Built upon research of the effects of adaptive learning and simulation in medical training, Area9 Lyceum has evolved to now address some of the construction industry’s most pressing challenges.
Why do people make errors? How do humans perform under pressure? These are just some of the questions that led to the establishment of cloud-based adaptive-learning software provider Area9 Lyceum.
Area9 Lyceum’s origin story is fascinating to say the least. Starting as a venture of Ulrik Juul Christensen in the field of medicine, today the company delivers improved educational and training outcomes, backed by a scientific approach, for various industries in Australia and around the world.
Where it all began
As a physician by training, Christensen has long had an interest in human factors. In 1997 he launched his first company Sophus Medical, building simulators for the medicine field with a goal of discovering what leads to human errors in live operating environments. “I spent the first years of my career trying to dig into what leads to human errors, and in this case, what leads to life saving performance or the human errors that lead to death and disability in other parts of healthcare,” explains Christensen.
“What’s striking is we ended up on a long journey moving from training in very complex team-based situations to realising there were a lot of things that needed to be done on an individual level.
“We found that we were using expensive training environments to train in areas that could be learned in more accessible environments, like on a construction site.”
Eventually Laerdal Medical acquired Sophus Medical, but that didn’t stop Christensen from delving further into the research of cognitive workloads. In 2006 he founded Area9 and began building the first versions of adaptive learning systems.
By 2008, Area9 had partnered with McGraw-Hill Education to deploy its adaptive learning technology. “We built our first adaptive learning prototype for a focus group to gather their feedback and managed to strike a deal with the then president of McGraw-Hill Education who bought a part of the company,” says Christensen.
Quickly, Area9’s technology started to be used widely in colleges across the United States, processing approximately 1,100 student interactions per second. This success gave Christensen the appetite to get back to his roots – to build systems that would allow humans to learn more complex things – and thus amicably parted ways with McGraw-Hill Education.
“In 2018 we launched the current company, Area9 Lyceum, where we assembled all of our software, internet protocol (IP) and educational IP to build the fourth-generation platforms with a goal of being able to harbour more dimensions of learning, not just knowledge,” says Christensen.
The McGraw-Hill Education partnership proved that the technology could handle extremely diverse learner groups – the exact same product was used for students with learning difficulties such as dyslexia, slow learners, fast learners and top performers. They didn’t have the same learning path but were using the exact same product.
This breakthrough, and the departure from McGraw-Hill Education, saw Christensen and his team shift their focus to diverse adult populations of learners, leading them to the construction industry.
“We never built this with a specific purpose for the construction industry,” says Christensen. “But construction happens to be an area where you often have people with very different backgrounds in the same room.”
Launching its e-learning platform Area9 Rhapsode, Area9 Lyceum became dedicated to corporate learning.
One of the early proofs that Rhapsode could make great inroads in construction learning was in road safety. Area9 Lyceum partnered with VEJ-EU, an independent association formed by the Danish road sector in Denmark, to provide meaningful learning experiences for road workers and bring learning that mattered out of the classroom and back to the roads with Rhapsode.
Rhapsode powerfully combines presentation style work with adaptive learning that prompts questions suited to the learner’s development needs.
“For each learner, the in-built artificial intelligence identifies their competence through the course and adjusts in real-time to support their development to achieve proficiency,” explains Christensen.
- ARTC customises learning for contractor safety
- AIHS partners with John Holland and Area9 Lyceum
- John Holland takes training to new heights
Essentially, the program will select the relevant learning material based on each learners’ experience and knowledge.
The road construction sector has been fighting the problem of effectively training a diverse workforce for decades, says Christensen. “They had the civil engineer responsible for the entire bridge in the same room as the asphalt labourer, both with completely different skills and competencies,” he adds. “It’s been proven time and time again that when it comes to learning, you need to slow down.”
“If you give a diverse group of 30 learners 45 minutes to complete the same training, it’s not going to work practically.
“That’s the point of difference with Rhapsode – we’re not putting a time frame on the learner; the dependant variable is time and the independent variable, the thing that doesn’t change, is performance.”
Rising to industry challenges
This approach to learning is a leap forward for training in the construction industry given the sector’s complex nature and consequently complex challenges. The ongoing skills crisis has put pressure on construction companies to find new ways to attract, recruit and retain talent and also placed job seekers in a position of power, letting them be strategic about the roles they take on.
As the next generation of construction workers comes up through the ranks, many have an expectation that the companies they join will have state-of-the-art equipment, practices and systems in place, like Area9 Lyceum’s platform Rhapsode.
“The construction industry is characterised by ‘doers’; people who like to sit in behind the steering wheel on the joystick and actually operate real things,” says Christensen.
“But how do you methodically then make a learning progression?
“That’s what Rhapsode is capable of – this combined platform can take multi-dimensional learning into account and allow you to practice in more than just the knowledge dimension.”
This in turn shortens the time to proficiency, posing significant productivity benefits. If a contractor takes 1,000 workers and puts them through a traditional eight-hour course, explains Christensen, it will cost the company 8,000 labour hours. With Rhapsode, he says, the contractor only has to take them out of production for half of that time.
Rhapsode also provides a reliable measure of each worker’s competence, as it measures everything they’ve learned throughout the course. With Rhapsode, construction businesses can save labour hours, training costs and enjoy full confidence that their workforce has the skills, knowledge and proficiency to operate safely and effectively.
Top players in the Australian construction industry such as The Australian Rail Track Corporation and John Holland are already leveraging the benefits of Rhapsode with regards to lead and lag safety indicators. With the support of Rhapsode, ARTC has seen an improvement in Total Reportable Injury Frequency Rates, a higher level of engagement and a general reduction in work health and safety incidents across all operations through its Contractor Safety Management Program. For John Holland, Rhapsode in addition to reducing safety issues has saved the company more than 12,000 hours in training time, with courses taking 20-30 minutes less to complete than previous approaches.
Becoming critical consumers of learning
These results speak for themselves, but Christensen says it’s crucial that the construction industry, and all industries, become critical consumers of learning.
“The industry needs to challenge learning providers, even Area9 Lyceum, to ensure that what we’re bringing to the table is going to provide learning improvements,” he says.
With Christensen at the helm, Area9 Lyceum is well equipped to prove the value of Rhapsode in delivering top educational and training outcomes for the construction industry and beyond.