How to Build E-Learning Solutions for Kids? Deborah B. Sorgi, AWE Learning

The online education market continues to grow, and it’s predicted to reach about $239 bln by 2027. At the same time, it is dominated by e-learning solutions for students and adults. However, kids and pre-teens should also be able to learn remotely and hone their digital literacy skills, and AWE Learning is one such company that makes it possible.

In this tech talk, we’ll talk about AWE Learning, its culture and hiring practices, a new solution they built with the help of Redwerk, and their stance on the latest tech trends. Let’s go!

What is AWE Learning?

AWE Learning is an American provider of digital learning and literacy solutions for early childhood education. The company has over 25 years of experience developing early literacy resources for public libraries, childcare centers, and other community organizations across the USA and Canada. Its early literacy stations are used in 47% of the US public libraries.

What distinguishes AWE Learning from other providers is that they emphasize the children’s safety. That’s why their workstations run without an Internet connection, offering over 175 multi-curricular titles preloaded in advance. Accessing educational websites is done through a custom browser extension specifically designed for kids. 

AWE Learning products help ignite the passion for learning from a young age. They help improve school readiness, deepen knowledge across STREAM subjects, and develop essential cyber safety and basic coding skills.

Redwerk Contribution to AWE Learning

We helped AWE Learning take their offline product to the cloud. We helped them develop Platinum Online, an all-in-one e-learning SaaS platform. Redwerk UI/UX designers created colorful and captivating interfaces for each of the STREAM areas, new icons, and avatars, ensuring our designs are not only attention-grabbing and fun but also inclusive and speak to diverse groups of kids.

The platform offers convenient access to all of the educational content for learners as well as a very straightforward admin portal for parents and organizations. The portal makes it easy to add new content, personalize education plans, create bundles for group learners, change access rights, manage subscriptions, and monitor the users’ engagement.

By capitalizing on our SaaS development expertise, AWE Learning managed to quickly adapt to COVID-19 restrictions and restore the provision of educational services to young learners. If you’d like to learn more about our partnership with AWE Learning and dive deeper into the tech side of the project, be sure to request the case study at the end of the article. 

Meet Deborah!

We invited Deborah B. Sorgi, Doctor of Education, President and CEO of AWE Learning to discuss what problems AWE Learning products solve, the challenges of designing products for kids, her opinion on AI opportunities and risks, corporate culture, COVID’s impact on developers’ work preferences, as well as leadership and recharging tips helping Deborah create a positive and productive environment. Let’s get straight to the interview!

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Please introduce yourself. What are your responsibilities?

Hi, my name is Deborah Sorgi. I am the President and CEO of AWE Learning. I have worked for the company for the past seven and a half years and we are located in Chester, Pennsylvania.

How did you get into the tech industry?

So I am a former schoolteacher by trade. I taught school in inner city New York in the mid to late seventies, and in 1980 I joined the educational technology publishing industry. And for the past four decades, I have spent my time in digital technology.

How has AWE Learning evolved since the moment you joined the company?

So in the past seven and a half years, the company has grown dramatically.

We are very fortunate that we have a great and loyal customer base. Our primary market is public libraries and we have 47% market share in that space. So over the last several years, we have been able to add new products, both offline products as well as an online product, which we developed during COVID. And we have been able to add different technologies and bring lots of diverse staff into the organization.

What problems do AWE Learning products solve? How do they help educators and parents?

So our products are designed for young children ages 2 through 12, and our focus is on literacy. All of our products are STREAM-aligned so that we’re focusing on all of the key areas like Science, Technology, Engineering, Reading, Mathematics, the Arts. And we offer our products in an offline environment where we sell a complete solution of hardware, software and support services.

And then we also offer a subscription-based service, which is purely an online product.

Is Platinum Online a prompt response to COVID-19 restrictions, or was it in the works before the pandemic?

So several years before the pandemic, we actually started thinking about developing an online product. But we were so involved in expanding our offline product that it really was not a priority for us.

And then, of course, the pandemic hit and all of the libraries closed, and our librarians were asking us for resources that they could potentially send home to the parents or have allowed parents to access from home. So we decided to build Platinum Online, which consists of 175 titles across all of the STREAM areas, again serving ages 2 through 12 in a very protected and safe environment. And also a very fun and engaging environment, actually.

