[Ludo] – Ludo Millar
[Manfred] – Manfred Olbrich
Hello and welcome to the Qualified Tutor Podcast. My name is Ludo Miller, host of this podcast, the one that brings you the best conversations around tutoring and EdTech and education in the current landscape.
And today, we are welcoming on Manfred Olbrich. Now, as a brief introduction introduction before we get into the heart of what, of Manfred’s journey and how he’s come to establish his new company LessonWise, please let me just give you a little introduction.
So, as I said, Manfred is the founder of LessonWise, which is a new all in one online environment, a platform which caters to both students and tutors for students. There are easy, streamlined access to resources, courses and learning from the top tutors in the world. And for tutors, they can find direct access to students, via Manfred, via LessonWise, a simple online advertising space, as well as an integrated system, including an online classroom, reports, resources, assessment support and much much more.
Sounds pretty good, to be honest.
And today we want to explore LessonWise, a little bit further, but more than that we want to find out Manfred’s journey and ethos, including how he’s planning to support tutors in helping them scale, their service. And amongst all this, we will be discussing the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of both children and tutors, and what’s clear is that this is central to Manfred’s mission, and Manfred’s also a keen electric guitarists, so if we’re lucky, we’ll hear a little bit more about that too but I can’t promise anything.
So, welcome to the QT Podcast, Manfred.
Oh, thank you so much, Ludo. That’s a fantastic introduction. Thank you so much for having me.
No, it’s a it’s really a pleasure. And it’s amazing to be diving into your journey and LessonWise’s journey you know, really at the start of of this growth.
Now, regular listeners of the QT Podcast will know this first question. I can almost hear them in the back of my head repeating this question, because it’s how we like to start because it sets out our guests. You know, lets our listeners know about our guests coming up very in depth. Now, that first question, Manfred, is, what is your why, as a tutor?
That is, that is a great question. I think we were talking about this at the beginning, because you know it’s funny, the reason why you keep on doing something, if you know why you’re doing it, right? So the reason why I tutor is basically, I think it enables me to impact people’s lives and, you know, for the better. And on top of this I think I’m very passionate about teaching in general, and I believe that I’m decently good at explaining things. And so if you’re able to say, use your skills, and your talents, and your passions, and say all the things you’re good at to improve someone’s life. I think you probably have to want your recipe to be, or to live a meaningful life from purpose of purposeful life.
And on top of that I think I just enjoy it really, I think it’s exciting. It’s rewarding, it’s energising, and you know I remember the first time that I was exposed to tutoring, all together I think it was 18 or 19. I was doing my bachelor’s degree in engineering back home. And I remember the our neighbour knocked on the door. And he asked me if I could, you know, please help his daughter with some physics question or something I think this would have been high school physics, probably. So I got a little nervous because I really wasn’t sure if I could remember all that stuff that I had learned. You know, maybe the question was a little too hard and I was, I was going to just disappoint my neighbour, and his daughter would have gone out the door, probably more confused than before.
But with all those nerves I think I said okay yeah let me let me try. So basically she showed me the exercise. And at first I was like, Yeah. What is this, I really don’t know what to say. So I was just staring at the question you know all quiet and she was looking at me like all eyes on me.
And then somehow.
I don’t know how this happened but you know from the remote areas of my brain, I sort of recognised that it was Coulomb’s Law, you know, physics, something related to attraction, repulsion between particles.
So I recognise the formula and you know all the physical properties and the variables and whatnot. And the problem wasn’t that she wasn’t able to get the right answer, right? So now you kind of run the calculations myself again and you know effectively. I also wasn’t able to get the answer right and. Long story short, basically after trying several times with the calculator, I realised, to the numbers, he gave me were meant to be written in standard notation, you know, but she just forgot to write it on the, on the paper.
And so I kind of noticed that and I rerun the calculation with the right numbers and I got a right time, which is, you know, something small, but I know it just made me realise that that gave me a lot of incredible sense of fulfilment she was super happy about it that I was able to help her. And you know, I utilised my knowledge and my background to help someone else and she went out happy and was fulfilled.
