This Company Aims to Become the Amazon of Lifelong Learning

The Singapore-based company Genius Group has turned some of its attention to the U.S. edtech market recently.

It’s making acquisitions, and even listed on the New York Stock Exchange in April.

In July, the company bought the for-profit University of Antelope Valley in California, saying it would incorporate it as a portal in the metaverse, part of the voguish effort to link the globe into “one big classroom.” Genius Group also partnered with NASA to help students find opportunities for start-ups to commercialize the agency’s technology patents.

If you listen to the company’s chief executive, it’s thriving because it runs a hybrid model for its entrepreneurship training programs that, the company argues, keeps it growing when a lot of edtech companies have had to struggle with the return to in-person learning. While some companies have seen layoffs, the Genius Group lifelong learning platform is growing among users at a rate of greater than 50 percent, they claim. Currently, it has 2.7 million students across 200 countries, according to its website.

The CEO of Genius Group, Roger James Hamilton, agreed to answer a few questions from EdSurge about its growth goals and why the U.S. education market still holds cache around the world. Ultimately, he says that the company wants to be the Amazon of the education market, a one-stop platform for lifelong learners.

The interview was edited for brevity and clarity.

EdSurge: Our readers may not be familiar with Genius Group. What’s one of the big changes you’re trying to make in the education system?

Roger James Hamilton: Well, for us, we are a tech company. But we do think that we are different from many in that our main focus isn’t to digitize the existing system, but to develop a new system.

So, we see that the real problem in the world—not just in America, but all over the world—is that we are living in accelerated times where what we actually need is to be learning at all ages. Whether it’s someone in high school or university or as an adult that’s trying to reskill themselves, what they’re needing to learn—and what they’re looking to get certified in—is something which this current centralized system, on its own, cannot solve.

Obviously, there are companies out there that also realize this. And so, a lot of tech companies are creating their own certifications, for example. And obviously, there are a lot of camps or accelerators, and other, more informal programs that are possible that people can be part of as well.

But we decided that rather than looking to solve the problem for just some, if we could be one of the companies that was looking to solve it for all, that would be a great market opportunity for us. And at the same time, it would be something which would enable us to attract the best educators, and the best content creators from around the world as well.

[The intent was] to really tackle the full, lifelong learning journey that we’re on, and to put in place a pathway, and more importantly, a platform that would enable anyone to be able to come and take their curriculum, bring it on board, and in the same way that YouTube allows anyone to be a creator.

And for the creators, they can then go out and attract their audience. We enable any educator to come onto our platform, but not only for them to then be part of a global classroom, but also be accredited, and that’s something that you cannot find on YouTube, because YouTube is not an actual accredited university. Whereas in our case, because we acquired a university, we can actually then provide the full accreditation as well.

There was a huge swell in investments in the first phase of the pandemic. But that’s cooled off, leading to some uncertainty and conflicting opinions about the future. You chose to move into the U.S. edtech market. What’s your sentiment about it now?

I think there are a lot of tech companies that are purely online—everyone from Zoom to Coursera—[and they] are definitely suffering because when there is the offline option, then there’s always going to be kind of a shift back to that when it becomes available, which is obviously what’s happened post-pandemic.

Our model is a bit different. So we haven’t seen that, in that we actually deliver most of our education offline.

It’s a hybrid model: We have got what we call community partners, who effectively are individuals … all over the world, that have chosen to set up their own schools. They can deliver anything from entrepreneurial programs to financial literacy to courses that can lead to certifications, and even now, degree programs as well.

So basically, it is about using the system in order for them to deliver it offline. And then they partner up with the faculty members that we have on our platform to have over 10,000 of them. And we might have a faculty member in England that is actually working together with some certified trainers in Japan who are speaking in Japanese and delivering the programs in Tokyo. So, that actually allows us to expand even faster, as more and more people have now got to know about us.

Genius Group has recently partnered with NASA, right? And the company’s holdings go beyond education.

That’s right. For us, a really big focus is on the areas that are both decentralized and there is disruption going on, [especially] in areas many individuals are really interested.

And there are five tech [areas], in particular—each over $10 trillion in market size—in which there are as many students who actually want to be educated as there are companies who are desperate to find the right talent.

There’s edtech, which is our [main] area, and there are plenty of people moving into it. But there are also lots of organizations that are looking to partner up as well.

[The other areas include] space tech, which is where NASA comes in. It includes green tech. So we’re in conversation also with companies like Tesla and others, to actually be providing certification programs and ways in which they can be participating in the actual education of the people they’re looking for as well. And then there’s also med-tech. And there’s also fintech.

Each of these five has traditionally been fairly slow-moving and largely government-regulated. And what we’re seeing is the government’s loosening the regulations, because they know that things need to move faster. And as a result, there are private organizations coming in that are looking to do a better job. And we see ourselves catering to each of those five different areas.

That’s a lot you have going on there. Is there any concern about losing your sense of mission with all these threads pulling in different directions?

At core, they all fit into one fundamental problem that we’re solving, which is that there are individuals of all ages that are really searching for the most relevant education that has a return on investment for themselves. Because people are looking for smarter ways to get by in life at the moment.

And so, whereas the normal university system doesn’t give you that direct return, we have so many people that come into a three-month program, and they’ll earn 10 times what the program costs them in additional earnings. Now they’ve actually understood how to set up their online business or how to actually get invested in property or how to actually get the job they wanted.

And that’s why we’re growing at this rate, [we expect our platform to have] more like 4 million students at the end of this year, which is still very small compared to Coursera, and so on. But, I mean, we’ve been growing at over 50 percent a year. And we’re seeing that constant growth as a result of people sharing with people.

And I think that’s probably the biggest thing, from the point of view of our sustainability, is that we’re growing … from the point of view that we’re not burning through cash from growing. So we’re really looking at how we do this very sustainably and do it in a way that really supports the students for life as well.

So anything we can find that makes the student go, “You know what, I want to do more as well,” in the same way that when Amazon started with books, they then said, “Well, we’ll have to keep on adding new things, if that’s what the customer wants.” And then we’ll be the one place that they’ll trust that they know they’re gonna find what they need. There’s no place like that for education today in the world. So we’re basically positioning ourselves where we can be serving a part of that need.

The company was listed on the stock exchange earlier this year, which you’ve noted was a “multi-year journey.” Tell us about that.

I mean, the one thing I will say is that we’re Singapore-based, but we are global. We are quite evenly spread across the countries where we operate: which is currently about 200, almost all the countries in the world.

And, the choice to actually list in America rather than in an overseas exchange, like Singapore, was a very conscious one, from the point of view that the U.S. education system—for both high school diplomas or degree programs—remains very coveted around the world. Even if a place like China might be known for having higher grade averages than in America, that doesn’t mean that people in China don’t want to have an American degree. So, as a result of that, we decided that if we’re going to have global certifications [to have it in the U.S.]. And so while we are global, we definitely have a real interest in the U.S. market.

We believe that—whereas there is a lot of criticism within the U.S. about the U.S. system—the U.S. still has the ability to be able to reinvent itself, especially if it does provide more degrees and certifications around the different technologies where it’s already seen as a world leader, including those five different areas I just mentioned.