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Jon Kennard


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The Learning Awards winners 2013: Speaking Pal


The Learning and Performance Institute hosts the annual Learning Awards to recognise outstanding examples of high standards, best practice, innovation and excellence in Learning and Development.

At the 2013 awards, Speaking Pal won the award for 'Innovation in Learning Services'. The Innovation in Learning Services Award is open to any organisation that can demonstrate that they have made a unique and innovative contribution to the delivery of learning services.

There are millions of people who want to improve their English speaking skills to enhance their education, career and business opportunities globally. SpeakingPal has developed a platform using the best speech recognition technologies that is highly accessible through a choice of smart devices including mobile and TV. Combining high-end multimedia rich content with automatic speech recognition enabled SpeakingPal to create a highly interactive and engaging learning service.

TZ spoke to Shaunie Shammass recently about their win.

How did it feel to have won a Learning Award?
We were very excited and surprised to win a Learning Award. We were allowed to present our submission remotely since the CEO's schedule unfortunately did not enable him to get to the awards presentation in person, so this made it even more exciting. Our statue was posted and took a while to reach us, so getting it and unboxing it was met with a small celebration at SpeakingPal!

What went through your mind when the nominations are read out?
I think my first thought was something like, "Wow! They liked SpeakingPal! We did it!"

Did you think you were going to win? What was it that made your project stand out to the judges?
We had no idea we were going to win. I think the judges were impressed with the innovation of our product, namely that we used automatic speech recognition to create a truly interactive and natural learning experience for handling the hard-to-tackle problem of how to help students improve their English speaking skills. In addition, I think they were convinced that we had a solid business plan and go-to-market strategy.

What are your future projects? How are you going to follow up this win at next year's awards?
We are now streamlining our product so that speaking and listening units can be downloaded on the mobile device at once, while adding a vocabulary/glossary component as well as translation. All additions or changes need careful design and technical solutions. We’ve also created a multi-screen version that allows the user to see the app on a Smart TV while controlling it with his/her mobile device. The neat part is that the learner interacts with a character on TV, and then the mobile's video camera streams a video of the user so that he/she can see him/herself talking on TV, and compare with a native speaker's video - also on TV!

Next year seems like such a long time away. In this business of app development, the timeline is trying to get out something new on a monthly or even bi-weekly basis. This is a business that requires high energy, constant creativity and exemplary teamwork, because the app world is constantly changing and expanding exponentially.

What would be your advice for future entrants?
User experience, user experience, user experience. Education is going to be disrupted, and we are just at the beginning. The key parameter for players finding a place in this busy sector and staying on the playing field is whether the user experience delivers engagement so that learners will want to continue using your solution. For this to happen, you need to be creative, and have the technical capabilities to deliver a truly engaging experience.

I would like to thank the Learning Awards for this wonderful experience, and wish good luck to all future entrants.

Shaunie Shammass is VP, linguistic innovation of SpeakingPal


Author Profile Picture
Jon Kennard

Freelance writer

Read more from Jon Kennard

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