Yeah and showed me. Showed me that I was able to internalise knowledge, decent enough right to be able to impart it, I was able to explain something in a comprehensive way. And I was able to problem solve, there, there on the spot, and I think these are all qualities that educators have. So I think that’s what keeps me going back to tutoring, the meaning that it gives me and I think it’s quite empowering that the fact that you can help someone with your skills and the things you’re good at.
That would be my Why.
Yeah, that’s a wonderful Why. Isn’t it funny? Those same skills that we try and teach to our students, you know, being able to problem solve on the spot and being responsive, our exact set of skills that make a good tutor. Isn’t it funny there’s similarities between educator and learner?
It is, yeah it is, I think, is there’s a lot of common sense there. You kind of behaved the same way as a student, at least how you analyse things so. Absolutely. Yeah.
Yeah, I mean, sometimes in my tutoring sessions you know, I’m not always sure who the educator is and who the learner is [LAUGHS].
Sometimes I feel like I’ve learned just as much from the students that I meant to be tutoring.
Absolutely. I think if you tutor like that and it becomes a conversation. I think you sort of foster an environment where they, they’re comfortable, they speak up and they’re not really afraid to make mistakes, and it becomes more conversation and that empowers them as well. So it’s like they also provide you with with learning in the same session, and it’s a fantastic thing. And not to mention that you can actually, this is another thing I forgot to mention you’re actually able to measure the impact of your work quite rapidly I would say, that’s the great thing about tutoring, you can actually sense improvement.
You know, two weeks down the line from the longer you take on and students, and that’s amazing. I don’t think you can get that so easily or quickly with other professions, which is something I really, really enjoy.
Yeah. And unlike other professions that progress is the intellectual or personal development of a child, which is just the kind of, the purest kind of progress to the witnesses, isn’t it? It’s not a kind of, you know, company’s economic growth or you know the improvement, of a kind of, machine or something it’s, it is a child in front of you, increasing their their academic potential they’re kind of, which is.
Yeah, I mean so then they can take, take him for a lifetime really still remember those testimonials for like three years ago. And they went on to to you know to great universities willing to study engineering, architecture and whatnot.
And you sort of influence that a little bit. Obviously it’s all down to their their skills and the effort. But you were part of that journey which is quite rewarding. [MUSIC]
Now, can you tell us, Manfred, a little bit more about why you started LessonWise?
So just a little bit of background, so I’ve been tutoring for, you know, since 2014, that’s seven years now. Working with agencies and working also with my own, you know, private clients and not. I think back in 2019, I was teaching, I think 30 to 35 hours of tuition per week which for me it’s enormous amounts of hours. I was online and face to face and, you know, towards the end of that year, I kind of realised is a little bit too much I don’t have any more capacity. I reached a cap basically. Which is something that I think probably happens to most tutors really. Happened to you or, you know, maybe someone you know most probably.
So I couldn’t enrol any more students because I just didn’t have any more hours, right so, but I still felt felt a strong sort of drive and desire to grow and to reach out to more students because I don’t know, I was doing quite well. I was being referred by my clients and stuff so word of mouth was kicking in. So I felt like I had this great momentum, right, but that said I just didn’t have any more hours, I reached a cap, the end of my career kinda. So I realised that the only way to expand, you probably imagine what that is, is to reach more students at the same time, right? Simultaneously.
And as you also may imagine the only way to do that is with online tuition, right? So doing group lessons online. That, to me, was sort of the main driver back then. And so I was doing a guitar lesson with a student of mine, and so I decided to stay a bit longer to have a chat with their dad. We became friends, I had been tutoring him for the past two years. And so I told him about my intentions, I wanted to scale through on-line tuition, and asking about advice and stuff and, you know, how do you reach multiple students at a time I asked him, and I said you know you can post on social media right you can, you know, launch a sponsored ad budget but you can, as you may imagine the costs, keep on piling up it’s super expensive. And there’s not really a guarantee that any student will bite on it or engage with it, there’s no guarantee whatsoever, you know. You can you can also post some Facebook groups, as we were saying at the beginning, there’s thousands of users, but no one really engages with anything you say. I have even posted videos of myself, introducing my skills, my experience and stuff and it never really seems to work.
