Emad Rizkalla poses a statistic: 50 percent of the skills you use for your work today will be outdated in three years, replaced by skills related to new technologies and procedures. To stay viable in the workforce, it’s more important than ever to be constantly educating yourself.
But continuing education, for Rizkalla, the founder and CEO of online learning company Bluedrop, isn’t just about productivity and prosperity—it’s about improving yourself and fulfilling your potential. “Fundamentally, we combine technology and learning to enable progress,” he says. “Lifelong skill development is key to unlocking human potential. Learning is a fundamental right, not necessarily just a way to achieve economic prosperity.”
Rizkalla started Bluedrop in 2004 with an eye toward technology and learning. The bedrock of the company has been producing high-quality online courseware for companies like Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and even large governments. Bluedrop has also expanded into the defense and aerospace sector, producing low-cost simulations and virtual training aids for corporations like Lockheed Martin. It’s currently working with the Royal Australian Airforce to create aircraft virtual-reality simulations.
with Emad Rizkalla
1. What does innovation mean to your company?
It means always being customer-driven and trying to find ways to use technology so solutions can be accessible to more and more people.
2. Is there a technology, trend, or idea that’s driving your company forward?
Our multinational products and channel training. In all areas, we’re trying to bring technology and learning to the masses, and trying to find way to make it accessible to a much greater number of people.
3. How do you innovate on a day-to-day basis?
I think you need a couple of people in every area of your company that are sort of rebels. You need to reward failure and promote the rebels who see the world differently. Your job as CEO is to set direction and establish rules of the game—and then allow for innovation to bubble up.
4. Where do you hope this innovation will lead you in the next five years?
I hope that we continue to change the world and reach more and more of the under-serviced segments of military training, health-care training, small business, and channel training.
5. How has the notion of innovation changed in the past decade?
If you look at development methodologies, I think it’s become increasingly focused on speed and accelerating quickly. The amount of time you have [to reach users] is extremely limited. The vast majority of revenues anybody is making is from a product they developed in the last three or four years. It’s frightening but also exciting.
Today, though, Bluedrop is investing much of its energy into a new delivery platform for online learning called CoursePark, a cloud-based technology Rizkalla believes will help thousands of companies bring their business into the ever-evolving world of professional education.
“We built this delivery platform because we realized that there’s a whole segment of small businesses and external channel training that was being totally ignored by other delivery platforms,” he says. “We’ve worked with several dozen learning management systems, and as we built content, we realized that those systems didn’t speak to a huge segment of the market.”
The problem, Rizkalla says, has been a growing divide between the way large and small businesses invest in online learning. Large corporations and organizations often have more money to invest in new technologies, and teams of people to manage employee learning. Small companies, on the other hand, don’t have those same resources available.
Bluedrop is currently working with a government to help bring local, small businesses onto the CoursePark platform, giving them access to a library of 5,000 courses. The private, secure network would be prepaid by the government at a discount, allowing companies that previously had no way to access these learning tools to do so without having to learn cumbersome learning management systems.
In addition, says Rizkalla, CoursePark emphasizes peer-to-peer learning, instead of the top-down, hierarchical approach other platforms take.
“Typically, I have a boss, and the system knows that person is my boss,” he says. “The system has to be set up in terms of who can see what. With CoursePark, we say we’ll go the other way. You can share whatever you want. Your boss can see that you’ve completed a course, but you can also choose to show them how you did, what you did, and so on. We trust the natural relationships people have to get things set up more quickly and more the way that real-world interactions happen.”
The first major customer for CoursePark was a province in Canada, which launched about a year and a half ago. Today, they’re approaching 100,000 users in 100 different countries.
While the focus of CoursePark has been on bringing small businesses into the world of online learning, Bluedrop is also finding ways to take their innovations in the industry across the globe. Through the Clinton Global Initiative, Bluedrop is starting to take on projects in Chile and Peru, helping women start and develop their own businesses.
“This gets to the core,” Rizkalla emphasizes, “that learning is a human right … We want to take our philosophy and find a way to get it out there, almost like preaching health. People believe, fundamentally, that all businesses, big and small, need to do this stuff.”