C-Learning wants to connect classrooms with the power of the cloud

Over the last five years, C-Learning has developed into one of the leading specialists on Cloud Learning Services based around the use of G Suite for Education and Google Chromebooks within the primary, secondary and FE education market. At Bett 2017, it's looking to spread the word about its cloud-first approach to education and what it can bring to schools and colleges.

The company launched in 2011, after a three-year research project with the Independent Schools Association focused on IT services within independent schools. At the time, small independents were looking for new approaches to support teaching and learning, but needed something extremely cost-effective, that required little or no on-site equipment and that could operate with minimal on-site support. Founder and Managing Director, Ian Nairn, led a team that looked at a range of different learning platforms, including products from Microsoft and Google before deciding, in Nairn's words, "that the set of services that most closely fitted the needs and aspirations of those schools was Google Apps for Education".

However, while schools were interested in exploring the potential of Google's cloud-based services, they still expressed a need for help in deployment, training and support. In response, Nairn and his team formed C-Learning as a cloud learning solutions and services business focused on the delivery of apps, training to make the most of them and - ultimately - the devices used to access them. When Chromebooks debuted in the UK in 2011, C-Learning became one of the first Google partners to sell them.

cloud technology for education

"We made a couple of decisions early on," says Nairn, "and one was that we would just deal with schools and colleges; we're a pure education business." C-Learning has resisted the temptation to move into other markets, like business or local government, because "we decided to go very deep, in terms of our expertise, and remain very focused. We're very much a networked partner business. We're very good at what we do. We don't do lots of things - we don't do the provision of internet or the provision of Wi-Fi or provide print - but in all the things we don't do, there's room for other partners to work alongside us. Whereas the things we do, we get people coming along to us and saying 'you've got great experience in this area, can you help us with this?'''

For Nairn, it's this depth of education-specific expertise that has become C-Learning's key strength; its experience makes it easy to relate new customers and their needs to those of existing customers, and even put schools and colleges in touch with similar customers who have had the same requirements and been through the same transformations.

"We've spent nearly 10 years working with schools and colleges, and we know them," says Nairn. "We know the people and we can connect one headteacher with another headteacher and say 'don't talk to me, don't talk to Google, just go and talk to a fellow headteacher, because you'll believe what they say.'" This approach has also won C-Learning business through referrals and a strong reputation, which sees its Bett presence buzzing with interest every year.

Showcasing cloud-first

This year, C-Learning isn't focusing on products as much as on the whole philosophy of the cloud-first mindset. In terms of cloud take-up, Nairn feels that the UK and Europe lag behind the US, where 67% of schools fully or partially consume IT services through the cloud - a figure that's expected to rise to 74% in the next two years.

Nairn wants to see more schools and colleges reducing their dependence on on-premise technology and focusing on the cloud instead. "Normal market tipping points are between 15 and 20% - the point at which everyone knows someone who's made the move. From the point of view of schools and colleges in the UK going down the cloud route, we're not far away from that."

"We have a story to tell, which says that if you're a headteacher in a school or college, then you need to be thinking cloud-first," says Nairn. Why? First, he feels it's important that young people get to grips with cloud-based services, arguing that they "need to be ready with a set of skills around collaboration and communication, about team-working, problem-solving and critical thinking... you can't have a situation where they go through school or college not using these tools."

Second, he believes that the cloud is where the real innovation is happening, giving schools in challenging areas opportunity to improve their numeracy and literacy levels and outstanding schools the chance to drive attainment further.

"There are now great resources and evidence on how to use Chromebooks, G Suite and products like Read&Write from Texthelp - cloud-based products that in 12 months can take your students, especially boys, from below the national average to above the national average," he explains.

That's partly why C-Learning is so keen to reach out to headteachers and the senior leadership team at this year's Bett. "They cannot delegate the decision-making on IT to network managers and ICT co-ordinators," Nairn says. "It's too important for the school or college." In this respect, C-Learning hopes to provide more schools and colleges with a trusted source of advice on how to move cloud-wards.

And what's important about Bett to C-Learning? "It's to do with the relationships we have with our partners," Nairn explains. "We want to make sure we're supporting them at Bett because they support us throughout the entire year... With HP specifically, it's all about the cloud and Chrome, VR and immersive education, like the HP Sprout."

"These companies are important," he believes, "because they have the reach and research to invest in these technologies ahead of the curve. For a company like C-Learning, as a cloud-learning architect and solutions provider, it's vital that we look down the track towards 2018, 2019 and beyond, because otherwise why should schools and colleges come to us to help them plan for their future?"

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Stuart Andrews

Stuart has been writing about technology for over 25 years, focusing on PC hardware, enterprise technology, education tech, cloud services and video games. Along the way he’s worked extensively with Windows, MacOS, Linux, Android and Chrome OS devices, and tested everything from laptops to laser printers, graphics cards to gaming headsets.

He’s then written about all this stuff – and more – for outlets, including PC Pro, IT Pro, Expert Reviews and The Sunday Times. He’s also written and edited books on Windows, video games and Scratch programming for younger coders. When he’s not fiddling with tech or playing games, you’ll find him working in the garden, walking, reading or watching films.

You can follow Stuart on Twitter at @SATAndrews