So yeah, I think he’s from from citizen person was non existent in those groups. And so, yeah, I was talking to him about that and he thought of, that reminded him of an article he read, had read before, about the Rockstar tutors of Hong Kong, I think it was or South Korea. This guy’s face. Yes, there is. This it’s insane right. I think these guys were teaching, like 10,000 students in a time was of the wild like that. And I think they were earning up from $6 million a year so pretty much a football player. I’m not saying that I wanted to become that, but I mean just that just seem to be in that direction. How big do these guys manage to do that?
So that’s what basically how we started the conversation you started bouncing off ideas of each other and we just basically realised that there aren’t any accessible platforms that are meant to do that specifically, right? Designed to help the students scale up, not to become the rock star, but to give them a platform to do that maybe. And by scaling up I mean, you know, empowering them, giving direct access to students, and also giving them the tools that they need to effectively run those those scalable, or you know, those upscaled lessons for groups of students at a time.
And, you know, on the other hand we also, as you may imagine there’s a big portion of society that cannot afford private tutoring, right? I think there’s a research by the Sutton Trust that says that children that come from more, say, affluent backgrounds I think there are twice as likely to receive private tuition than those from low income families. That’s something that we were also thinking at the time. So, we also saw a need on that side of the equation, at the student side.
So one was trying to empower the tutor like myself, you know, I was trying to find a solution for me, actually. But also, you know, there’s also problems on the student side, so we saw a need for a platform that would effectively make tutoring affordable, right? That being said it’s just some families just can afford it, and one that would effectively help close that attainment gaps because if you think about it twice, double the number of children the stem from highly affluent backgrounds, you know that there is a bigger likelihood to succeed in the future. That’s just how it is.
And this is something that probably has, well you probably know that it has been exaggerated or exacerbated by school closures and the lockdown and all that. So that’s what we envision this you know, helping the student the tutor scale up and you know grow, while also making it affordable for students I was the reasoning behind it, you know, and we wanted to just provide a streamlined infrastructure where the tutors and the students are just able to seamlessly connect.
And with us tutors can, you know, advertise themselves themselves sorry and deliver group lessons or one on one.
And by providing direct access, tutors with their access to the social infrastructure for group lessons, basically boost would reduce the price paid per pupil, and give them give the tutor more earnings potential at the same time, and I think that was the main driver. And I think that same night we founded LessonWise, actually.
We shook hands and stuff and we just started drafting all the requirements of the things we would like to have on it and it took us, the entire pandemic I think. Or the first three lockdowns, or the first two lockdowns to write all the requirements we needed. And then we reached out to company for the development phase and we spent the entire 2020 in developing it. You know, making sure every single functionality is working well, I started doing my own lessons there trying to test it and stuff like that.
It took us, yeah, from 2019 all the way to May, 2021, you know, almost. What is that a little bit more than a year, I can’t count at the moment but yeah. It would be around that time.
So yeah, it’s just to summarize it, LessonWise basically is an online, interactive platform that is designed to seamlessly connect tutors and students, worldwide. And we provide them with a built in tools they need to run their life, live courses online. And the way we do this is basically, we provide this all in one vehicle that they can access for free. You know, tutors cannot advertise themselves for free. They can contact and interact with other, say like minded to tourists or reach out to students directly messaged them, and vice versa. They can create tasks and assessments, they can share resources, they can do group lessons, as I said that’s the main scaling factor that we are able to offer. They can still do one on one lessons. And yeah, we offer them a feature packed, virtual classroom, which is something that I’ve experienced with for a long time, you know, tried, quite a few of those. And I just tried to kind of take a little bit of the best of everyone, or every single platform that I’ve used in the past and you know make it, build that into one.
That is not only the classroom but you see, yo u have all these other add-ons to use a tutor that will help you scale, you know, give you promotion, you can advertise yourself. Reach out to students and it just happens from a single domain, it’s, I think quite quite a powerful idea.
And lastly, we we also facilitate the payments, right? So every time you create a course or a lesson, you know, the student enrolls, and they get charged on at the source basically, and so that payment is held by a payment processor. And as soon as you deliver a lesson. I think is half an hour later, the payment gets processed automatically and it gets sent through to the tutor.
That was, that was my summary of the LessonWise story.
So kind of a little bit like, kind of, Zoom and Google ads, and your own invoicing system kind of rolled into one.
