"Virtual” instructors help Ambow personalise education
Ambow Education is a Beijing-based, privately held company founded in 2000 that provides personalised online and in-class education to schoolchildren and university students, as well as online educational programs for corporate clients. Its business model relies on personalisation in several ways. For example, Ambow has relationships with more than 100 universities to deliver vocational training that is customised according to the needs of businesses near each university. Ambow works with local units of the Ministry of Education to identify the talent needs of companies in the area near a university, and then designs courses on topics such as new digital media and telecommunications, geared to those needs.
At one of its centres in Kunshan, near Shanghai, Ambow offers courses in business process outsourcing to more than 1,000 students, and has the capacity to expand to 5,000. According to Cherry Pu, Ambow’s vice-president of global alliance and investment, the centre teaches both technical and “soft” skills, such as teamwork and integrity. Classes are tailored to individual students through a “virtual instructor” embedded in the software. The “instructor” can identify a student’s problem areas and suggest course material based on the student’s progress. Live instructors complement the software by providing in-class instruction and personalised tutoring based on a student’s online work. Teachers work with students, parents and Ambow salespeople to evaluate students’ progress. This business model helps to generate customer loyalty by providing a continuous feedback loop between service providers and consumers.
Ambow uses the same educational technology to design highly customised online training programs for companies and their clients. It created, for example, a program for an international software developer that sells to resellers in China. The developer offers online sales training programs to the resellers’ sales representatives as a way to advertise and promote its products, as well as to gain their allegiance. One of the program’s benefits is that it allows the software developer to forge stronger relations with resellers by tracking representatives’ participation in the training programs and offering new programs or broadcasting new products to individual representatives based on their participation.
Ambow has received nearly US$160m in private equity investments since 2007, and is using the funds to establish regional hubs in Beijing, Tianjin, Henan, Shaanxi and Guangzhou. These hubs will include 30 regional educational centres aimed at college entrance exam preparation and vocational training.
In addition, the company recently signed an agreement to build a software and service outsourcing training centre in Dalian, in the province of Liaoning. Ambow aims to achieve revenue of US$147m (Rmb1bn) in 2009.