How did COVID-19 affect your business?

So we were very fortunate during COVID-19 that we were able to maintain interaction with our customer base. You know, at the onset, most of the libraries were closed, but we were working with our customers to prepare them for once the pandemic was over and they would start to reopen their libraries.

And again, once we were able to build and launch Platinum Online, we then had a subscription-based, cloud-based solution that they could then offer to their patrons.

And since the end of the pandemic, how has Platinum Online impacted your business?

So it has. What it has done is it’s allowed our libraries to extend the service that they provide on campus to the home environments.

And additionally, it’s also opened additional markets for us so that we now market to the consumer market. We also do a lot with home schoolers. So this was a market that we were just dabbling in pre-COVID. And then once we had the online product, we started to heavily market to the consumers.

What are the challenges of designing digital products for kids and pre-teens?

So the challenges are to make them fun and engaging because these are digital natives, right? These are kids that have grown up with technology from a very, very young age. So we are competing with the smartphones, right? We’re competing with social media apps. So the key is to make sure that the content is fun and engaging and is educational, right?

So we want it to be fun and engaging, but we do provide a curriculum-based solution. So we want to make sure that we are teaching the skills across the spectrum as well as providing a fun environment for children.

Is it easier to build e-learning solutions for adults?

Actually, it’s probably harder to build e-learning for youngsters because it has to be fun and engaging than it is for adults.

It’s kind of a little bit of this, a little bit of that. I mean, adults are not digital natives, right? Adults are digital immigrants. So they have a learning curve when it comes to technology, whereas children being digital natives were born and raised with the technology. So again, you know what? It’s really a balancing act and it’s making sure that you have the right content and the right solution for the right market.

ChatGPT has recently taken the Internet by storm. Should early educators worry about it and what effect can it have on pre-teens?

Well, I can honestly say that I have a ChatGPT account. I travel a lot and I love it for travel. I’m getting ready to go to Italy in a couple of months and I have been abusing ChatGPT, getting itineraries and lots of recommendations.

You know, like anything else, it’s a balance. So I do think it’s a great tool, but I think it’s a tool that has to be monitored for accuracy of information.

Do you offer content for developing AI literacy skills?

So right now we don’t. It is something that we are pursuing. We are looking into it because it is the biggest trend right now. I am a big proponent of AI, and I think it has tremendous opportunity in the education space. But again, it’s something that has to be monitored, and it’s also something that has to be developed appropriately for the younger generation.

The key for AI in education is professional development for teachers, because you can have an amazing tool, but unless teachers know how to use that tool and are comfortable using that tool, that tool will not be successful.

Is there a tech talent shortage in the USA? And if so, how do you tackle that?

So I have been doing a lot of hiring the last couple of months for software developers, and I can honestly say I have not experienced a shortage in tech talent.

There have been an abundance of candidates. The key for me has been trying to find someone that’s willing to come to the office five days a week. Right now, the challenge is finding developers; they want to work remotely. And, you know, this is unfortunately an after-effect of COVID. People don’t want to come to the office. So that has been my biggest challenge.

It’s not finding the right candidates. It’s finding candidates that will actually drive to work every day.

What is the corporate culture at AWE Learning like?

So we’re a very small organization. I like to say it’s a small organization with a big stick. We’re very effective with the resources that we have, and it’s a very hands-on environment and a very roll-up-your-sleeves environment.

People will pitch in and will help no matter what department they belong to. So during COVID, we did a lot of cross-training because like most companies, we had to cut back on resources. So we did a lot of cross-training and we have continued that cross-training. So it’s really nice having people that are trained in multiple responsibilities across several departments.

So the culture here is if somebody needs help, we all drop what we’re doing and we help each other.

Why did you turn to Redwerk?

Yeah, Redwerk has really been a great partner. We turned to them at the beginning of COVID when we realized we needed to build an online product, and our goal was to mirror our offline product. So we did not have the resources or the expertise in-house to build a cloud-based product.

And a former employee recommended Redwerk. We interviewed Redwerk along with several other potential consulting firms. We really love the team at Redwerk, and it’s really been a pleasure working with them. They’re incredibly professional and people say, you know, what about the fact that you’re dealing with an overseas company? What about the time zone differences?

