Online education has seen a radical boost in 2020. We embraced it as a necessity to continue learning throughout the pandemic, but most of us quickly saw the shortcomings of long and boring Zoom meetings. Certainly, anybody with kids can relate to it. After a full day of video conferencing and little if any interaction, they feel drained and far from being inspired.
“The problem is that we took an outdated educational system - it really didn’t change in the last decades - and transferred it to a new medium,” says Christian Rebernik, who watched his three kids suffer through long days of online instructions. Rebernik, who managed the online bank N26, and a serial entrepreneur who created the health platform Vivy as well as award-winning apps like ShareTheMeal, didn’t like it. “I remembered how I felt as a kid: the days in school were dragging on, the teachers didn’t seem to be interested in our learning success. That’s often how it is still today. But the Zoom-meetings make it even worse. I don’t want this for my kids.”
Rebernik, an Austrian native who lives in Berlin, reached out to his friend Thomas Funke, who is professor for entrepreneurship and innovation at Goethe-University in Frankfurt, and an entrepreneur himself. In 2016 he founded TechQuartier, a Frankfurt-based startup hub helping companies in the Rhein-Main-region grow their business. Funke, father of four children, understood: “When Christian called, I knew exactly what he was talking about and where his frustrations are coming from,” says Funke. “I have long been critical of traditional teaching methods. They are focused on dry facts and are highly dependent on the quality of your professor. Teaching should be centered on the students’ needs, on their individual capabilities to learn.”
Rebernik and Funke felt it was time for a change. “After that first call, we knew we needed to work together to improve online learning.” The idea of “Tomorrow’s Education” was born. Since schools are highly regulated, the two entrepreneurs decided to target the university level and create an online platform that allows students to learn on any device whenever it fits their schedule. They replaced the long and tedious video instructions with an interactive concept which engages students through real-life examples. The learning sessions are short in comparison - an average of 15 minutes. “The results are astonishing,” explains Funke. “We are looking at a 60% higher rate of retaining what was learnt.”
Both Funke and Rebernik explain that technology is not an end in itself however. “It is a vehicle that makes learning a more empowering experience,” says Rebernik. “We started the Tomorrow platform because we want to revolutionize education. How we learn is one aspect of it. More importantly, we need to identify the skills and the mindset that is needed to master future challenges,” adds Funke. “We believe that regardless of your field of expertise, you need three skills to succeed: You need to be able to think like an entrepreneur, you must be knowledgeable about technology and you have to incorporate sustainable thinking in your problem-solving approach.”
These three skills are at the center of Tomorrow Education’s first program scheduled to start in April. The Professional Master of Sustainability, Entrepreneurship and Technology is targeted toward mid-career professionals and entrepreneurs who want to enhance or change their career. The program is a collaboration with the WU Academy of the University of Vienna. “We are very happy about the partnership with WU Academy. Their experience on one hand, and their readiness to embrace the future of learning on the other, is of great value to us,” explains Funke.
Tomorrow’s Education also gets the support of leading international corporations. Boosted by the likes of Deutsche Bank, Deutsche Börse, Cheil Germany, DPD, PwC Deutschland and Eintracht Tech, the company is off to a great start. “We believe that we need strong corporate partners to provide our students with a relevant network. This is not only important for their future job search, but also for building a strong professional network that students can reach out to for support,” says Funke.
While they start with a Professional Master’s program, the vision of the two founders reaches far beyond. “Tomorrow’s Education will ultimately be a full-service university. We will offer the complete spectrum of educational offerings, starting from Nano-programs to Bachelor’s and Master's degrees. All of it can be accessed via a phone or a tablet. When you are ready to learn, you just pull out your device and log in. It will be like having a university in your pocket,” says Funke, describing the road ahead.
Indeed, education is moving more and more toward availability at your fingertips. Numerous providers have entered the online educational market, offering anything from skill courses to full traditional programs. “The change in education is just starting, and we are well-positioned to play an important role in it,” says Rebernik. “We are focusing on providing the best possible experience for our students. It starts with high-quality content and easy accessibility, but it is more than that.” He explains how students will be part of an international network flanked by experienced mentors. Through that, learning becomes an integral part of growth, which is a life-time goal for the two entrepreneurs. “Learning doesn’t stop once you have a degree. It is an ongoing task. We are providing our graduates with a learning profile and invite them to come back to us to grow even further - as students or as teachers.”
Down the road, Tomorrow’s Education will have strategically-positioned learning hubs all across the globe where students can meet to collaborate on projects. Programs are taught in English, facilitating the exchange among the international student body. “While online learning is the future of education, we recognize the importance of in-person exchange,” explains Rebernik. Students are encouraged to collaborate on projects with their peers. “Learning from others and cooperating with a team is a central element of our teaching philosophy. We provide our students with constant and immediate feedback, and that’s important, but the greatest results come from exchanging what you have learned with others, essentially becoming a teacher yourself,” adds Funke.
While Tomorrow’s Education is laid out to revolutionize learning at the university level, Funke and Rebernik are confident that it will benefit their own kids. “By the time our children are done with high school, they will encounter a radically different learning landscape. This is what motivates both Thomas and me. We are really doing this for the next generation, so our kids are empowered and inspired by how and what they learn.