Interview with Hector Simoudis: Co-Founder of eLearning Partners
Originally published on vizaca.com
About Hector Simoudis
Hector Simoudis, a well-traveled Greek who was born and raised in the Middle East, experienced a melting pot of cultures from an early age. He considers himself lucky to have been exposed to so many different lifestyles, religions and walks of life. These experiences made him who he is today, a connector who values meaningful relationships above all. As a Co-Founder of eLearning Partners, a company specializing in creating custom micro-learning curricula, Hector's number one focus is building long-lasting relationships with clients and partners. Hector is a life-long learner who struggled with dyslexia growing up, which ignited his dedication and empathy for learners, especially learners challenged with learning differences.
Hi Hector, thank you for meeting with us today. You have an incredible story! Let’s start with: how was it growing up with dyslexia? And how did it contribute to who you are today?
Growing up with dyslexia was definitely a challenge, especially in my younger years. During that time I didn't know what dyslexia was. All I really had were my own experiences. And I saw that other kids were able to complete homework, projects, and tests a lot more quickly than I was. I didn't understand why and it was very frustrating.
However, I was so blessed to have an incredible mother and father who were extremely supportive and recognized I needed help. The research was really just starting then. My mother and father knew right away that I had learning differences.
My uncle, my mother's brother, had learning differences that she recognized even back when she was growing up. The research at that time was minimal, but my uncle had an incredible professor who recognized that this kid was talented and wicked smart. However, he just needed a chance. He just needed to be taught a little bit differently.
And from that experience that my mom had growing up with a brother with learning differences when she saw that I was struggling with learning differences, dyslexia, she caught it right away. And when I say caught it right away, she noticed some early signals of dyslexia such as not tying my shoes at the age when most other children could. It took me about six to 12 months longer to learn how to tie my shoes. Again, it was such a blessing to have a family who could support me right from the start.
So, growing up with dyslexia, even though it was very challenging, I had a lot of support. I spent so many evenings with my mother as she helped me with my essays, my English, and my history. My father helped me with mathematics. We spent hours and hours and hours working on assignments and projects together, knowing that it just took me a little bit longer to learn.
And in addition to my parents, I also had incredible tutors and teachers who were so supportive. Miss Delaney and Mrs. Tate were two tutors, along with others, who helped me so much. And then I also had an incredible teaching staff. One teacher who really sticks out is Ms. Daley. She was so amazing and so helpful.
From there, I moved to the United States where I went to a boarding school, especially for students with learning differences. And that's where my life really changed.
The school gave us the individualized learning experiences that we needed in order to excel and thrive in the world of academics through university and from there to be successful adults because dyslexia doesn't go away.
It's a part of me, and I'm so proud of it, even though when I was younger, I wished I didn't have it. Now as an adult, I look back and I think every single day that I’ve had dyslexia has made me who I am today. It taught me things that I don't know if I would have learned without having dyslexia. It taught me a strong work ethic from a young age. It taught me how to sit down and get things done. It taught me how to focus. It taught me how to pour my energy and my time and my whole entire essence into what I was doing at that very moment. And it also taught me how to love and accept myself, which is another whole conversation.
What motivated you to co-found eLearning Partners?
What motivated me to start eLearning Partners was going back to that first question of dyslexia. First of all, I was very blessed to have been born into a melting pot of cultures.
I was born in Saudi Arabia, and grew up with friends from all parts of the world with various religious and cultural backgrounds; it was just a melting pot of culture. And in addition to growing up in this melting pot of culture, I also had the opportunity to travel around the world, and traveling, specifically to developing countries, really opened up my eyes.
There were two things that I saw in every single developing country that I visited, whether it was India, Cambodia, Vietnam, or Kenya. No matter where I went, I saw two things.
The first was the love and desire for personal connection and community. And the second was the love and desire and hunger for education. Education for these people in these countries was not just their way out of their circumstances, but more importantly, it was a way for them to be invested in their communities and help their communities thrive as well.
