July 24, 2017

Bringing pedagogy to corporate professional development

Noticing how time consuming, expensive—and in some cases frustrating—it can be for businesses seeking professional development to find the right program for their teams, Ilya Breyman set off to find a better way.

Breyman, and his business partner Alex Dolinsky, created a database that could better pair education programs for businesses and managers wanting professional development and executive education. This is similar to a travel website, where a customer need only visit one site to match flights, hotel, and car reservations.

“We wanted to figure out a way to make it more effective for the supply and the demand side,” said Breyman, who went on to co-found Coursalytics Inc. The company helps corporate learning officers and executives find, compare, and book professional development and executive education programs around the world.

Breyman recognized that for Coursalytics to take the next step, he would need to learn more about the pedagogy behind good professional development. Wanting to improve his new model, the 32-year-old, along with his wife and two children, moved from Washington D.C. to Philadelphia, and he enrolled in Penn GSE’s Education Entrepreneurship Master’s program. The EdEnt program provides students with the skills necessary to conceptualize, develop, manage, and scale 21st century education innovations.

Breyman, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Georgetown University, said he was attracted to the Penn GSE program because of its faculty, particularly Executive Director of Academic Innovation Bobbi Kurshan, whose career has been centered on using technology to support the growth of new education companies and developing innovative software products.

“She provided a ton of advice,” Breyman said. “But she also suggested that this program could be of interest, and it definitely was of interest.”

The beauty of the program, Breyman said is that it is not theoretical, it’s “practical.”

“Everything we did there, even though it had a very rigorous academic side, forced us to do practical things with our own ventures, our own companies,” he said.

EdEnt is part of Penn GSE’s ecosystem of programs for people and companies working to innovate in education, including the Milken-Penn GSE Education Business Plan Competition, where Breyman and Coursealytics were 2016 finalists in the Idea Path track.

Breyman’s entrepreneurial mindset, clarity of vision, and understanding of the problems he’s trying to solve in education are some of the qualities the school found interesting in him, said EdEnt Director Jenny Zapf.

“He further brings to his work an unusual combination of academic rigor and business knowledge of what’s required to design, build, and scale a new marketplace in education for adult learners,” Zapf said. “Ilya also is an exceptional learner himself, in terms of his curiosity, persistence, readiness to meet everyone, and learn everything.”

Through building on what he learned at Penn GSE, Breyman's Coursalytics was a finalist in the Penn Wharton Startup Competition this spring and received the Penn Wharton Innovation Fund grant.

While most of Breyman’s experience comes from the business side of the equation, he said EdEnt the program allowed him to learn more from the education side.

“Before I started the program, I didn’t know much about learning theories and education theories,” he said, admitting his strengths were in business and international affairs. “So one of the greatest benefits was being able to connect the dots.

“That’s what makes the program unique—that you can take theories and apply them immediately into your work.”

The program has helped him build up his understanding of the education sector, how it works, how people in it think, how universities and other educational organizations operate compared to private-sector organizations.

He also looks forward to building a network in the education arena, including investors interested in education technology and practitioners who teach business and public administration programs.