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From the team at the Alibaba Cloud Research Center.
Earlier this year, the Chinese Ministry of Education delayed the start of the spring semester twice, calling for a "Classes Suspended but Learning Continues" Initiative. Following this, education authorities across the country immediately issued a suspension of offline instruction, calling for private and public institutions to seek online learning solutions.
In response to the Initiative, VIPKid, China's leading online education company, launched the "Spring Seedling Plan," which is a plan that pledged to provide free online spring courses for children throughout China whose schools were no longer open. A total of 1.5 million free subscriptions were offered, with children in Hubei Province and the children of frontline medical workers given the highest priority. In addition, VIPKid opened up its own online live streaming teaching platform and technologies for schools and institutions across the country to be free of charge. This allows teachers to easily create online classrooms and conduct lessons without having to leave home.
These VIPKid online courses are likely to be made available as live streams on a variety of media channels in China in the future. These platform includes Youku, Xinhua News, and Xuexi.cn. VIPKid has gathered a large team of high-quality teachers and is actively scaling up its online live streaming system. A large number of head teachers have already prepared their lessons. Alibaba Cloud was quick to work with VIPKid to help scale up its system and smoothly deliver high-quality classes.
During the outbreak, the surge in demand for many types of online services greatly increased the load on the live streaming system. However, VPIKid's online classrooms are always smooth and provide a greater user experience. But how did they accomplish this?
VIPKid's business model is to connect Chinese children and North American teachers over the Internet and enable native North American teachers to teach children on a one-on-one basis. VIPKid has more than 80,000 registered teachers based in North America and over 700,000 paying students. It is currently the largest enterprise of its kind in the Chinese one-on-one online youth English teaching market.
For online education companies, network stability has a decisive impact on user experience. In VIPKid's one-on-one teaching model, classes are more teaching-intensive, and require a relatively high level of network quality. However, since many teachers are located in North America while the students are located in China, the natural geographic distance between them poses several great challenges to network stability and latency.
In order to optimize the user experience, VIPKid evaluates the operating quality of online classrooms by evaluating the class completion rate. VIPKid promises that, if network lag occurs several times during the teaching process, the teacher can choose to end the course. The platform will pay normal class hour fees to the teacher and compensate the student for the corresponding class hours.
Although teachers and students are separated by the Pacific Ocean, Cloud Enterprise Networks provided by Alibaba Cloud can set up an express connection between service nodes in China and outside China.
Through this solution, Alibaba Cloud's distributed and backbone network capabilities in core data centers helped VIPKid to implement global network interconnection and optimization. And, with the additional help of network providers and node networks in China and outside China, VIPKid was able to increase its coverage of edge nodes in China and the coverage of nodes in North America. Using Alibaba Cloud's "edge-center" route optimization technology, VIPKid is able to optimize the quality of back-to-origin networks. In addition, Alibaba Cloud's content delivery network (CDN) solution has allowed VIPKid to optimize end-to-end scenarios throughout the full pipeline.
"Based on the network reliability assurance provided by Alibaba Cloud, VIPKid can achieve the interactive communication of teacher and students in full HD video through smooth and stable networks with guaranteed information security. In an environment where up to 35,000 concurrent classes are all live in real time, network latency kept at less than 200 milliseconds, our class completion rate was increased to 99.5%, and network quality complaints were reduced to less than 1%," said Zheng Zibin, Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of VIPKid.
Assuming, conservatively, that 100,000 classes are conducted every day, this solution has reduced the number of lost classes from roughly 3,000 classes down to only 500. Now, if that's true, what that means is that, with 2,500 classes every day at 200 Chinese yuan (around 30 dollars) per class for 365 days a year, that's 182.5 million Chinese yuan (or about 25 million dollars).
Alibaba Cloud has helped VIPKid improve the stability and class completion rate of its online classrooms, which are the most critical factors for the business, helping VIPKid usher in sustained rapid development.
According to the data in the 2018 Chinese Online Youth English Education White Paper published by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, VIPKid is the market leader, with a market share of 67.2%. In 2019, the number of VIPKid students again saw a huge growth. To date, the number of paying students has exceeded 700,000. This is further evidence of VIPKid's competitive advantage in their respective market.