And it has been a non-issue. They are incredibly responsive, highly communicative. We had a great project team. We met on a weekly basis with the project team, and we launched the product last year, and we’re still doing business with them. So they have been a great partner and good friends and our hearts go out to them every day.

I’m really glad that we can do our part to continue to support Ukraine by hiring these incredibly talented people. 

What milestones did you want to achieve and what obstacles were standing in the way? 

So of course I wanted the product delivered yesterday, and the Redwerk team was great with establishing milestones, establishing benchmarks. We put a timeline together that was realistic.

I wanted to build the product in six months and they were very realistic at the front end and said that is not going to happen. It’s going to take us 8 to 12 months and it did take 8 to 12 months. But once we launched the product, it was a stellar product and we all celebrated accordingly.

What results have you achieved with the help of Redwerk? How have these results impacted your business?

Yeah. So without Redwerk, we would not have been able to build the product because again, I did not have the resources in-house or the expertise, and I did not have the time to try and recruit an in-house team, and have them get ramped up, and then start to build a product.

So we needed to start building on day one. So they allowed us to really get that product built and to market in a very timely fashion. And they continue to maintain the product for us. So again, I have not been able to bring that expertise in-house. That is the intent to do that over the course of the next couple of months. But right now, they are continuing to maintain that product for us.

To whom would you recommend Redwerk and why?

I’d recommend them in a heartbeat. So I am happy to provide a testimonial for them. I’m happy to be a reference for them. I have been. I think they do great work. Again, I think they’re very professional. So I think that any organization that is looking to build a product where they do not have the resources in-house or the expertise in-house, I would recommend that they talk to Redwerk because they do good work.

What’s the tech trend that excites you?

I think it is AI, I think it is artificial intelligence because I think there are so many exciting things that can happen in education with helping children learn how to read and do mathematics, with helping children assess children’s needs. So again, it scares me. As much as I love it, it scares me because I see what’s happening to some social media right now; the kids are just totally out of control with it.

So my mother always used to say to me, ‘Everything in moderation’. And I truly believe that the products, you know, technology is great as long as we don’t abuse it and as long as we monitor it.

Do you have any hobbies outside of work that help you be a better leader?

So. Well, first of all, I love to work out. So I work out six mornings a week at 5 a.m. It’s my thing and it’s my way of reducing stress. So that helps me come to work every day with a clear mind, which I think is really important.

I try to leave all the baggage behind me when it comes to the office so that I can be productive and be a good resource to my team. I love to read. I am a voracious reader. I read 200 books a year. So I am a purist when it comes to reading. I love hardcover books, so I don’t read e-books.

I love hardcover books and I love to travel, and that’s when I started working on ChatGPT to, you know, kind of put together some itineraries. And family, probably that’s my most important hobby. I travel a lot for business. I commute every week to work because I don’t live in Pennsylvania. I live in New York. So the more time that I can spend with my family on the weekends, to me, that’s the most important thing I can do.

What’s your life motto?

My life motto… Well, I tell this to my staff all the time and to people that I hire and people that I’m coaching because I have done a lot of leadership coaching during my career. I am a firm believer that when you wake up in the morning and you look at yourself in the mirror and you don’t like who you see, it’s time to do something else.

Life is too short.

Work with Ukraine

We’re grateful for customers who trust in our ability to deliver despite the challenges of war. Thanks to companies that continue doing business with Ukrainian IT vendors like Redwerk, we have been able to employ tech talents affected by the war, donate to dozens of charity organizations, and support individual defenders who shield our borders and allow us to have a relatively peaceful home front.

If you want to strengthen your product team with skillful software engineers, Ui/UX professionals, or PM/BA experts, please get in touch with us. We provide a managed service for techies and non-techies, supporting you from ideation until launch.

Since 2005, we’ve delivered over 250 projects for consumers across 22 countries. And every other project we contributed to was acquired by a big name or distinguished with a prestigious award. Would you also like to take your business to the next level? Technology makes it possible, and we’d happily show you how. 

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See how we helped AWE Learning build e-learning SaaS for kids used by 50% of US public libraries

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