Absolutely. That’s, that’s an extremely good summary. I think I could have said that from the beginning. But then you went into too deep into it.
Now, this is an area that I want to just kind of delve into a little bit more: how do you find the top tutors? How do you go about filling out your roster of tutors for LessonWise?
With regards to that we do our approach is to make it as open as possible so we don’t really have a, you know, a stringent vetting process whatsoever so anyone with expertise or knowledge or skills is able to, you know, jump on board, create a profile and start tutoring, really that’s what it is. There’s no guarantee that they will get students but we want to keep it as open as possible. But in the, in the topic of finding a good tutor, I think, in my opinion, you know, other than the tutor being quite experienced a desktop, high number of hours and have a track record of students and like parents satisfaction, they have testimonials.
That’s a given. That’s something you always look for, right? But I think one key thing that I’ve noticed over the last year or so is that those who introduce themselves with a small video. You know, where they talk about their experiences they, they say, they talk about why they’re a tutor, the question you asked me today, for example. What what their approaches to teaching, like you know, maybe some interesting experiences are case studies in the past, I don’t know. How they dealt with student with a particular learning difficulty, that kind of stuff. So, a video, basically, and how they approach a given problem in the past with a student, how creative awareness so forth. I think this can go a long long way in terms of engaging parents and students, so that’s a good way to notice, who is a good tutor in my opinion that’s you know it’s it’s those, those tutors that go out of their way to do a video that stand out because, you know, think about those Facebook groups, thousands and thousands of tutors. They post is very beautiful. Kind of like, you know, text posts with images and infographics and stuff. But I say they just give one like or no one really commented that they don’t get any students that way. So the ones that actually take the time to curate a video showing themselves. Those are the ones that stand out, and they actually end up being great tutors, that I’ve noticed myself it says that that has been my experience, you know I can show that they’re either patient or empathetic. You can see how they articulate the sentences and it gives you an idea of. It gives an overall picture of the tutor, I think.
And I think other than that, those who provide a little bit of value up front, so they either offer a free session, introductory session or like a getting acquainted conversation, conference call. And in terms of where to find them that can be quite complex, as I mentioned. Facebook groups, really as a parent or a student you are going to have to spend several days trying to find someone because there’s so much going on there’s ads all over. There’s, you know, millions of people they’re engaging with every day. So how do you find them? Obviously, you also have the agencies that have a curated roster of tutors. Absolutely. They, they do a fantastic job on that front. But, you know, some parents are not necessarily able to afford those.
So, and also, not to mention that there’s no guarantee that they will be satisfied with that tutor. So I think. Yeah, just look out for a video. Those tutors who go out of their way or spend a short video. Something like forty five seconds, something that I recommend to all tutors. I did it myself on LessonWise because I also have my own tutoring profile there’s to do my up to five hours a week still. And I think it goes a long way, because they chose how committed they are and, you know, it creates a lot of engagement.
So perhaps part of our training then, as Qualified Tutor, should include this video editing module as well?!
Absolutely. I think so yeah and it doesn’t need to be perfect the perfect video. Just a little bit of good lighting and do it on your phone. Maybe prep your, prep the things you wanna say. Why you tutor, the things you have experienced in the past and you know, just give an overall image of yourself as a tutor that I have in my opinion, does wonders. And I think parents do engage with that.
Yeah, absolutely. Now I think we’re seeing the power of video across many marketing channels, and what you’re describing here is individualised promotion, self promotion for tutors, so yeah, absolutely. We’re very much behind that. Now, you mentioned there that group sessions online, specifically group, online group sessions are one of the best ways that the tutors can scale their, you know, their service. What is the true power of group sessions online and crucially, Manfred, how do we how do we make them affordable? How are we able to make them affordable? To make them so cheap that the tutor can also earn a living from them?
That’s an amazing question actually, we have a tutor now on LessonWise. He posted a, created a course basically, I think it was an introduction to A-level math. And I think he, the way he said it out is that he, he will onboard I think or enrol 15 students, and he will charge is five pounds each students but he’s targeting specifically those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
So he went to a state funded school so what he’s going to do is going to basically reach out to the school directly and say, hey I’m offering this I know pupils have struggled through the pandemic they didn’t have access to online learning per se. And that’s just you know widening that attainment gap 100%. So that’s just one individual, right? If every single private tutor is able to do something like this, catering to state funded schools you can imagine the power of that.