And seeing that I just fell in love with it.
I remember I was in Cambodia with my family, we were in this tourist location, and multiple tour groups were there from all parts of the world. And all of a sudden about 15 to 20 kids local to the region came running up to us and spoke in perfect English. They weren't asking for money; they were asking every single group, where are you from? And whenever the group would answer, the kids would instantaneously, without hesitation, say the capital city of that country. It was such an amazing sight and our tour guide turned to us and said to these kids, education is everything. He said that to these kids, education is the way out, and a way for them to reinvest in their communities; to help their communities grow and thrive. And I fell in love with that.
As you know, I grew up with dyslexia and from the beginning, I was very blessed to have had a mother, a father, a family, a support system. That system helped me get through these challenges, and learn the tools that I needed to thrive in the world of academics.
In addition to emotional support, they also provided financial support which was another huge blessing. Throughout high school and university, I recognize that I am so blessed to have had all of these support systems: financial, emotional, and community. I realized I wanted to give back because there are hundreds of millions of people out there who do not have the same access to the emotional support and the financial support that allowed me to thrive.
And I knew going into the professional career that I wanted to do something in education through my favorite channel, entrepreneurship. And I was so blessed to have met my co-founder and best friend until this day, Jonny Havey. We met on the first day of university and discovered that we both had a love for people, education, and entrepreneurship.
And here we are, seven years later, with an eLearning company, eLearning Partners, committed to helping companies create online courses or training that their learners will absolutely love.
And the last thing I'll say is, what motivated me to start eLearning Partners is that education is the solution for all. It is amazing to see how somebody can change with education, especially in the world of eLearning, with one device and internet connection.
You can change a person's life and that person could change their family's life. And that family could change a community. That community could change a local region, a region can change a state, a state can change a country, a country can change the world. I mean, the trickle-down effect is so impactful. The reason I'm in eLearning is to give back to the many people out there who don’t have the opportunity to get the individualized learning that they need to thrive. With one device and one connection, you can change somebody's life.
Clearly, you and your business partner are driven by a mission and a vision for changing the world. What else makes eLearning Partners different from other companies in the industry?
That’s a great question. Don't take it from me; take it from all of our clients we've had the opportunity to work with.
What they have shared is that they love our communication. We are so transparent and quick with communication that allows us to turn projects over extremely quickly without mitigating quality.
Another thing that our clients have shared is our timeliness. We are very quick and efficient. Once it could have taken them over a year to get a course or an online training out to their learners but it’s now taking them, not just half the time, but in many cases a fourth of the time to get them out.
This has allowed them to empower their learners a lot more quickly than they had been able to do before.
Another thing that our clients have shared is just how much time and money we have saved them, and the overall stress we've been able to relieve.
We have developed a sophisticated, learner-centric process that focuses on the most important thing, the learner.
Let’s say there is an idea or even a course that's well along its way but it's just not hitting the company’s goals. We are able to integrate our learner-centric process respective to where our clients are, whether it's in the idea stage, or the course creation stage. We can implement our learner-centric process and have them achieve the results they want to achieve, whether that's creating revenue from a course that they're trying to sell, or whether that's increasing the overall productivity and efficiency of their employees.
You suggest focusing on learners and not the technology. How should one optimize their eLearning (courses or training) by focusing on their learners and not technology?
This is a very, very good question. One thing our clients like about us is how we embed our backgrounds into this business. Many people and many companies in the eLearning industry which are phenomenal, are companies that were started by technologists or traditional educators.
The difference between us is that we are neither technologists nor traditional educators; we are learners. And we were victims of terrible unengaging eLearning. It was not fun. It was something that we just wanted to click through. It was something where we felt as if our boss had put it on our plate as just another busy task that we had to do in addition to everything else that was on our plate.
It just wasn't made for the learner.
