ATOM LEARNING, a new online teaching and learning platform

Mums In The Wood is pleased to announce it is now collaborating with Atom Learning. Below, is an interview with one of the founding partners, Alex Hatvany. He set up Atom with his business partner Jake O’Keefe and together they have founded a revolutionary learning and teaching platform. Alex used to be a lawyer and Jake, was in finance. After having established a successful tutoring agency previously, Alex and Jake decided to divert and created what is fast becoming an alternative to tutoring. Atom was born as a result of the founders becoming frustrated by the inequality in education provision in the UK and globally. They saw huge potential for technology to reduce the gap in attainment between the most and least privileged and birthed Atom in 2018. The platform is a subscription service and currently caters to students in Years 5 and  6. 

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Alex Hatvany, Co-Founder                                                 The Atom Learning Team


What prompted you to design a learning platform like Atom Learning and what is your end goal as far as the platform is concerned?

Our ultimate goal is to reduce the gap in education provision, and ensure that everyone, regardless of their background, has access to high-quality learning resources.

The quality of educational resources (online and in print) and learning options (such as private tuition and tuition centres) for pupils who want to do more or need extra support varies considerably, even at the top end. We wanted to build a platform that could standardise the quality of resources pupils had access to and engage them with their education: Atom Nucleus is a low-cost, high-quality online learning platform that combines industry-leading content, written by teachers, with sophisticated technology that keeps every pupil on their optimal learning path.

The second platform we designed, Atom Prime, is for use in schools. In an era of underfunding, understaffing and obstructive time constraints in the education sector, we wanted to build a platform that saves teachers time, and allows them to easily manage mixed-ability classes.

Do you have a background in education? If not, what sparked your interest in the first instance?

My business partner, Jake, and I started careers in corporate roles, before founding a now leading tuition agency in London. Despite the positive difference one-to-one tuition made to the confidence and attainment levels of our students, we were frustrated at the inequality in education provision both in the UK and abroad. We began designing a product that could give all pupils a high-quality education and make learning as efficient and enjoyable as possible: Atom Learning.

How does Atom Learning work and what makes it different from other learning platforms that are already available?

Atom Learning is underpinned by a sophisticated algorithm, which allows us to offer tailored intra-practice adaptivity to each user. Pupils work through subjects, which are broken down into their most granular form, and answer questions, watch video tutorials and interact with text-based resources. The algorithm diagnoses attainment level and identifies how pupils answer questions to determine the next question or resource best suited to their level of understanding. Pupils also have access to unlimited mock tests, which replicate key senior school entry exams in content, scoring and design. This allows them to familiarise themselves with computerised testing and iron out common exam technique issues.

Parents receive detailed statistics on their child’s performance, so they can identify areas requiring additional support. From the supervisor dashboard, parents can set specific, focused activities and challenges to focus on plugging gaps in knowledge.

We differentiate from competitors in two key ways: our content and our technology.

Whilst our competitors mass-generate questions, our content (tens of thousands of questions and hundreds of video tutorials and text based resources) is handwritten by leading UK teachers. Other education platforms function via retesting, meaning pupils get used to pattern spotting, answering questions correctly without truly understanding them. We work with NCETM (National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics) and White Rose maths teachers, as well as highly experienced English, literacy and reasoning specialists to create our syllabuses, constructing cross-subject scaffolding to build absolute understanding. Each question has a detailed, individual explanation (which we’ve heard are useful for parents too!). In terms of our technology – we are unaware of any competitor being able to offer the level of adaptivity that we do.

What has the response from schools and parents been? How has it been received so far?

 The positive responses from schools and parents have been overwhelming. Since launching Atom Nucleus in September 2018, thousands of parents have subscribed to support their children in consolidating KS2 knowledge and preparing for senior school assessments.

We launched our school platform, Atom Prime, in May 2019, and since then over 300 schools have joined the platform, ranging from the most academic independent preps in London (Westminster Under, Sussex House, Dulwich Prep, WCCS, Papplewick etc.) to primary schools where more than 40%+ of children are eligible for free school meals.

This growth has arisen almost exclusively from parent and teacher word of mouth. Most often, we hear that other education platforms are either designed by technologists (great site, poor content) or designed by teachers (great content, poor site). We hear that Atom Learning finds the middle ground, with industry-leading content and an easy to use design.

As well as improving understanding, parents inform us Atom engages their children and motivates them to improve. This kind of feedback drives our work – nothing makes me happier than hearing about a child who has grown in confidence through using Atom.

What do you envisage happening in the next few years in relation to private tutoring v platforms like Atom?

It became clear to us that there was a real gap in the market for a viable alternative to private tuition. Excellent tutors are hard to beat but they are rare (and prohibitively expensive). Parents are realising that spending thousands on tuition cannot guarantee entry to top schools. They are searching for a low-cost, efficient way for their children to learn and revise, that adapts to them.

We’ve found that schools are supportive of our mission, and teacher advocacy of a private tuition  alternative has led to increased interest in EdTech platforms by parents.

What are the main challenges you faced when first embarking on a project this size?

 From the start, we knew that only with the right team would Atom fulfil its potential. A focus, and challenge, for us has been building a culture in which employees feel fully engaged with our mission as we continue to grow. Today we’re a team of computer scientists, teachers and data analysts, who are genuinely dedicated to improving education provision.

What would your advice be to parents who subscribe? How much time on Atom is enough and how much will become too much (if it does)?

Each pupil is given weekly learning targets as helpful guidelines of how much time to spend on the platform per subject. These targets depend on weekly performance and the pupil’s upcoming exam date (if entered). Parents have linked supervisor accounts from which they can view detailed breakdowns of performance and results. This allows parents to understand their child’s learning behaviours as well as specific strengths and weaknesses – they can then customise practice sessions, knowing they are optimising study time.

While we are moving towards a digital age, there are so many concerns raised about screen time for children. What would you say, in response to concerns that platforms like Atom and other learning platforms may then increase screen dependency?

Technology is a significant part of modern learning and screen time / screen dependency is an issue we are very aware of at Atom. The idea behind truly adaptive learning is to optimise progress; as such, instead of spending excess time in front of a screen, with adaptive learning you’re streamlining the learning process. Atom Nucleus identifies individual strengths and weaknesses – pupils don’t waste time completing questions they have already seen in topics they have already mastered.

What other changes and developments do you feel you will introduce to the platform going forward?

 We are developing a new campaign for the Nucleus platform to enable deeper analytical insight down to a granular level. This will enable us to even more precisely pinpoint which skills within topics require additional support for each individual child.

We are also excited to make our platforms increasingly accessible for different learner types and those with different access needs as we create new video and text-based resources. We’re introducing text-to-speech functionality and automatic marking of written answers.

Are there any plans to extend it to the younger years so that it also covers those sitting the 7+ Exams?

We are currently adding content for Years 3 – 4 to both Atom Nucleus and Atom Prime and building a 7+ mock test area. This will launch at the start of 2020. Watch this space!


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