That’s the way I see it, I know the national tutoring program has been launching, that is an amazing initiative and it’s doing wonders. But at the individual level, there’s a lot of room there for empowerment. Because yes that tutor that I just mentioned, I mean, he will be earning quite a decent amount of money. And he will be able to tailor the lesson to the needs of pupils that need it the most. And it is, I don’t know, it’s a very beautiful win-win situation right there.
I think, going further. This is a couple of statistics to mention, I think the Education Endowment Foundation, especially after the first round of the National Tutoring Programme, they said that there’s been significant evidence that group tuition is effective, right, That’s it goes against it, people just, you know, focusing on one on one, that’s that’s it. There’s nothing beyond one on one, necessarily true. I think there’s evidence coming up now that is effective, and is particularly effective with people’s if it’s targeted at pupils’ specific needs. And specifically those that are at a disadvantage because they, you know, they have the real need to be catered to, in a way, and have access to a quality tutor.
And I think research has also shown that small group tutoring is as effective as online learning, you know going on that point again, that it is not completely true that one on one is the only way to go. You know, and additional to this, groups will allow students to learn with friends, right? They will enable the social interactions between them, which is can do wonders in terms of revision, you know, there’s a support group right there. Obviously the, the contingency plan, the tutors need to have is absolutely different than one on one. You will have to deal with completely different situations, you know, every people has different learning say difficulties or they don’t, they don’t necessarily have the same level of attainment. So how do you kind of make it work in a group, especially online? I don’t know. One small recommendation is to get them to get them to participate. You know, that’s a good recommendation if one is falling behind and you ask the ones that are great to try to explain that. So it becomes a group effort.
And with regards to make any more affordable. Again, a little bit more of statistics. I think The Sutton Trust said that, you know, as I mentioned before, children from wealthier backgrounds are twice as likely to get private tuition and those that aren’t. That means basically that they are, they have a disproportionate advantage in terms of their level of attainment level of attainment and what that’s going to play out in their, you know, social mobility prospects in the future. And if we talk about the impact of the pandemic you know another report that I read, also by the Trust, they said that over half of the teachers I think it was 55% of the people they surveyed. They reported lower than normal standard of work from the from pupils of state funded schools. And I think 84% of people surveyed were thinking the lockdown and all the disruptions that occurred are basically would increase the, the attainment gap significantly. And so I believe that’s where the power is, we can sort out the situation, if you empower the individual tutors, the private tutors, the work, you know that are sought after. They’re quality tutors from top UK universities to deliver group lessons, and admin, and create, and sorry, administer, all, all the process and all the logistical aspects of it themselves.
That’s where the power is of group lessons I believe. In it you can just do wonders in levelling the playing field, because obviously this is just simple math, the price per, of a lesson gets shared among students so it just drops naturally. While, you know, given the tutor substantial earnings. I think that’s the power of group lessons.
I think that’s a very simple. And I simply put solutions. I’m not say saying that you know practice that act that can be easily implemented. You know nothing really can, in terms of the pandemic and trying to work through these solutions to national education but-
It’s really hard, yeah.
But actually what you’re suggesting there isn’t limited to national education and in fact, this is a conversation I’ve had with several tutors that QT knows within the Qualified Tutor Community, that actually online group tutoring can bring together students from, you know, the UK, Hong Kong, South America, America, Africa.
And that combination of students within a single group session is amazing for improving the worldliness and shared cultures and learning strategies from around the world. And so I think that’s a really positive step. I think that initiatives like LessonWise and like the NTP will allow that to flourish. And so, absolutely. Now, coming to the end of this conversation, Manfred, I’ve got two final questions that are going to, I hope that you’re able to get answers to these but they’re going to slightly hit you by surprise, but the first question is … No, don’t worry you don’t have to be daunted by this question. The first question is, what’s next for your musical career, Manfred?
Wow, that’s amazing.
