You could take extra language or business classes, but either you don’t have enough free time or the class hours are inconvenient. If only there was a way you could “LaeLar” (which means “study” in Myanmar) a language at home and in your native tongue.
LaeLar online learning, launched by Ko Ye Linn Wai and Ko Kyi Zaw Win, aims to make learning convenient, affordable, and available anywhere, anytime on your mobile device. LaeLar provides users with free and subscription-based online video lessons in the Myanmar language that can be downloaded. After a student completes the course they receive an e-certificate.
The Myanmar Times sat down with Ko Ye Linn Wai, a 24-year-old developer and entrepreneur, to get more insight into his mission.
The birth of LaeLar
At the age of 15, Ko Ye discovered that he had a passion for technology after being self-taught. During his university days at the University of Computer Studies Yangon (UCSY), he founded a computer science club focused on online learning, where he and other members would meet weekly to download lectures and lessons from the web to discuss, he said. This was the spark set for him to launch his start-up. The club displayed their online learning experience at a student showcase at the university in 2014. Its success led to invitations from universities in other cities, such as Mandalay, to share their venture. When he posed the question, “Have you ever studied online before?” the students replied that they couldn’t due to the language barrier. After returning to Yangon, Ko Ye interned at two local start-ups and worked as a technology community liaison at Phandeeyar. He also successfully completed CS50, an online computer science course by Harvard University. With this accumulation of experience, he decided to start his own company.
“In May 2017, I went to the US, where I met with the software engineer and Google’s engineer in Mountain View, California. I asked them what kind of technology to use in an online learning platform,” said Ko Ye. In addition, he went to Harvard and reached out to a former professor to ask for advice. “After collecting the information and knowledge, I returned to Myanmar and founded LaeLar Technology Co with my co-founders. They supported me a lot. I only had the idea and passion. They supported me financially,” he said.
But things did not go smoothly in the beginning. LaeLar was based on video content, which is still relatively new to Myanmar people. Mobile internet usage in Myanmar was quite high two years ago and people were afraid to open videos due to their high data usage.
Another challenge they faced was more of a cultural one. “Since we were students, we needed to be pushed. We have a lack of self-study skill. That is a challenge, because for online courses, you need discipline. You need to set a goal and manage your time. When we launched the course, students would take lecture one and lecture two but not complete it. We tried to encourage them to finish the course.”
It was the same for Myanmar instructors teaching students online. It was a new concept. Ko Ye reached out to high-profile instructors, but it was hard to get them involved, as they assumed that offering lessons online meant people would no longer attend their institutions. Thus, he made the decision to find young instructors who have experience in the digital world. “There is a huge impact. You just need to teach one time, and students from not only Myanmar but Myanmar nationals overseas will be able to take the course,” Ko Ye said.
The instructors have mostly been discovered on Facebook, and some already had their own online classes in group pages, he said. “Actually Facebook groups are not designed for online learning. You have to manually check the assignment, which is good in the short-term. But, for the long-term, they need an actual online learning platform. The instructors need to focus on their content, and the rest will be taken care of by [LaeLar] to make a successful online course. We support the technology, the editing process, video production, etc.” The initial idea for LaeLar was to build a platform where instructors could upload their own content, but the idea didn’t work as most instructors were not familiar with the technological aspect and did not have time to edit a video, he said.
During its launch in 2017, LaeLar offered only 20 online courses. Now it offers 35, which include technology subjects and languages. It has about 10,000 users, including those living in Japan, Thailand, South Korea. The contents are provided by the instructors based on their own curricula. “The instructor needs to submit a lesson plan and we review it,” he said. “We have an assessment system, learning management system, auto-grading system, and students can take a multiple choice exam at the end of the course. We also listen to student feedback. We reach out to them personally. Some said our video size was very big so we tried to reduce the size.”
Customer is king
LaeLar uses a peer-to-peer system and values its students’ feedback. “We collect the student feedback and publish it on our Facebook page. Those interested in taking our classes do not need to believe us. They can read what students say,” Ko Ye said. “Since we are not meeting in-person, we always keep a line of communication open with our students. If a student reports the problem, we reply within one hour. Some students said they have never experienced such a feeling of genuinely being cared for. That is because the students’ success is our success.”
The prices of the classes are also affordable. Ko Ye wanted the platform to be self-sustaining and thus charges per course. The classes cost only 20 percent of what a student would pay at a training centre. “When we started, we wanted to offer every subject, but as we had a limited budget and resources, we chose languages, business and technology. We offer Python programming classes, which are not available anywhere else,” he said.
“Opportunities are better than in 2010 – now we have affordable and fast internet. Students should take this opportunity to learn new subjects and move forward. For instructors, if you want to educate many students, you should prepare your lectures for online content. Please don’t be afraid about losing your content or that no one will enrol in your university. You can educate many students through online education. For the government, online education is a really huge opportunity for them to offer online education for civil servants.”
You can find more about LaeLar on their website or Facebook page. LaeLar is also available on android and iOS, launched in June 2018.
LaeLar may have started in 2017 but it has won many international awards. Here are the awards it won:
As a co-founder & CEO of LaeLar, Ko Ye Linn Wai has been selected to be one of the 25 Young Founders for the Spring 2019 Westerwelle Young Founders Programme. I will attend the Young Founders Conference from 2nd to 6th of April 2019 in Berlin. Almost 2600 applications applied from over 120 countries. The Westerwelle Foundation selected 25 outstanding young founders all over the world.
LaeLar Technology Company graduated from YC Startup School 2018. ( Y Combinator – YC is an American seed accelerator, started in March 2005. Y Combinator has spawned a number of highly successful companies (Airbnb, Stripe, Dropbox, Reddit, Docker, GitLab, Twitch, Weebly) and is consistently ranked at the top of U.S. accelerators. )
It also won Startup Israel 2018 1st runner. The competition is organised by MCF: Myanmar Computer Federation & Embassy of Israel.
– 3rd winners of Seedstars Yangon 2018. ( Seedstars ASIA Summit x True Digital Park bridges the gap between ecosystems and connects regional stakeholders to promote and foster entrepreneurship & technology in emerging markets as way to impact people’s lives & reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). An event with the purpose to shape the future of Asia! )
– 3rd runner. Myanmar Young Entrepreneurs Association Mini Pitching Competition.