2021 | Early stage | Education | SDG4 | SDG8 | SDG9 | United States
Democratising Online Education with AI-powered Esme Learning

1. General


SDG 4: Quality Education

SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth

SDG 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure



2. Project Details

Company or Institution

Esme Learning


Democratising Online Education with AI-powered Esme Learning

General description of the AI solution

Esme Learning uses artificial intelligence embedded in video chat meetings and text chat environments to provide real-time individual and group feedback about social skills and team cohesion. Special tools, such as the “Meeting Mediator,” ensure a more collaborative, immersive, and democratised online learning experience.




Esme Learning

3. Aspects

Excellence and Scientific Quality: Please detail the improvements made by the nominee or the nominees’ team or yourself if your applying for the award, and why they have been a success.

Education technologies have proliferated in recent years, largely aimed at creating new revenue streams around opportunity gaps in global education services. In higher education, the biggest pain points have been around measurement, collaboration, and connectedness to work — especially training the future workforce.

Digital learning is growing 400% faster than the general education market, yet most online courses haven’t evolved past web pages and basic multiple choice tests. AI-powered Esme Learning has set out to change this, and fulfill universities’ needs for an effective, measured digital learning platform. Esme Learning uses AI modeling to understand the dynamics of online, small group work to mimic the experience of being in a traditional, table-top classroom setting. Learners can immediately apply insights they learn for the job they have today, or the job they want to have in the future.

Leveraging over 15 years of cognitive science research on team performance and peer collaboration, Esme Learning incorporates AI into its learning experiences to provide personalised, real-time feedback to learners. The AI leverages voice and text chat technology to gain a holistic view of how learners interact with each other in small groups and across their learning communities.

Through easy-to-read visualisations (with metrics across engagement, influence, and dominance), learners start to understand the interpersonal dynamics of their collaborative work (who is dominating/interrupting versus who is not participating), which helps them improve future interactions, ultimately leading to better overall performance.

Esme Learning uses proprietary sensing technologies, including voice and text chat technology, to provide a holistic view of how learners interact in small groups through data. This provides learners’ interpersonal feedback around their situational and social awareness.

The result is a truly transformational, collaborative, rewarding, and democratised education experience that leverages AI to transcend the traditional physical classroom environment.

Scaling of impact to SDGs: Please detail how many citizens/communities and/or researchers/businesses this has had or can have a positive impact on, including particular groups where applicable and to what extent.

The Meeting Mediator (MM) indirectly encourages users to speak more to maintain conversational balance (if a user has not spoken recently), or to engage others who have not been as active in the conversation. This helps more introverted learners contribute to group discussion. It also helps solve education’s pervasive free-rider problem, where select group members benefit from the group’s work without having contributed.

Esme Learning also opens pathways for underrepresented groups by presenting educational experiences where more diversity is represented. A highlight of Esme Learning’s course platform, instructors and guest speakers are pulled from varying regions, disciplines, and backgrounds.

Additionally, because Esme Learning is fully digital, the platform attracts global learners from different industries in different stages of their careers — including those who might never otherwise have an opportunity to access the same quality and variety of courses in person at an elite institution. Esme Learning users come from 76 countries around the world, proving the platform is a valuable tool in democratising access to elite higher ed institutions' programmes.

Many learners take Esme Learning courses as they re-examine their overall career paths as they navigate technology disruption and seek to identify new industries and new jobs – many of which are at risk due to imminent automation in a new future of work. As we enter the fourth Industrial Revolution, it’s crucial for blue- and white-collar workers to learn how to work with AI rather than be replaced by it.

Those who engage in ongoing learning as a way to approach organisational problems will be better equipped for workplaces of the future. Esme Learning is at the forefront of what’s next for education, supporting professionals in a skills refresh, or career pivot, which will support economic growth for years to come.

Scaling of AI solution: Please detail what proof of concept or implementations can you show now in terms of its efficacy and how the solution can be scaled to provide a global impact ad how realistic that scaling is.

Early adopters. Four of the top 10 leading universities, including MIT and the University of Oxford, leverage Esme Learning for frontier-field courses in cybersecurity, fintech, AI in open banking, AI leadership, health tech, and more. Courses are collaboratively co-created and led by industry luminaries, such as MIT’s AI Leadership course with world-renowned computer scientist Sandy Pentland.

Industry-leading completion rates. Esme Learning delivers a 3,000% improvement on students successfully finishing courses versus Massive Open Online Courses. Additionally, Esme Learning has an industry-leading 97% completion rate in comparison to other digital learning competitors, which hover between 30% to 70%. Low completion rates equate to students potentially missing critical relevant technical skills they need to remain relevant for the world of work.

Scaling the AI application outside of higher education. Esme Learning offers first-class training to employees at Fortune 500 financial services organisations and large scale manufacturing companies. Training helps entire organisations adjust to ongoing technological disruption, and helps them incorporate new skills and best practices to modernise organisations for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

End-users / new business creation. Esme Learning teaches people what they need to be successful for the future of work, including how they can launch their own AI venture or how to lead in the age of AI.

Funding. Esme Learning received US $7.5M Series A funding round in January 2021 from Adit Ventures.

Standards. Esme Learning follows global standards such as GDPR and CCPA as part of our core operating principles, which mandate data privacy and security in all transactions. We are also a research entity, conducting research on its own learner data. We have strict policies on obtaining explicit consent from learners to use their data, keeping in line with federal and national standards.

Ethical aspect: Please detail the way the solution addresses any of the main ethical aspects, including trustworthiness, bias, gender issues, etc.

Often, learners believe a group discussion was a positive experience for all involved, even when the reality may be quite different (e.g. when a student interrupts her teammates more than they remembered or overly dominated the conversation). Esme Learning’s AI helps solve learning inequities, including helping students reflect on interactions and adjust behaviors to become more effective collaborators and contributors. This maximises everyone’s learning experience, regardless of gender, age, race, sexual orientation, location, or other factors.

David Shrier (a leader in ethical AI, and Professor of Practice, AI & Innovation at Imperial College Business School) co-founded Esme Learning with these principles in mind. In fact, Esme Learning democratises the elite university learning experience as the AI scales an ‘executive coaching’ model that many tier-one business schools use, but is currently accessible to few learners.

Esme Learning’s AI model acts in accordance with ethical AI principles that promote trustworthiness and minimises bias and gender issues. We take a learner-first approach to everything within the organisation, from the data we collect to the feedback we deliver to learners. We don’t compromise our ability to deliver high-touch, relevant, productive feedback and support, and we are sensitive to maintaining users' total privacy. We only use data governed by explicit consent.

Additionally, Esme Learning courses prioritise teaching AI across multiple sectors (leadership, healthcare, cyber security, and fintech industries), ensuring learners understand how to leverage AI ethically.


International Research Centre
on Artificial Intelligence (IRCAI)
under the auspices of UNESCO 

Jožef Stefan Institute
Jamova cesta 39
SI-1000 Ljubljana



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