma.
Ned had worked in education for nearly his entire career, but it was at this time that he first really noticed the issue of adult literacy. Many of those seeking their last few credits simply didn’t have the skills to read well. The systemic problem made itself clear: the resources being offered to students weren’t fitting the need.
The seed had been planted and Ned decided to nurture it. It’s now growing faster than ever and has taken the form of GogyUp, a venture Ned has started along with three other co-founders. GogyUp is addressing the problem of adult illiteracy. A common theme of Ned’s career has been the marriage of technology and learning and his current work is no exception. GogyUp helps people with limited English skills understand the materials they need for everyday living and working.
It works by taking text, say a manual, and overlaying an instructional framework, which breaks down the language components, thus aiding in understanding the text.
To get to this point was not an easy task. Ned and his team spent two years researching the mechanics of the English language. The core question was “How can we sequentially teach how sounds are represented in letter and [vice versa] how do letters represent sounds?” They worked with 8 linguistics majors to develop that sequencing and then they trained computer algorithms to identify language patters.
Their approach is unique. It’s not just a venture focused on innovative technologies but rather is human-centered. Before any coding was started, the team met face-to-face with a variety of people who could benefit from their service and gathered perspectives about what would be helpful for them.
Rather than create a solution for a perceived problem, Ned wanted to better understand the problem from the people who were subject to it. If the idea was to help people better engage with the world around them, understanding it from their perspective was key.
Ned believes that education has the power to truly change the trajectory of one’s life. He’s seen it in action. It’s from this belief that his work flows.
After being asked what life lessons he’s learned through his work, Ned noted the importance of fully believing in your concept while at the same time being open to change. “Let go of your preconceived notions of what you can do or what you can’t do… Be mindful of the Savior Mentality.”
The growing process is the learning process is the changing process. Being open to new opportunities and challenging ideas is where the foundational work happens.
GogyUp website: https://www.gogyup.com/