“Learning is not easy,” admits a rugged Dylan Evans, who looks more like he should be wrangling crocodiles in the outback than promoting an edutech platform. Online learning is perhaps even more difficult.
By Luiz Monzon – Hypertext
The co-founder and managing director of Beeline told Hypertext in an interview that to begin making this easier, at least for Africans, his company is aiming to bring “free high-quality education to the masses.”
Started by three Cape Town entrepreneurs all under 30, Beeline is an online platform focused on young people and professionals with workplace readiness and employability at its core. “Changing the unemployment rate is number one in mind,” he told us. Unemployment, Dylan believes, “…is the biggest challenge that South Africa faces in the near term.”
While traditional schooling across the country is seeing some reforms, this simply isn’t fast enough for Beeline and its creators which have recently wrapped the company’s initial funding round with a cool R3 million in preparation for a beta launch.
The platform recently underwent a soft launch in July and is still under development by the company. “It’s a ridiculously complex application,” said an almost bewildered Dylan, “..and we launched it within eight or nine months of building.”
With Beeline, effectiveness is the word of the day. The platform has been designed with a number of unique characteristics borrowed from social media, video games and of course other online learning platforms.
The platform exists to address the lack of effective online learning spaces available for South Africa’s low skills workforce. It is completely free and easy to access on all app platforms and online. All users will need is an email address.
Once signed up, users can check out the many learning paths (or ‘Beelines’) in a quick and efficient manner, owing to the company’s desire to eliminate as many friction points as possible. “The tricky thing is having the content in the right order to achieve the goals that you need to achieve, hence the name ‘Beeline’ – the fastest way to get from Point A to Point B,” he told us.
According to Dylan, who has been in South Africa’s training space all his career, the initial idea around the platform was to create a “personal usage platform for storing learning resources.” However, this later evolved into a way for users to access the personal platforms of others and thus share online learning resources.
This is why users can create their own learning paths for other users to use. Effectively, as the community grows so will the education content on the platform in a scalable manner similar to YouTube or AirBnB. Beeline decided on this community curation as a means of aggregating online educational resources.
While it is easy to search on Google for educational material, it is difficult to find exactly what you need when you need it. There is also the problem that most material will be focused on an American or European perspective, for example, with South African learners having to adapt. With Beeline “there can be a lot more niche programmes for the groups that require it. With a community approach, the content can also be very scalable and viral,” he says.
Dylan hopes that Beeline’s community curation will funnel all the best and most relevant online learning content on the internet into one particular place – itself.
However the question then arises, with all of this user-created content how will Beeline ensure that its still solid educational material?
The solution, according to Dylan, is an in-depth community reviewing and rating system that is currently being worked on. Right now though, as the platform is still in its beta phase with only 1000 or so users involved in pilot programs, Beelines are reviewed and rated by a community manager from the company.
In the future as more and more users sign up to the platform, Dylan envisions a method where users will be able to identify particular creators with high ratings and popular Beelines. This will make sure the creme de la creme rises to the top for the benefit of the platform’s users and chaff stays near the bottom.
This method will ensure that “it will be very quick and easy to find quality content versus not quality content,” Dylan adds.
We think Beeline might have something here with its unique community curation system, revolutionary for learning platforms, and intuitive online learning paths. If we were younger, we wouldn’t mind studying some of the more boring subjects through the multimedia-enabled Beelines.
Aside from community-generated content. Corporates looking to use Beeline for staff training, which is where the developers hope to monetize the platform the most, will be able to pull corporate-rated Beelines from specific libraries. These programmes will either be vetted by Beeline staff or by verified corporate trainers and content creators.
With South Africa and indeed Africa as a whole experiencing swathes of inequality in terms of who can access the internet and who can use connective technologies based on socio-economic factors – known as the digital divide – we asked Dylan if Beeline has any plans to zero-rate its platform, thus allowing users access without being charged for the data the platform consumes.
He told us that while zero-rating is a future plan for the platform, through a partnership with MTN’s Ayoba, the platform is currently not zero-rated.
Instead, Beeline works with minimum data consumption. Dylan explains that anything that gets uploaded to the platform is optimised to be “data-wise.” Other future plans to increase accessibility include one for the platform to have “full offline” capabilities.
With this users will be able to download the app, say for instance if they’re using a hotspot or public WiFi, login and then download a Beeline where they can work on it offline later at home without requiring internet. The company is looking into ways to get its online learning algorithms running natively on smartphones rather than in the cloud.
Recently the company also received a grant from MTN and Ayoba to build a lite version of the Beeline app. This version, Dylan says, will be zero-rated.
“So you will be able to access all your Beeline content through the Ayoba app data free through MTN.”
Dylan says that Beeline’s agreement with MTN was a strategic one. The telecom is Africa’s largest cellular services provider and Beeline has lofty expansion dreams.
“The problems that we face in South Africa are very similar to the problems faced in the rest of Africa. Europe and America have different problems, and their solutions do not solve the same problems that we have,” he said.
This is why Beeline is pushing up into Africa to hopefully solve these same problems. Beeline’s plan, as Dylan notes, is “Africa first, before we move over into other developing countries.”
He adds that Beeline is looking to expand across sub-Saharan Africa in the next six to eight months, starting with local neighbours Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe. Kenya is also a target in the near future as Dylan says his company has connections in the rapidly developing tech-minded state.
“Beeline gives me goosebumps at least once a week,” Dylan laughs, “Diving into new potentials about what this platform could bring.”
He says he has handed over the reins to his other businesses and projects to be able to focus on Beeline full time as he believes it is this platform where the maximum impact can be made.
Tentatively, he tells us that he believes Beeline could be a unicorn business in terms of its financial aspirations.
Unicorns are privately held startups that have a valuation of $1 billion and above. In Africa, there are very few unicorn businesses, including the likes of Andela, OPay and Flutterwave.
The first African unicorn was Nigeria’s ecommerce powerhouse Jumia. In 2022 Jumia’s earnings were $53 million.
“Solving a big problem through a product is what I’ve always wanted to do, I haven’t seen any other product that can do what Beeline can do at this scale.”
For now, Dylan says that the “funding hat” is off and the developers can focus on just building the app, “at least for the next two years.”
We will have to wait and see if Beeline ever does make it into the highly-lauded “unicorn status” as Dylan believes, but passion, mission and drive are a potent combination indeed.