VIPKid defined 2019 as the "Year of Quality." During this year, the company further increased its investment in existing technologies, teaching research, products, and services.
This year, Alibaba Cloud has continued to use multiple pioneering methods to continuously optimize the network quality of VIPKid's education platform.
VIPKid decided to migrate its big data system to Alibaba Cloud first and then gradually migrate related systems, such as the course selection system for students and the teacher and student management system.
During the migration process, Alibaba Cloud Realtime Compute helped the VIPKid team resolve various difficulties in data extraction, transformation, and loading (ETL). It also enabled the system to accurately display students' course selection and attendance information in real time. This also allowed VIPKid to observe popular courses and available teachers in real time, facilitating several subsequent fine-grained adjustments and optimizations.
The real-time monitoring and alerting features of Realtime Compute allowed VIPKid to quickly pinpoint and diagnose problems and efficiently eliminate and rectify them, ensuring the availability of normal service operations.
A variety of PaaS services provided by Alibaba Cloud help VIPKid simplify the O&M pipeline and reduce operating costs. For example, Log Service simplified the query, analysis, and management of logs, which reduced O&M costs. The mobile development mid-end built based on Alibaba Cloud's Enterprise Mobile Application Studio (EMAS) simplified mobile development and reduces the associated costs.
While enhancing its main business line, VIPKid is also continuously exploring the future of online education. At the Apsara Conference 2019, Zheng Zibin, the CTO of VIPKid, delivered a speech entitled New Education Era with AI. In it, he pointed out that online education is about to enter the AI era, which will be characterized by better, more individualized teaching.
In the AI era, AI robots will not only provide intelligent customer services and automatically convert online classes into audio for students to review, but also perform intelligent detection services.
VIPKid hopes that, in online classroom scenarios, AI robots can analyze the video and audio files of teachers and students and evaluate class quality based on its content. In read-after-me scenarios or key dialogue modules, VIPKid also hopes that AI robots can give scores based on the English pronunciation, accuracy, and fluency of the students.
Such scores will encourage students to practice after class. In the long run, evaluation score charts can be provided to show parents how their children are progressing in a clear, calculated and objective fashion.
AI + education is an important area for exploration in the online education industry. Alibaba Cloud and the DAMO Academy have jointly invested in their atomic AI capabilities. In particular, Alibaba Cloud provides the following AI capability solutions: speech synthesis, speech recognition, content security, machine translation, and intelligent quality inspection.
At VIPKid, thanks to the capabilities provided by Alibaba Cloud, the accuracy of automatic course quality detection was improved significantly, with the detection of the content, time points, and instances of encouraging words spoken by teachers having attained an accuracy of 90%, and the detection of the speech rate of teachers exceeding 90%.
In the past, VIPKid reviewed the quality of online courses mainly through manual sampling and inspection. Now, its degree of automation has been greatly improved. I believed that with the joint efforts of both parties, 100% automatic detection will be achieved in the future, and the AI era of online education will truly arrive.
Alibaba Cloud has improved network quality and enhances the main business line, answering VIPKid's core demands. In online education, a very high network quality is required in interactive teaching scenarios. The company's core business metric, class completion rate, is highly influenced by network fluctuations. If a class is ended due to low network quality, the platform will pay the normal class hour fees to the teacher and compensate the student. Therefore, improving the network quality helps VIPKid save hundreds of millions of Chinese Yuan (about 14 million dollars), which increases its profits.
Alibaba Cloud optimizes the business architecture and unitizes services: With a variety of PaaS products, Alibaba Cloud has optimized the system architecture, simplified the O&M pipeline, and reduced operating costs for VIPKid. Stability and reliability are VIPKid's core concerns. VIPKid has always been impressed by Alibaba Group's service unitization capability and is now gradually implementing service unitization through tools and solutions provided by Alibaba Cloud.
Alibaba Cloud provides atomic AI capabilities to accelerate team innovation: The key to AI + education is to empower the education industry by using AI technologies. Essentially, AI is used to perform and assist in education work. This is also an important area for development and exploration in the online education industry. Alibaba Cloud empowers VIPKid by providing corresponding atomic AI capabilities so that VIPKid can focus more on business innovation based on AI scenarios and retain its leadership of the industry.
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