Pioneering the Future of Education: A Conversation with Lauren Anderson, Co-Founder and CEO of Koa Academy

Lauren Anderson

In this interview with Lauren Anderson, the co-founder and CEO of Koa Academy, we delve into her fascinating journey from a background in nursing to the world of online education.

Lauren’s unique career path has equipped her with valuable skills and experiences that have been instrumental in the success of Koa Academy.

Read all about her journey below!

Can you tell us about yourself and Koa Academy?

My undergraduate degree was in nursing, which is very different from where I have ended up. I am so grateful for what I learned through my studies. Triaging in the emergency room has taught me to prioritize the juggling needs of a growing business. Managing a packed ward has taught me organization skills and how to make quick decisions and working in public health has taught me about strategy and how to just make things work.

Branching off and starting Koa Academy as something of our own has by far been the most challenging and invigorating career highlight.

Koa Academy is a high-engagement online school that has been intentionally designed to provide an IEB-accredited education that truly prepares digital natives for the real world.  We connect Koa’s learners to best-in-class global online learning resources while focusing also on high levels of socio-emotional learning and fostering a high-engagement school environment.   Our students belong in 8-person Pods with a dedicated teacher, which ensures that every child is seen and heard.  We take a mastery-based approach to learning and with the support of their Pod teacher and our team of subject specialist teachers, learners advance through the South African curriculum. 

What inspired you to start Koa Academy?

Mark, my husband and co-founder, and I have always been passionate about the concept of online learning. The notion that anyone, regardless of their location, can gain access to up-to-date, relevant, engaging, and high-quality education is empowering. We have all experienced the stark contrast between being taught in an inspiring and life-changing manner versus enduring a monotonous “death-by-powerpoint” or, more recently, a “death by zoom lecture” approach. The outcomes differ greatly when learning becomes an interactive, meaningful, and personalized experience tailored to each individual.

Mark and I have had many inspiring conversations about what to do about the frustrating shortfalls in traditional school education.  The vision for Koa Academy developed out of wondering how online education could be designed to help children develop real-world skills that would be relevant and sought after when they were ready to join the workforce.  So, this was something that Mark and I really wanted to do together.  Then, the COVID pandemic substantially accelerated the uptake of online education in South Africa, and it seemed to be the right time to put our vision into practice. 

Can you share any significant milestones or achievements of your business so far?

We were one of the first online schools in South Africa to become accredited by the Independent Examinations Board (IEB), breaking ground in a new industry has been really exciting. The IEB is forward-thinking in its approach to education and has been a great partner. Our first Gr12 class is currently writing their final matric exams and we couldn’t be prouder!

How do you stay motivated and continue to innovate in your industry?

My best ideas come up when I am outdoors and exercising.  Once my mind is free from the day-to-day grind, my body is busy and I am enjoying being in beautiful surroundings, then it is easier for creative thoughts and solutions to arise.  Best ideas come to me in a healthy adrenalin rush.  It’s not easy to find the time to enjoy my mountain biking and surfing but I do try to carve out little slots in my diary for this.  One of the ways I do this is to schedule like things a recurring once-a-month mountain bike ride with my Dad, and every second week I have a surfing time slot in my calendar to make sure that I get out and go surf.  This also relates to one’s work-life balance.  I find that if it is in the diary, it happens.  So, I don’t leave it to chance.

What sets Koa Academy apart from others? 

We are more than school on a screen! We have designed Koa from the beginning thinking of how we can maximize engagement to make the learning experience easy for the student. Koa is leveraging the benefits of the online space to reshape what a forward-thinking school looks like in the modern world. Our small online Pods of 8 learners with a teacher combined with a self-directed learning approach overcome geographic, economic, and political constraints. We believe that in highly engaging small online classes, learners thrive.

Can you share any advice for aspiring females in your industry?

My advice is to surround yourself with other entrepreneurs.  Develop a group of women around you who are cheering you on and who are able to give you great input as you go.  I find it really helpful to have a group of women who I can bounce questions and ideas off, I can ask them anything.   The entrepreneur’s journey is always tough and will be lonely if you don’t intentionally look out for the community.  Making connections with others, building relationships, and sharing expertise and experiences with peers give you rich feedback and support, which makes you more resilient.  Being open to mentorship has worked well for me, and also paying attention to the kind of leader you want to be.

Last, but not least, what is your daily mantra?

By empowering and developing your team you can get the unexpected done. 

Thank you, Lauren!

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