Going back to school: how has 2020 forever changed the online proctoring landscape and what’s to expect next?

ProctorExam’s CEO, Daniel Haven, takes some time to reflect on how 2020 forever changed the online learning and online proctoring landscapes. He shares his thoughts on what can be expected for online education in the future and how ProctorExam is growing to support worldwide access to certification from home. 

Exactly a year ago, and a lifetime away from COVID-19, our board member LeRoy Pingho, our COO Alice Niezborala and I sat at a hotel terrace, overlooking the Boerenwetering Canal in Amsterdam. LeRoy flew in from the United States for the usual day and half of strategy meetings (back in the days when day and a half transcontinental trips were actually possible!) and we were concluding our sessions with a discussion on priorities and what we needed to accomplish. 

Online proctoring was still very innovative back in January 2020

We had a quandary - one that is not unfamiliar with start-ups, but one that we had to solve. We knew we had a good product but we were not seeing our way clearly to profitability. What we knew then, as we do now, is that we had built a platform that could meet the needs of this growing sector. Our discussions focused us on three tight priorities:
  • “Close the Gap”: we needed to get to break-even quickly;
  • Hardening our operations and growing our technology capabilities; and,
  • Never, ever, losing sight of our strong commitment to mission: making education and certification more accessible. 
Over the past 6 years, we have had more than our fair share of challenges. In the early days of starting ProctorExam, we were getting increasing media coverage as we were trying to accomplish something that just didn’t exist in European education. We were winning startup prizes because it was new, innovative and addressed a need that was easy to understand. In hindsight, we learned the hard way that winning innovation prizes usually means you are part of some cool futuristic 5-year plan but nowhere near being a priority that convinced customers to want to use or pay for our product.

We left our breakfast at the hotel terrace - Alice and I heading back to the office, and LeRoy getting on an airplane back to the US - committed but fully clear about the energy that it would take to meet our ambitious goals. The management team, the investors and most importantly, our team got behind our plan, and now we can congratulate ourselves for a plan well executed. By January of this year, we had met our goals, not knowing that we would be tested again in just a couple of months. 

Going into hyper growth within a few days

In March 2020, 8 months into our growth plan and what was to be the beginning of a global pandemic, it became clear that this was not just another year.

The lockdown enforced in many countries around the world to fight against the pandemic forced universities and certification centres to adapt very quickly to the situation. The exams period was coming fast and they all needed to find a way to allow their students to take their exams and get certified at the risk of losing their year. This is when they all started to search for two solutions: 1. Allowing their students to take their exams online; and, 2. Making sure said exams were being proctored to identify integrity inconsistencies which might indicate possible misconduct.

To give you a sense of how this crisis has impacted our business, here is how COVID-19 has impacted us over the past months: 
  • We grew our client list from 43 to 136 clients (+316%!)
  • Our team grew from 7 people to 17 people (+242%)
  • The total number of exams grew by 6,400%
This kind of hypergrowth is very rare for a startup, and is both a blessing and a curse. All of our teams were fighting hard to deliver the best service possible while dealing with the stresses of growth: from product development to customer support, and even including sales. Instead of throwing away the growth plans we had signed on, we decided to hang on and reinforce them by:
  • Investing in building up our current team members and hiring key dedicated team members and technology experts;
  • Increasing our human proctoring capacity in India and the US and unlocking European proctoring hubs through our partner-network;
  • Increasing quality assurance within our proctoring teams;
  • Accepting a key partnership that has enabled ProctorExam to get started with an AI product;
  • Exploring growth-enabling funding and partnership opportunities. 

What’s next for online education and online proctoring now?

Fortunately enough, thanks to our strong dedicated team and very clearly defined objectives, we successfully passed this critical milestone. This hypergrowth helped us gain a critical amount of users that informed our product development roadmap and we also gained a lot of insights into the industry and our customers' needs, both public and private.

While enjoying well deserved holidays during the summer, we had time to take a step back to envision what will likely happen to the online education sector in the next few months: 
  • Stricter data security and privacy regulations. An example is the annulment by the European High court of the US-EU data treaty.
  • Increasing need for multi-language proctoring to make online education more accessible.
  • Wider and more prevalent usage, resulting in increasing volumes and the need for more innovative capabilities.
These three trends will continue to shape the online education and proctoring landscape, and we are preparing our products and services to meet these new needs and expectations of a fast-paced sector.

ProctorExam still believes education for all and anywhere should be a #1 priority for growing the worldwide economies. We look forward to participating in shaping this incredible future with our customers, partners and team members. 
We celebrated World Literacy Day on Sept 8th and shared why we think online proctoring is instrumental to guaranteeing worldwide access to education.