Outside the Lines: Eddie Blass and Inventorium Exploring New Frontiers in Education

Eddie Blass | Founder and CEO | Inventorium
Eddie Blass | Founder and CEO | Inventorium

Advances in technology have always moved hand in hand with the spread of information. Whether it’s in transport, manufacturing, or electronics, new technologies have given rise to greater opportunities for access to education, so it’s no wonder that EdTech has come to the foreword in recent years as a living example of extraordinary possibilities.

EdTech is at the forefront of any new technological development that could be harnessed to promote learning. This philosophy is also integrated into Inventorium, a rapidly growing online company that specializes in delivering high school education to disengaged and disadvantaged students.

Eddie Blassthe Founder and CEO of Inventorium is a luminary in the realm of education innovation. Eddie’s story unfolds in the disruptive space of schooling, where tradition meets transformation. She believes that every student’s unique pace, place and focus of learning should not just be accommodated but celebrated.

Eddie’s perspective is shaped by a deep-rooted belief that the conventional education system is a misfit in the landscape of the 21st century. With a robust background in both education and leadership development, Eddie doesn’t just identify problems but also creatively crafts evidence-based solutions. This unique approach bridges the gap between the past and the future, fostering inclusivity for those who are disengaged.

Let’s explore how Eddie and Inventorium are crafting a future where education isn’t a box but a boundless, tailor-made journey for every learner!

The Unconventional Educator

I hated school,” Eddie muses with trademark wry honesty. “But it was more about the school environment than what we had to do there. I was bullied quite a lot. Different subjects were taught at different colleges so we had to travel between them and it was a nightmare. So, as time went on, I just didn’t go.”

At the outset, it’s difficult to reconcile the image of the serial truant with the work of an industry leader who has made education her mission. “I loved learning,” she states, simply. “School never felt like a safe place for me. The actual school process, the building, the environment, the way it was run, everything about it—I just hated—it was so controlled. But I loved learning, so I did the work and I passed.”

A Doctorate in Education, Bachelor of Laws and Post Graduate qualifications in Business and Human Resources can testify to a lifelong love of learning that Eddie longs to instill in Inventorium’s students. She believes that learning occurs best in places where people can be curious and her goal with Inventorium is to create an environment where students can enjoy the experience of learning.

The Inception Story

Inventorium, the literal meaning in Latin—a place of discovery, was formed in 2016 in response to the staggering findings that almost a third of high school students don’t finish Year 12 in Australia.  She started thinking—what does this mean for the future? Why do kids disengage from their learning? What is the solution? And beyond study, what would be needed to help kids become employable? So, it started as a project.

Eddie shares, “We asked ourselvesif we were to design a school that was fit for the 21st century, what would it be?” Students are continually overloaded with information from the internet and the pressure to conform.

Schools tend to see learning as a cookie-cutter process, so there’s no room for individual needs. The whole design of learning and teaching assumes conformity to a single uniform linearity. Even from the perspective of the teacher, it’s a very systematized, bureaucratic and conforming norm. They put the kids in a room with the teacher—the pedagogic content-knowledge expert—teaching the subject. She says supporting the Inventorium concept, “In actual fact, we don’t teach a subject. We teach a student. As teachers, the only thing we can be expert at is helping students learn.”

Together with educators, technologists and curriculum experts, Eddie devised a new way of providing learning experiences via a custom-built online learning platform where students who require more than a one-size-fits-all learning structure can attend fully online classes, one-to-one, with a dedicated teacher and an individualized learning plan.

The Next Level Learning

At Inventorium, students focus on topics that interest them and are guided through the learning process by their teachers who work alongside them as they develop key learning skills while also building confidence. This also focuses on effectively learning how to learn within a fun, flexible and supportive online environment. The success of this approach is evident in student outcomes, the numbers refer to around 95% of enrolled students staying on to progress to the next stage of their learning.

I didn’t do well in high school and I went on to become a professor,” Eddie smiles with a shrug. “So, I know that the methods used to measure success in secondary school do not determine your future and are no indication of how clever you are.”

The Belief System

Eddie believes that the learning processes need to change and she reasons,
If we continue with the current processes, trying to fix things but not addressing the underlying issues, we are merely putting bandages on a corpse.” The consequences? She shares “And if we don’t challenge those processes for the next generation, we are effectively mummifying a system that doesn’t work.”

In recent years, numerous reports—both independently published and government-funded have shown that poor attendance, non-completion and school refusal are on the rise not only in Australian schools, but globally, and have worsened considerably since the COVID-19 pandemic.

In August 2023, the Australian government published the findings of a parliamentary inquiry into The National Trend of School Refusal and Related Matters, which revealed that the major contributors to student disengagement and absence from school include poor mental health, anxiety and more generally, the lack of a sense of wellbeing. For Eddie, it comes down to departmental pressure to maintain the status quo.