And we thought that maybe we were the only ones. But the more that we got out there, the more questions we asked, and the more we vetted the market, we saw that there were many learners across many industries who were struggling with the same thing.
eLearning is just a checklist item. eLearning is something that their boss is “making them do” or “they have to do.” It's something that they're not excited about.
I mean if you were in a room of 1000 learners and you said raise your hand if you're excited to do eLearning, I'm very sure not a lot of hands would go up. And that is why we started this business.
It’s really understanding that the most critical part of any business is your employees and taking care of your employees. And a big part of taking care of your employees is the onboarding process and the ongoing training that you give them.
So you optimize your eLearning courses and training by focusing on your learner and not technology for the best engagement and retention.
Your learner needs to be part of every conversation and decision that you make relative to your eLearning. It is as simple as that.
Many companies believe that eLearning is all about technology. We need to find the perfect learning management system, we need to use the perfect authoring tool, we need to use the perfect video software, we need to use the perfect mix of platforms altogether. We need to use virtual reality and augmented reality. We're so focused on the features or the benefits of the technology that we forget about the learner.
Now don't get me wrong; these technologies, whatever the case may be, those things are extremely important. They are necessary. However, they shouldn't be the primary focus.
I cannot tell you how many companies we have seen that have spent not just hundreds of thousands of hours but hundreds of thousands of dollars and other resources, trying to find the perfect technology. And when they go to deploy it, it fails because their learners don't like it. And when you start digging, you find out that their learners weren't part of the planning process.
I'll tell you a really quick story. I was at the Learning Solutions conference in 2019 in Orlando, Florida, and we were in a breakout session talking about learner engagement; specifically employee engagement with internal training.
And there were many companies there. We’re talking about the big, not just national, but international companies that we know. And they were all expressing the same thing: “We do not know how to engage our employees.”
There was a very outspoken leader there who I absolutely appreciated and respected because he showed vulnerability (which creates relatability) and this leader was discussing how they’d tried everything. They have a whole department dedicated to creating content to engage their employees, but nothing was working. They've tried all these tools and all these aspects and all these metrics. They had spent so much time and money and resources trying to figure this out. And guess what happened?
At the end of this breakout session, I go up to this leader and say, “Hey, I appreciate you being so vulnerable and open about what's going on. You said that you tried everything and nothing is working to engage your employees, your learners, right?”
And this leader said, “Yes, we've tried everything and nothing is working.” I promise I did not say this in a condescending way. I promise I did not. I asked this leader in a very nice genuine way, “Have you asked your learners? Have you asked your employees what they want? Have you asked them what they want to learn, how they want to grow professionally, how they want to grow personally? Have you brought them to the decision-making table in addition to and alongside your HR and Education team? Had them as a key stakeholder at the table on how to create learning, what content should be created, and how it should be deployed? Have you involved them in the process?”
And this leader looked at me, eyes open wide, jaw dropped, and was looking at me straight for three to five seconds. Finally, she broke the silence and said, “I never thought about that.”
This happens all the time. Not just small companies, but billion-dollar companies where they don't focus on the learner. They're focused on the features and the benefits of the fancy technology aspects of eLearning which are important. But they don’t focus on how to make this about the learner and create an engaging eLearning experience.
How do eLearning Partners make an impact in the industry by making education more accessible to underserved communities?
This is another really critical question. So, I'm going to first start off by telling a quick story. I grew up having a learning difference, dyslexia. And I was very, very blessed that I had a family who could support me, emotionally and financially, to get the help that I needed in order to thrive in the traditional academic world.
And through that experience, I learned the power of individualized learning. We at eLearning Partners truly believe in individualized learning, focusing on the learner, understanding the learner, and understanding underserved communities. We must determine where they are struggling and make sure that we teach them in a way that resonates with them; to connect them with the skill sets they need to learn in order to be successful in school as well as in life. Individualized learning is the key to what we have today. We can scale that process and give each underserved community what it needs from its learners’ perspective.
