Big Data

I'm building algorithms to help people learn, not to replace them, says Declara founder

DataBeat Declara
Image Credit: Michael O'Donnell/VentureBeat

SAN FRANCISCO — Declara founder and chief executive Ramona Pierson is a math whiz and former Marine who survived a horrible accident and relearned basically every normal human function. And now she’s founded a company that uses data analysis to optimize people’s learning.

“I landed in a senior home mainly because the hospital had given up on me [after my accident]. I was completely blind and I hadn’t been able to speak. The senior citizens looked at me and decided ‘Well, we’re gonna do this,’” said Pierson in an interview on stage at our DataBeat conference.

“My entire life from that morning on was a personalized relearning of everything,” she added.

And this is where she realized: Instead of building algorithms to replace people, we should be building algorithms to bring in the right people for mentoring and teaching, and at the right time.

This is exactly what her company, Declara, does: It’s a social network that enables people in an organization to access knowledge, resources, and one another’s expertise in a way that is optimized for improving their own knowledge and skills. In the company’s language, it helps people find their own “individual learning path.”

The bigger goal, Pierson says, is address the mismatch in skills and labor that we’ve been seeing in U.S. (and around the world) as technology transforms the labor markets. That is, there are more technical jobs available than there are qualified people to fill them.

Although Declara is an American company, it’s been spending a lot of time in Mexico and Australia, where it’s been working with many school teachers.

“If we’re going to change learning for countries, we’re going to need to change how teachers teach,” said Pierson.

“We started working with the teacher and now… we’re moving into working with their entire labor force,” she added.

When interviewer Dan Scholnick, of Trinity Ventures, asked Pierson if the focus outside the U.S. was intentional, she replied, “Other countries have a sense of urgency of needing to transform their workforce, so there aren’t policies or barriers” like the ones slowing change down in U.S.

“One of the biggest things, [and] the Gates Foundation identified this a long time ago, is the skills to-labor-mismatch. I have probably 48 jobs that I’m trying to fill, and where do you turn?” said Pierson.

If Declara succeeds in helping teachers teach better, it could help solve that problem for a lot of companies.

And it could help educate a lot of people in the process.


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