School never felt like a safe place to me,” she reflects, “even as a teacher. I know I’m not alone in feeling that way.” There’s a lack of trust from parents, out-of-date training models don’t prepare new teachers for the modern classroom. Today, the internet hosts content knowledge and expertise that teachers can’t hope to match. Eddie thinks schools need to be humble enough to realize there are some students they cannot cater to in their classrooms, rather than thinking that they can solve every problem and that the biggest issue is just getting kids to behave.

The Path is Improved Learning

Since Inventorium’s inception, Eddie has worked with many students and their families who struggled within the mainstream school system but who thrived supported by the Inventorium learning framework.

Drawing on the research of psychologists and educational theorists such as Prof. Guy Claxton, the Inventorium Educational Philosophy follows an evidence-based approach, informing a system of self-paced, personalized learning with teachers as partners in a dynamic, non-linear learning process. Assessments are designed to promote learning rather than to measure it and the learning content delivered via the Inventorium platform. It is structured to allow for maximum versatility so that students can essentially choose the learning pathway that best suits them and progress at their own pace.

The platform is a re-engineered Moodle Learning Management System (LMS) that has been developed to provide a highly customizable, student-centric learning experience via a simple, vibrant interface.

It was always going to be an online solution,” Eddie affirms. “Digital was always important because of the freedom.” On this platform, individuals can access the content from anywhere, regardless of their location. There is no constraint on a specific physical setting like a traditional classroom. Whether one is at home, in a library, or even on the moon, as long as there’s a Wi-Fi connection, the learning experience remains consistent.

Learning content areas are organized into three strands—investigative learning and analysis, project-based experiential learning and the development of interpersonal skills. The platform records individual progress within content areas so students can deviate and veer into topics of interest and return to complete courses when it suits them. By offering this flexible approach, students are encouraged to explore concepts within their learning and develop individual agency.

Tech is the Way

As an online provider, Eddie is also keen to see students embrace the use of digital technology for learning, maintaining a key focus on digital literacy skills. In addition to core learning, Inventorium focuses on students’ ethical and responsible use of ICT, ensuring they understand the advantages and limitations of digital tools such as screen readers, ChatGPT and Grammarly. It also assists students in how to use these tools effectively to assist with the comprehension and communication of knowledge concepts and ideas.

We want students to evaluate the information they find on the internet,” she emphasizes, “to seek credible information for their learning, looking at the author’s motive, the publication date and the validity of different sources and formats.” Inventorium wants students to learn how to learn and how to be curious. For example, Eddie underscores, “If we can instill that in people, they will be lifelong learners, forever.”

Aiming For the Better

In terms of the future of EdTech and emerging trends, Eddie believes there is a lot to look forward to. Firstly, AI has opened up opportunities for some good, deep learning around plagiarism, critical thinking and ownership of ideas and expression. And, for people whose English is weaker, it levels the playing field a bit.

The next one is a really exciting trend for Eddie as she shares. It is the way technology or connection through technology is enabling a whole new level of political activism among students now. Students are much more aware of climate change and other world issues that they didn’t have access to previously, and they’re more politically aware and thinking more broadly.

Also, many have international friends through social media, so they get to learn about life in other countries. This also helps them grow with a whole new level of information available at their fingertips.

Eddie visions, “And then the big one, I think, is micro-credentials and alternative certification pathways.” Look at how the tech industry is creating its own certifications because it cannot get the education industry to adapt fast enough. She questions, “Can you imagine if the Imperial War Museum issued a certificate in World War II studies? They know more about it than anyone else.”

Pointing at another example, a natural history museum could offer a certificate in paleontology. “I’d love to see museums issue credentials,” she chuckles. And, libraries could issue credentials for handling data because they’re the experts. What technology can do is shift pockets of education and certification and micro-credentials, to the absolute areas of expertise.

The Next Step

Such a massive shift in the way education is accessed would require an equally broad change in the mindset of educators, but Eddie is optimistic that teachers would adapt. She emphasizes, “Instead of subject experts, we would have learning experts, helping students to navigate to the areas of interest and then helping them succeed in those.”

Goals Set the Path

On the subject of her own success as the leader of a flourishing EdTech company and within the EdTech industry, Eddie is more reticent. “I think it comes down to how you view success,” she says. “I have no other goal as a leader than to improve education opportunities as much as possible, for anyone who doesn’t benefit from the current models.”

For Inventorium, she would like to see the methodology and pedagogical approach adopted and adapted by other innovators within other countries and other contexts while developing further. She shares, “We’ve expanded our education offerings into vocational training and we’ve just submitted a proposal to create a fully-fledged online school, so we’re exploring new areas for growth.”

What’s Next

What’s more, her management philosophy is remarkably simple. “Let people play,” she states, matter-of-factly. Let the students play, yes, but also let the staff play. Because if the student is enjoying the experience of learning and the teacher is enjoying the experience of teaching, it’s only going to get better. The Inventorium is currently scaling up to enable all to access the skills and knowledge they require to build the future they aspire to.