An interview with Kirsten Campbell-Howes – Chief Learning Officer at Busuu

  • Subject:Education Publishing

  • Reading Time:3 mins

This month we caught up with Kirsten Campbell-Howes – Chief Learning Officer at Busuu.

Busuu is a language learning platform available on mobile apps and online. They have more than 100 million users and are particularly strong in Turkey, Russia and Brazil with interest growing in the UK and USA. The tool provides communicative learning programmes for 12 different languages and interestingly, the popularity in anime and manga has made Japanese and English the two most popular. There are short courses that include 10-20 min bitesize lessons, asynchronous interaction with native speakers who provide verbal or written feedback, and synchronous online lessons with professional language tutors.

We picked Kirsten’s brain to find out what’s going on in the world of online language learning.

What are you most proud of at Busuu?

It would have to be our new adaptive Smart Review tool which has won awards from Bloomberg, Apple, GooglePlay & also the British Council ELTon award for innovation. The tool uses a predictive algorithm to automatically adapt revision elements of courses to an individual’s weaker areas, speeding up their improvement.

We are really pleased with the results. We have seen good completion data and those results are enhanced by live tutoring and certification by our partner, McGrawHill. My feeling is that self-study in the app also acts as a good gateway to classes with a real tutor.

Was it easy to develop the app?

Easy is not a word I think anybody would use when developing new technology, but by taking an agile approach and committing to release regular lessons, we were able to launch an app that resonated quickly with users.

We update the content weekly, always based on feedback, and we know that a tool like this is never ‘finished’ it has to evolve and grow with the users.

Are there any challenges you’re facing right now?

I hate to use the B word but building a team with strengths in Cognitive Linguistics and Behavioural Psychology through international recruitment is now much harder in the UK. So, ahead of Brexit, we made the decision to open up an office in Madrid (EU). Having multiple locations has not only helped with recruitment but has cemented our strong international culture, even during Covid.

What excites you in the world of EdTech?

If you’d asked me this a few years ago I would have said virtual reality, but the cost of creating and distributing content is a real challenge. At the moment, I’m most excited by the global acceleration in online learning, and the potential for well-designed, small group classes online to really accelerate the speed and ease with which people can acquire new skills.

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