Another beautiful thing in the world that we live in today is that this can be accomplished with one device and with one connection. Remember, getting an education is not just their way out, but their way to be invested in their communities, to help their communities thrive. There are still a lot of great training, great content, great methods, great things that are being taught, from professional hard skills to soft skills and more. And they're still being taught in person or through live webinars.
We need to start taking that training online because there is somebody out there who needs access to this content. It could change their life. We believe that no expertise should go unlearned because it's that very expertise that could change a person, change a family, change a community, change a market, change a country.
The last piece is that there are communities that are underserved due to a disability they may have. Maybe they're blind, maybe they're deaf, maybe they have other types of disabilities or differences as I like to call them, and they may not be able to learn in the traditional way. For these people, eLearning can be very impactful. But for those of us who are creating eLearning as an industry, we need to make it an industry standard to make training and courses ADA compliant; making it accessible in every way that we possibly can for those communities.
Through the power of technology, we are able to make it accessible for them so they can also get the training, the content, and the learning they want and deserve.
How can companies utilize eLearning to create additional revenue streams and optimize their employee training?
Many companies have a lot of subject matter expertise. Many companies, especially service-based companies, are being hired to share their expertise with organizations and help these organizations thrive in the areas where they are struggling.
Many companies have subject matter experts traveling all around the country, doing trainings, doing workshops, spreading their expertise.
And what many companies need to realize, especially in the world in which we live today, where so many people have moved online after this COVID 19 pandemic, is that they are sitting on a goldmine of knowledge.
And the way they can create an additional revenue stream is by taking that expertise and bringing it online. So let me give you a real example. We have a client right now who has subject matter experts who travel around the country to help clients with organizational health. And in addition to helping companies with organizational health, they are doing workshops and seminars. And what we said is we want to create a new revenue stream not limit a revenue stream they're already producing. We're not saying let's get rid of subject matter experts traveling around the country. We said let's create a new revenue stream and optimize the business.
So, what we looked at is which of the workshops and seminars could be done on an eLearning platform that provides extremely high value? Then, when we're actually at the client's location, we could give them that really specific, custom, individualized help that they need respective to their organization. And that is when we took a couple of their extremely powerful, fundamental organizational health and culture trainings and workshops and brought them online.
And that's producing revenue, which now is giving the subject matter experts more time to give more custom and specialized organizational health trainings to their customers.
Now, rather than their time being split between doing the more fundamental workshops, they can have their clients go to these fundamental workshops online, and then the subject matter experts can utilize their time to really give each one of their clients that specialized, customized training specific to their needs.
So now they're bringing even more value to their client. So, we're enhancing their original revenue stream, which is in-person training.
How do you optimize your employee training? That's another wonderful part about eLearning. eLearning allows you to automate and systematize your onboarding process.
So, let's just say Kelly gets hired. “Hey, Kelly, welcome to the team. Here's Bob, your trainer. Bob will be onboarding and training you.”
Kelly is very excited on the first day. But after a couple of days, Bob gets very busy because he not only has to train Kelly, but he has so many other things on his plate. So, Kelly feels as if she's being left behind because Bob can't give her that specific time that she needs. So, when Kelly starts asking more questions, Bob starts to get a little bit frustrated because there are some questions that Kelly needs to ask a couple of times.
When you're learning something new, sometimes things need to be repeated a couple of times before we really understand it. So, when Kelly asked Bob more than once how to do something because she's learning this company's method, Bob starts getting upset. So Kelly doesn't want to upset Bob so she stops asking Bob for help. Then Kelly may do something wrong. And when Kelly does something wrong, Bob gets upset and says, “Hey, Kelly, why didn't you ask me what was going on so I could help?” And it's this loop that happens over and over and over again.
With eLearning, new employees can do their training online. So Kelly and all the other new trainees can go through the eLearning and then Bob can look and see where Kelly struggled. Now Bob can see where each new employee is specifically struggling and he can give specialized, individualized training to each employee. Rather than Bob spending 10 hours each time somebody is hired, Bob is spending that time on specific things that each person is struggling with. That is how you can start automating and optimizing your training where your training managers are winning their time back and your new employees are feeling supported.
