Rahim Hirji, Executive Vice President, Avallain & Director, TeacherMatic

Rahim Hirji works across EdTech, education, and emerging technology and is currently Executive Vice-President of Avallain, a Switzerland-based learning platform and content tool provider, where he looks after the long-term strategic growth of the business, as well as acting as a director of their recently acquired AI education platform, Teachermatic. Rahim is also the author of the weekly technology missive Box of Amazing, which covers knowledge & society, AI & emerging technology, and trends. He has spent 25 years across multiple areas of education and EdTech.

Recently, in an exclusive interview with Digital First Magazine, Rahim shared his professional trajectory, the inspiration behind establishing TeacherMatic and its future plans, significant career milestones, pearls of wisdom, and much more. The following excerpts are taken from the interview.

Hi Rahim. Can you tell us about your background and areas of interest? What brought you to the EdTech industry?

I meandered through finance, technology, and media before finding my way into the early days of edtech, first with HarperCollins and then with a multitude of early-stage startups and scale-ups, including my own. I most recently spent time with Quizlet, helping to build their international footprint outside the US. I believe that in your career, you must find a calling—whether it’s helping people, using intellect to tackle world problems, or providing service with a smile. For me, the fundamental importance of education to anyone alive is clear. Education should be a right, and edtech should be an enabler for billions of humans and students to learn.

What was the inspiration behind establishing TeacherMatic? What led Avallain to purchase the company? What’s next for TeacherMatic?

Peter Kilcoyne is well known within the Further Education circles in the UK. He assembled a team of four amazing practitioners who raised grant funding from the UFI to explore generative AI tools for the sector. In a very short period, they built an excellent product used by nearly every FE College in the UK. That’s when Avallain realised this product and team would be a great addition to our offerings. It’s a simple yet powerful product that saves teachers hours every week, using the latest technology in a straightforward way. We are evolving the product to ensure it is beneficial for various educators, whether they are teaching GCSEs in British state schools, English in a Vietnamese language centre, or career preparation in a German Hauptschule. We are working with partners to bring further structure and value to the platform, leveraging generative AI tools in innovative but responsible ways.

Your main role is as EVP at Avallain. Can you tell us about this e-learning solutions company and your role in it?

Ultimately, we provide learning solutions and digital tools for publishers, educators, and anyone in the education ecosystem.

I like to think of Avallain as the best-kept secret in educational platforms and authoring tools, powering a bunch of global partners in delivering learning solutions to millions of students around the world. Our partners range from National Geographic Learning and Cengage to Oxford University Press, McGraw Hill and Cambridge University Press & Assessment to Santillana, among others. Avallain has been delivering multi-award-winning edtech and e-learning solutions to millions of students since before edtech was really a term. One of the many reasons I joined them was their human-centric approach, both as a business and especially for the learner, with a real focus on learning outcomes.

We support our broad range of partners through two main products:

Avallain Magnet: A powerful and customizable end-to-end SaaS learning management system, instantly accessible and ready for use. It has been built from the ground up for today’s learner. Avallain focuses squarely on teachers and students, which is why partners continue to trust us in this increasingly disruptive landscape, whether it concerns AI, accessibility, or the next opportunity or regulation. Our products focus on both the learning strategy of partners and the learners and their outcomes.

Avallain Author: Our market-leading authoring tool, with over 40 activity types and more than 200 configuration options delivered through an intuitive interface, enables unlimited content creation. Our editorial partners use Author daily as part of their workflow, allowing them to create multimedia assets such as videos, audio files, digital books, PDF files, and embedded YouTube videos, all robustly managed in a dedicated media library. Our products are compliant with all relevant learning standards.

We can also support custom and partly custom solutions. AI has been a part of our product suite long before our TeacherMatic acquisition, building AI responsibly as part of content creation and learning.

Which three favourite resources would you point EdTech founders to, and why?

Of course [and sorry for the plug!], I would point them to my free newsletter (Box of Amazing) that I send out weekly and have done for seven years. It is not exclusively EdTech, but education and personal growth ground my reading, and I share that every Sunday. I mainly cover the latest trends and emerging technologies, whether it’s AI or brain interfaces, but also how we humans will exist in this evolving world. You can find it at boxofamazing.com. I also read a bunch of other newsletters, especially for EdTech, including Matthew Tower, EdTech Digest, and the Assignment Report.

Secondly, I’d review landscape pieces from companies like HolonIQ and see where larger and specialized investors like GSV, Learn Capital, and Reach Capital are investing to get a flavor of where perceived investment value is. I’d also read everything that comes out of the WEF and UNICEF associated with education.

