On October 4, entrepreneurs and education professionals from around the Greater Baltimore area gathered at Towson University for this year’s EdTech Innovation Showcase, an annual convention featuring products and presentations developed in the university’s startup incubator. This year, Sylvan Learning, a sponsor of the TU Incubator, showed off a new on-location tutoring service called Sylvan In-Home.
The event featured many of the TU Incubator’s startups, which number well over 100 since the inception of the incubator. The majority of the startups are working to develop education-focused technologies. Some pitched in hopes of securing venture capital, others demoed works in progress, and all of them discussed their work with representatives from local schools and businesses.
Emily Levitt, Sylvan’s vice president of education, says the EdTech Innovation Showcase was the perfect venue for the Baltimore-based franchise to display Sylvan In-Home.
“We have been an official partner of the incubator for years, and we love to see all the amazing work that comes out of it,” she said. “The EdTech showcase is one of the biggest gatherings of people who are working to improve educational resources through technology, so it’s a perfectly natural fit for us.”
Though the EdTech Innovation Showcase was an opportunity for Sylvan to introduce Sylvan In-Home to a new audience, it was not the product’s debut. Sylvan Learning has been testing the product in four cities — Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Boston and Baltimore — for a few months, and Levitt says the early results are promising.
“We’ve had a great reaction in our pilot cities,” she said. “It’s expanded our reach enormously, and the families who have used it, love it.”
Sylvan In-Home is an online marketplace that matches students with Sylvan-trained tutors who are best suited to the student’s needs. The program will allow Sylvan franchise owners to dispatch tutors to students’ homes rather than require all sessions to take place at a Sylvan center.
“We find that most of the families that visit our brick-and-mortar centers come from within a ten-minute drive,” Levitt said. “Sylvan In-Home lets us dramatically expand that radius so that we can reach students who wouldn’t otherwise be able to visit us.”
As part of the online marketplace, tutors have the option to use the same learning management system and lessons that Sylvan requires its centers to use. Levitt says more than 70 percent of In-Home tutors choose to use Sylvan’s curriculum.
“The tutors who take a look at our lessons quickly see the value in them,” she said. “Tutors who don’t opt in are typically specialists whose areas of expertise are outside of the programs we offer.”
Levitt says Sylvan In-Home is just the latest product to come from a decades-long focus on technological innovation for Sylvan.
“We’ve been around for 40 years. We’ve never said, ‘OK, that’s it. We figured it out.’ And we never will. We are always pushing forward,” she said. “It’s not about developing new technology for its own sake; it’s about making it easier for our students and their families to get the best possible education, and it’s about making it easier for our tutors and franchise owners to deliver that.”