Re-Think Learning

Learning is a complex and still lightly understood activity. Imagine how someone who had learning disabilities would approach the learning process. Are there lessons to be applied elsewhere?
Written by Brian Sommer, Contributor

Earlier this year, colleague Dr. Katherine Jones hypothesized that this may be the year for increased emphasis on learning-especially in combination with SaaS delivery methods.  Recently, she spoke to Presence Telecare co-founder Clay Whitehead on his company's novel model to improve learning. The challenges this firm has encountered may represent opportunities for others to incorporate into future learning processes.   Presence Telecare focuses on the education (Kindergarten - Grade 12) market and offers a unique way to provide instruction to children and young adults who need it most.

Katherine: What exactly is your company providing?

Clay: We combine technology with speech pathology professionals to address a widespread issue for many children.  We provide skilled speech therapists and state-of-the-art video conferencing for online speech therapy. As the numbers of licensed speech therapists dwindle, we have created an innovative mode of delivery that can enable each child to get the help he or she needs.

Katherine:  At a time when most MBAs are out to make big bucks, this sounds very altruistic - commendably so. What promoted your interest in providing this needed intervention to little kids?

Clay: I grew up with learning disabilities and ADHD and only caught up with my classmates through the countless hours my parents and teachers invested in me. [Clay, mind you,  holds a B.A. from Princeton University and an M.B.A. from Stanford's Graduate School of Business.]  Our co-founder Jack Lynch was inspired because his cousin suffers from Autism Spectrum Disorder, and struggled to become verbal because he had no access to the speech therapy services he needed as a child. [Jack holds a B.A. from Harvard College and an M.B.A. from Stanford's Graduate School of Business.]

Katherine: Can interaction with a computer actually take the place of face-to-face effectively?

Clay:  Starting with a seminal study at the Mayo Clinic in 1997, research shows that "telepractice," as it is called, is very effective. Our platform includes the latest video-conferencing technology, the most engaging games and activities, and soon, top-notch collaboration and practice management tools.

Katherine:  You will need to market this approach to schools, currently very strapped for cash.  What advantages does telepractice give to a school district?

Clay:  First, we help them become fully compliant with IDEA and NCLB (no child left behind) with significant cost advantages. We provide access to culturally and linguistically-diverse professionals, matched with the children based on specialty, allowing for far more individualized, effective treatment and better student outcomes.  It is a far more effective use of the speech therapist's time and lowers cost through elimination of often hefty travel expenses. The most compelling ROI through, of course, is getting children the help they need to move back into general education.

Katherine: That sounds like an advantage for the therapists as well.

Clay:  It is. Rather than driving between school sites across a district, they can work from one place - such as their homes - and have quality time with each child, one on one. And in a profession with high burn out, this increased flexibility and reduced stress is very compelling - so we get exceptional talent.

Katherine: How widespread is use of telepractice in addressing speech remediation?

Clay: Over 30,000 successful sessions have already been conducted in schools across the country.  We succeed because we put talented therapists who really love working with children with the best technology to deliver the remedial help the kids need in the most educationally sound-yet fun - ways possible.

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