Finally, I would speak to educators and to anyone who is educating themselves, students at schools, those upskilling for jobs or learning new skills. I have found that real conversations have given me the best insights into what learners really want. It’s what we do with Avallain. It’s what we do at Teachermatic.

What are your predictions for EdTech in the next 5-10 years?

I’m not sure I can give you a prediction for next year, at the current rate, let alone five or ten years! However, I do believe that AI will be prominent in many EdTech tools, if they aren’t already – so much so that we won’t be talking about AI, because it will become a norm, much like the Internet became a norm. We will see AI tutors become more prominent in conjunction with more personalised learning. However, I think human-authored content will still remain valuable, even if it is only one part of the educational solution. Humans are – and will remain – important in education.

Some other areas that will stand out for me are micro-credentialing in conjunction with an increased demand for lifelong learning – or courses on demand. And I think in ten years, we will start to see some immersive, augmented learning of sorts, whether that is through a Meta Headset or something else; it won’t be so niche.

What is your favourite fiction book and why?

One of the books that stayed with me after I read it many years ago was “A Fine Balance” by Rohinton Mistry. It works as both a piece of literature and as a document of Indian history through the lens of fiction. I loved how the characters were interwoven, despite their differences, into an intriguing story. The book is really about overcoming adversity – and how we, as humans, have the spirit to overcome anything. I recommend it to anyone who will listen to me. There’s one quote from the book that I love: “The human face has limited space. If you fill it with laughter there will be no room for crying.”

What has been your most career-defining moment that you are proud of?

There are many moments, but the ones that are career-defining are those that demonstrate impact on others. I remember just after we had launched EtonX in China, the parents of a child who had just taken one of our courses in Shanghai came over to thank us—almost with tears in their eyes—for helping their son come out of his shell. It’s moments like this that you just don’t forget.

How do you wind down or rejuvenate after a long week or day?

I’m overly curious about technology shaping our lives and so read widely around tech trends and innovations shaping our world – I hold myself accountable by sharing recommended reads as part of my newsletter. Balancing this passion with a commitment to community, I serve on various voluntary boards dedicated to enhancing educational initiatives. I also mentor those who are at an earlier stage in my current path, to help them avoid the traps I fell into! Recently, I’ve found tranquillity in my garden, enjoying the simplicity of nurturing plants and shrubs but also combating the ever-encroaching weeds. While not exactly a hobby, I also spend a fair amount of time behind the wheel, chauffeuring my teenage daughters to their activities, which allows an opportunity to have a conversation as part of our busy lives —or not!

Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

Hopefully, I’ll be doing much of the same within education and EdTech and being able to have much more impact than now in the programs that I’m involved in, both career-wise, and through other initiatives that I’ll hopefully get into. I’d love to deliver my own course one day or write a book. One thing I do hope for is that I’ll hopefully be smarter and wiser than I am today!

What piece of advice would you give to aspiring professionals across the globe?

I try to package up the learnings that I have had over the years into five broad areas:

Follow Your Passion – I honestly think this is critically important. Your job is a big chunk of the time you spend in this world. So, follow your heart and intuition because you’ll already know what truly matters to you alone. The only way to do great work is to love what you do. At the beginning of my career, I didn’t—but now I have a purpose. My purpose will be different to yours—so figure out what drives you.

Embrace Failure – I’d really encourage a growth mindset revolving around being free to fail. If you don’t try new things knowing you have a safety blanket, you’ll be limited in your personal and professional growth. There are real benefits to embracing the learnings from failure; it can lead to being more creative and thinking out of the box. Once I accepted that it’s OK not to succeed all the time, I became more successful. It sounds counterintuitive, but it’s so powerful.

Give Back and Make a Difference – If you’re really looking at different options in your career and how to maximise it, you’re one of the lucky ones in the world. You have options. I’d urge people to give back in any way possible through helping to solve big problems, volunteering time, mentoring to help others. It’s incredibly rewarding to do this work, especially when you see your work making a difference.

Be Curious – One of the important things in this faster-moving world is to not be left behind. Have interests outside of your core area. Be curious, be inquisitive—and ask the dumb questions. By learning more and doing the things you think you couldn’t do, you stretch yourself and your capabilities.

Be Nice – There’s no excuse for unkindness in this world. So, be good, be nice, smile at people you don’t know, help a stranger—and don’t forget to be amazing!

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