They can easily go back to the eLearning library to find answers on demand without having to ask Bob. This can also get your employees onboarded a lot more quickly with them feeling 100% supported all the way through.
Something that you touched on that is very important, I believe, is training and onboarding processes are integral parts of every company’s culture. I am curious, how else can companies utilize eLearning to save their culture, especially in a remote work environment?
This is a critical question, a question that for many years has been very important. But just like many other things that the COVID-19 pandemic shined a light on, this was one of those things heads of organizations could not ignore anymore.
Before jumping into this question, I want to say that the most important part of your business is your people. It is people, your employees, your people, your team members, your independent contractors, your vendors; they're the ones out there helping create that service, that product, that delivers the value to the customer. So, it's not about the shareholder 100% of the time, it's not about the customer 100% of the time. We have to focus on the most important thing, which is the people.
And many times, businesses lose sight of that. And if there was one thing that the COVID-19 pandemic showcased it’s that that cannot be ignored, especially now in 2022, where we have the great resignation, which started in 2021.
Going into 2022, organizational health and culture are absolutely critical. And I'm so happy that we're discussing this question.
So how can we utilize eLearning to save company culture, especially in a remote work environment?
Of course, pre-pandemic, there was work from home. However, post the COVID-19 pandemic, it has skyrocketed. Many employees didn't just get used to working from home but also saw the many benefits of working from home.
We saw a lot of big companies seeing how much money they were saving in overhead costs. And many companies also saw an uptick in productivity. Why not have people work from home forever as an option? Being equipped as a business to give support to your remote employees is critical.
However, your culture and maintaining that culture is just as critical even in a remote work environment. Culture is the emotional connection that you have with the company; the emotional connection that you share with other team members. Without that connection, the overall experience of your job and the people that you work with is impersonal, merely transactional. There is no feeling of purpose, loyalty, or pride. There’s no motivation to give 100% effort.
Culture is absolutely essential. So how do you do that in a remote work environment? How do you do that in general, and how can you use eLearning to help you do that?
This was a really big conversation that we've talked to many people about this. Every single company, if you go and you talk to them right now, even if they're doing eLearning, and you ask them to tell us a little bit about your training process.
“Tell us a little bit about your onboarding process.”
And they’ll say, “We have an intuitive onboarding and training process.”
So then I say, “Tell me about the first training that everybody goes through.”
And it's typically a mix of safety, compliance, or product, service type training, or systems that the company uses for their day-to-day operations. So I say, “Well, that is your problem.”
And they look at me with confusion like a question mark above their head. “What do you mean, that's our problem?”
“That's where you're starting wrong. You're making this a transactional experience. Your employee doesn't really know what you stand for. And if they don't know what you stand for, they don't know the higher impact of their job. They don't know how it's impacting not just the organization or the customers or the community involved with the organization, but the overall footprint that it has, locally, nationally, internationally. Every single employee that you hire, needs to go through this training. I don't care what department they're in or what level their position is. The first training everybody needs to go through is a core value, vision, mission training, a training that shows new employees who we are, what our impact is, and the problems our products and services solve. Right from the start, you have to emotionally connect with your employees so they see what the company stands for and what their position in it means to the whole.”
Collectively together as an organization, we're an orchestra. To make beautiful music, every person is needed in order to do the job perfectly. Every department and every single individual is equally important. We don't want to make it transactional; we want to make it emotional. We want them to see themselves as an integral part of the team. During every single training, you have to do this, especially in a remote work environment. So how can you utilize eLearning to preserve your culture? You can make eLearning courses about your core values, your vision, your mission, what you stand for. It shows them the impact they have as an important and valued employee. Connect employees emotionally to what they're doing. Make it something they’ll feel excited about.
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