Digital learning: Swiss SME uses AI to transform education

An SME in Ticino is developing the learning of the future. Using digitalization and AI. 

The interactive simulations of Lifelike SA, combined with artificial intelligence, offer new forms of digital learning that seem to be an immediate way, if not the only way, to safeguard business continuity in the education sector, which has been severely impacted by the effects of the lockdown on all in-person teaching activities. Nonetheless, the company did not escape the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the current Credit Suisse study on SMEs, the CEO of this Swiss SME, Andrea Laus, illustrates the challenges his company faced last year.

Digital learning with Lifelike SA's simulations

Through the use of interactive videos and artificial intelligence, Lifelike SA, based in Chiasso, is a pioneering company worldwide in the field of digital learning and behavioral development. The standardized and bespoke simulations developed by the Ticino-based SME open new horizons in practicing relationship skills for employees in a company and are used specifically in both the corporate and, surprisingly, the health sector.

"New technologies are essential in this sector," states CEO Andrea Laus during the interview conducted as part of the current study on SMEs. "The pandemic has shown us two things: on the one hand, the importance of having doctors and nurses who are ever better prepared in the art of providing emotional support through conversations with their patients and, on the other hand, that, although it may sound drastic, traditional training methods that require classroom attendance are in dire straits.”

Back to the drawing board for this Swiss SME during COVID-19

Despite its focus on digital products, the company was equally affected by the consequences of the COVID-19 crisis and the lockdown. First, due to travel restrictions, regular personal contact with foreign customers who represent a large part of the SME’s customer portfolio has been lost. In addition, for several months in 2020, there was an interruption in video recordings, which are essential to create the product, and this delayed the delivery of many projects that had already been planned. “Customer uncertainty has also affected our company,” says its CEO. "Overnight, many customers suspended activities as they awaited certainty in the news to contain the general panic.” Many projects, even those already planned for a long time, were therefore suspended and rescheduled.

This obviously meant reworking the budget. “Since we are operating in the online sector, we knew that our solutions would still be the first to be re-implemented and therefore we didn’t need to panic,” explains the CEO. "And in fact, just in the last quarter of 2020 we saw a gradual recovery in demand. Of course, this situation has caused a lot of inconvenience but it is encouraging to see that we weren't wrong.” A sign that, in the medium term, the company can benefit from the changes brought about by the pandemic. Because, as Andrea Laus states: "We are entering an era in which remote meetings will increasingly become the norm and learning to have better conversations will be even more essential with less physical proximity. That’s our job: helping people communicate better. So, in hindsight, maybe our product will be even more useful than before.”

More efficient learning through digitalization

The CEO is optimistic about the future. Digital training courses will not completely replace in-person ones, but will complement them, says Andrea Laus. However, digital technologies, such as Lifelike SA's artificial intelligence-based learning simulations, make learning more efficient, both in schools and universities, and especially in continuing education in the corporate and healthcare sectors.

The company has defined two key points on which it wants to focus in the future for its main target market, the United States. “The first focus is training courses related to social inclusion,” explains the CEO. "This involves teaching people to overcome their own 'unconscious biases' – that is, unconscious wrong assumptions about other people and to do it through better conversations.” The second point of focus is the "managing without authority" area. In other words, when co-workers take on coordination tasks within teams while being at the same hierarchical level. "This situation requires excellent communication skills," emphasizes Andrea Laus.

The SME's lessons learned from the crisis

To successfully manage a crisis, an entrepreneur must be a little paranoid, says the CEO, and always think the worst while striving to achieve the best. "Also, they must never give up and must be able to foresee difficulties and pass on a sense of security to their employees."

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only brought challenges for Andrea Laus, but it has also allowed him to learn certain lessons. “First of all, you can work well even without the daily ritual of going to the office. And, second, there was no need for a pandemic to understand this.” The crisis gave him the opportunity to question deep-seated beliefs and try to follow new paths. History teaches us that we come out of dark periods even stronger, says Andrea Laus. "But to succeed, you need to have the strength, the courage, and the will to accept change."

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