So okay, just some bit of background, I did do my music degree here in London, and I did work as a full-time musician for about a year and a half. Just doing tons of session gigs and stuff. I think I did one year something like 250 gigs in central London, something crazy like that. I love music I think is the one thing that would make eight hours seemed like five minutes. The only thing in my life that, you know, makes me so deeply passionate and creative and it just, you know, it’s a sublime way to get in touch with your own soul, let’s say. But having said that, when I was working as a full time musician and you know, earning a living from it and gigging and stuff, and getting making money out of it. There was a crazier crazy clash with within me.
So when I mix money, and something us pristine and beautiful as music. It just doesn’t work for me. And I just think of myself. I still, my mates still play music for a living and they are doing amazing stuff and they still do creative projects on the side, but they also still do the function gigs. But for me just doesn’t work when I have to rely on music for a living. It just, I think it kills the passion a little bit and it’s quite sad, I, it just frustrates me a little bit too much and I stopped enjoying it. I resent it a little bit so I just made that decision of not relying on music for a living and focus a little bit more tutoring, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t do music I still work, fully on my creative projects.
I’m actually currently recording a 12-track album with a drummer percussionist. So it’s basically world music, you know, rhythms from Africa, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Haiti. A lot of you know, really rhythmical guitars and tons of precautions going on synthesisers. It’s quite a cool, cool concept. And that’s in the pipeline actually that’s going to be hopefully finished by the end of the year provide a half the time to finish it.
But I think you know music is an amazing, and a deep part of my life and I’ve never ever leave it on the side no matter what I do. And the cool thing about LessonWise is that I still get to be involved in music. I was doing a jazz lesson than the other day with a friend of mine who lives in Ireland, he’s a piano player but he also plays the guitar, so he’s asked me, can you teach me a little bit of harmony. So we did a little bit of Bossa Nova and we jammed a bit on the platform. So I still get to be in touch with my musical side, quite a bit. But yeah, I think music will forever be a part of my life, that I’m going to become famous, I doubt it. Well let’s see what happens with that with that album.
We truly believe in the power of music in education and in fact, and the upcoming Love Tutoring Festival 2 which is taking place from the 24th-28th January 2022 will certainly have a big music and and education feel to it. So here, publicly now, Manfred, is my invitation for you to take part in our Love Tutoring Festival 2.
I will write it down right now.
Very good. Now just as you’re writing that down, I’m gonna force you to multi task. My final question for this podcast, Manfred, is what message do you have for tutors listening in to this podcast now, with regard to LessonWise? What can they do now, off the back of listening to this podcast?
Just use it, register, we have rolled this out a completely zero percent commission, we are rolling this out free of charge. So just create a profile and start tutoring, probably right now you won’t see that scaling effect that I refer to the beginning, but this will come. We are, we are striving to build a global student community that will be seen in the in the co ming months. And I think those that are joining us from the outset that will be prioritised by, by our algorithms in the future and you just have to have direct access to this global community. And as I said, we’re not charging absolutely anything. So just enjoy the convenience of the platform, create a profile and start teaching. If you manage to do group lessons fantastic and do let me know.
I’m really looking forward to seeing tutors doing group lessons.
There it is. That’s your POA. That’s your action, your call to action. How can, do you have an email, Manfred, that people can contact you on easily?
Absolutely, yeah. So that would be: email@example.com.
Just definitely drop me a line if you have any questions. As I said, it’s free of charge. You get to enjoy all this technology for free and for me it’s about providing value front at the beginning. I don’t really care about monetising this at the moment, just because I want people to see the value of it.
And that’s why every tutor, or any tutor that is interested, you simply register reach out to us we can help you out with any questions. And yeah, that’s that’s the email right there.
There we go: LessonWise.org is where you want to head if you’ve got any questions Manfred.Olbrich@LessonWise.org. Both of those links will be in the show notes below but there they are to you. Thank you so much, Manfred, for joining us, we will certainly be speaking to you again soon and we would love to have you back on. Perhaps when when LessonWise is a few more months down its career, down its journey. But I’d like to say a huge thank you again, Manfred, for for speaking about LessonWise again for chatting to us about your, your journey and what you believe in, what you hold dear.
So, thank you so much, Ludo, for having me today this is this is a first for me. It was quite interesting to do a podcast and I really really appreciate you having given me the opportunity to reach out to people and tell my story. Thank you so much.
Okay, cheerio then.
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