An online learning tool launched in Chattanooga to help introduce more middle school students to careers in the science, math and technology fields has been acquired by North America's largest provider of digital curriculum for career and technical education courses.
The Learning Blade, which was developed by Chattanooga-based Thinking Media more than a decade ago and now operates in parts of nearly 40 states around the nation, is growing into even more schools since the teaching platform was purchased last December by eDynamic Learning.
With more than 100 careers and 400 lessons in the specific contexts of science, math, English and social studies included, Learning Blade provides supplemental online materials and student missions to help integrate science, technology, engineering and math into core courses or as a stand-alone program, often implemented during before- and after-school programs.
Chattanooga engineers Dane and Sheila Boyington developed Learning Blade as a way to help introduce and interest more students in STEM studies and careers that generally pay higher wages than most occupations yet still aren't attracting enough applicants, particularly among women and minorities. According to a National Association of Manufacturing and Deloitte report, the United States will have a shortage of up to 3.5 million STEM workers by 2025.
"By joining eDynamic Learning, more students and adults will have the ability to discover and better prepare for high-demand careers that align to their interests and meet the needs of the workforce," Sheila Boyington said in an announcement of the sale. "With this new relationship and our successful statewide strategy, we are excited to have more support allowing even more states and organizations to have access to these innovative tools."
Headquartered in British Columbia, Canada, eDynamic Learning also acquired the online job skills development program that Thinking Media launched last year known as Ready for Industry.
Designed for high school through adult learners, Ready for Industry contains five different 20-hour courses, each focused on a high-demand job in construction, advanced manufacturing, health care, logistics and information technology. Students complete one or more of the courses for the purpose of in-depth career preparation for internships or entry-level positions.
"Learning Blade and Ready for Industry offer impactful accompaniments to the tools and resources from eDynamic Learning on the mission to guide passion to purpose for students," Jerry Wooden, resident and CEO of eDynamic Learning, said in a news release about its latest acquisitions. "By reaching learners at pivotal stages of academic development and growth, they can begin to visualize and prepare for their futures and to ultimately enter the workforce ready with the necessary knowledge, skills, industry certifications, confidence and more."
The Boyingtons are continuing to work on Learning Blade and Ready for Industry for eDynamic Learning, which has rented the former Thinking Media office in Chattanooga, Sheila Boyington said.
The purchase of the Thinking Media platforms follows eDynamic Learning's purchase in November 2021 of Greenways Academy and its May 2021 acquisition of Knowlege Matters. The Knowledge Matters division is now the leading provider of simulation-based educational content, with more than one-third of all U.S. high schools using the Virtual Business line of simulations. Popular with career technical student organizations, Knowledge Matters' simulations are used in business, marketing, personal finance, fashion and hospitality classes.
From its start in Hamilton County in 2013, Learning Blade also has grown and gained state funding support in more than a dozen U.S. states that are paying to offer the online learning tool to all of its local schools. Across the nation, other schools and training programs are also using Learning Blade for middle school students and Ready for Industry for high school and adult learners.
Boyington and her husband, Dane Boyington, are both engineers and saw the need for better STEM training and career exposure for students at a younger age, she said.
"Dane and I both being engineers, we could see that there was a skills gap in STEM fields, and if we could show students in middle school the need and opportunities available in STEM careers more young people would get interested and pursue training in these fields," Sheila Boyington said in a telephone interview. "The No. 1 reason that students were not pursuing STEM and computer science careers was very simple — they didn't know about them."
Learning Blade grew out of an earlier venture the Boyingtons started in 1997 when they developed KeyTrain and CareerReady 101 as online programs that helped students prepare and perform better on college admission and academic achievement tests. KeyTrain improves basic work skills measured by ACT Inc.'s WorkKeys assessment system, developed by the Iowa-based company known for its standardized college tests.
In 2010, the Boyingtons sold the KeyTrain and Career Ready 101 programs they developed to the ACT WorkKeys Employment System, and Dane and Sheila Boyington joined ACT for the next couple of years.
But a decade ago, the Boyingtons decided to create Learning Blade to help offer interactive courses and mission-oriented games for middle school students to see how STEM fields are key to so many jobs and society needs. To aid in their efforts to convince schools to offer Learning Blade and later Ready for Industry, the Boyingtons turned to former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, whose two children had attended Big Ridge Elementary School at the same time as the Boyington's two daughters were there.
Wamp, who was chair of the Thinking Media board and also owned part of the company and the platforms that were sold to eDynamic Learning, said he was attracted to both the mission of Learning Blade and its founders.
While still in Congress in 2012, Wamp had made the closing speech on the U.S. House floor in support of the America Creating Opportunities for Manufacturing Pre-Eminence in Technology and Economic Strength Act, which provided federal aid to boost research, training and education in a number of STEM fields.
Wamp, who is the father of Hamilton County Mayor Weston Wamp and Hamilton County District Attorney Coty Wamp, used his political background to travel the nation and meet with governors and state officials to demonstrate the potential of the Learning Blade curriculum.
"I spent a lot of time traveling the country with Sheila and Dane, and I attribute the success of Learning Blade to their outright brilliance," Wamp said in a telephone interview. "They are two of the most honorable business people I have ever seen, and they complement each other so well. Dane is a great tech guy who developed some great programs, and Sheila is one of the best salespersons I have ever been around."
The Boyingtons and Wamp spoke on several occasions to the National Governors' Conference, talking about the need to introduce students to STEM opportunities and career information in their formative middle school years.
"Learning Blade gives kids an opportunity to really be exposed to and go into computer coding," Wamp said. "There were days when we literally saw kids weeping because they were doing so much better than they ever had done because they found something they really loved."