Ardis Kadiu discusses the constant evolution of technology.
INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero
Ardis Kadiu is CEO and founder of Element451, an intelligent admissions marketing and CRM platform. The platform and company grew out of Ardis’s passion for creating solutions that empower admissions and enrollment teams to work more efficiently as they develop stronger, more personalized engagements with prospective students. “AI and great design are two of the most important ingredients at the core of any great user experience. Element451 is the most advanced CRM for higher education with built-in marketing automation, intelligent analytics, and an enhanced student experience,” says Ardis, who was at NYU Tandon School of Engineering for nearly ten years, as Adjunct Professor of Computer Science, Integrated Digital Media designer, and director of web and media services. In this EdTech Digest exclusive, he tells of what shaped his thinking, some inspiration from Ray Bradbury, what he thinks of higher education, of Raleigh, advice to startup founders, trends he’s particularly watching—and what’s ahead for technology in education.
You come from an engineering background and are a self-described “ai fanatic.” Tell our readers more about both and how they inform your current approach with the company/platform and your mission now.
My technical background has been a vital component of my journey, offering me a clear understanding of complex technology systems. Having roots in both creative disciplines and engineering, followed by an MBA, has provided me with a multifaceted view of technology and its relationship to human-centered design. I see technology not just as a tool but as an integral part of our lives, with the power to transform how we interact, communicate, work, and learn.
‘I see technology not just as a tool but as an integral part of our lives, with the power to transform how we interact, communicate, work, and learn.’
The combination of engineering’s analytical thinking and the empathetic approach of design thinking allows me to approach technology problems with a unique perspective. I see each challenge as an opportunity to devise solutions that are not only innovative but also deeply connected to the needs and preferences of the user. This holistic approach ensures that the solutions we develop at Element451 are not only viable in the market but also resonant with our user base.
AI, for me, represents an evolutionary leap in technology. It’s not just about automation or analytics; it’s about extending human potential and creating new ways for people to interact with the world. Generative AI, in particular, opens up incredible possibilities, allowing for more intuitive human-computer interaction and serving as a powerful reasoning engine.
My time as an instructor at New York University and as the director of web and media services at NYU have been profoundly influential in shaping my perspective on education technology. Working closely with admissions and leadership at NYU, I’ve seen first-hand how critical the student experience is to recruitment and success. The insights I gained from this experience were pivotal in recognizing the need for better tools to communicate and engage with students.
This realization led me to spend a considerable portion of my career at Element451, building and leading the development of advanced personalization engines and AI-powered features. It’s not just about creating smart technology; it’s about harnessing AI’s potential to make genuine, personalized connections between students and schools.
The mission of our platform is centered around forging better connections and building trust. We recognize that every individual’s educational journey is unique, and we strive to honor that uniqueness by creating personalized experiences. AI accelerates this by enabling a ‘segment of one,’ tailoring the engagement to each student’s needs, aspirations, and context.
Our goal is more than just connecting students with schools; it’s about empowering them to achieve their goals, enhancing the educational experience, and contributing to a brighter future for all. The blending of AI, exceptional design, and a profound understanding of human needs is not just a strategy for us – it’s our ethos, our commitment, and our path forward in transforming the field of higher education.
It’s all in a name, the name of your company is Element451, talk about this, its meaning and resonance.
The name ‘Element451’ carries with it a deep and symbolic resonance. It draws inspiration from Ray Bradbury’s iconic novel ‘Fahrenheit 451,’ where 451 degrees Fahrenheit is the temperature at which paper burns. This temperature isn’t just a physical measurement; it symbolizes a critical transformational point, a turning moment where the old gives way to the new.
In our context, the ‘451’ signifies the digital transformation that’s sweeping across all sectors, including education. It’s a nod to the shift from traditional paper-based methods to dynamic digital platforms and, further, into the intelligent, AI-driven future. It encapsulates the constant evolution of technology and the perpetual quest for innovation that defines our age.
The word ‘Element,’ on the other hand, embodies the idea of a fundamental, essential agent of change. It represents the driving force that catalyzes transformation, the essential component that facilitates growth, adaptation, and evolution. It’s not just about embracing new technologies; it’s about understanding how these technologies can be harnessed to create more meaningful, efficient, and personalized experiences.
Combining these two powerful concepts, ‘Element451’ reflects our mission and vision as a company. We are at the forefront of a significant shift in the way education engages with students, using cutting-edge technology like AI to enhance and personalize the experience. The name itself serves as a constant reminder of our commitment to innovation and our dedication to being a transformative force in the field of education technology.
In essence, ‘Element451’ is more than just a name; it’s a statement of purpose, a declaration of our belief in the power of technology to revolutionize the way we learn, teach, and connect. It’s a testament to our aspiration to be the catalyst that turns the page from the traditional to the futuristic, always aiming to inspire, engage, and empower.
The tech landscape and certainly higher ed landscape is shifting, some might even say—dramatically. What’s your take on the current state of change and what that means for what you are doing in the space?
Higher education is indeed one of the oldest and most resilient industries, and its core product – the degree – has remained fundamentally unchanged for decades, while its cost has gone up 3000%+. This historical constancy, however, is now facing an unprecedented challenge. The new generation of students, empowered by digital technology and shaped by consumer culture, has dramatically different expectations from education. They’re looking for timely, personalized, cost effective, and multimodal experiences akin to what they receive from platforms like Amazon or Netflix.
But the higher education system often finds itself struggling to meet these expectations. Whether it’s a talent shortage, a brain drain, or the burden of outdated technology, the challenges are real and significant. Institutions may find themselves trapped in legacy systems, unable to offer a unified view of student data or even to understand what’s working and what’s not. It’s a dissonance that risks widening the gap between educational institutions and their students.
Fortunately, the rapid advancement in technology, particularly in the field of AI, offers a path to bridge this gap. The ability to personalize marketing and communications, to provide a one-to-one experience – the ultimate segment of one – is no longer a distant dream but a reality we are doing now.
Platforms like Element451 are now able to collect and integrate all the relevant behavioral data, offering a comprehensive 360-degree view of the student. This consolidated perspective enables institutions to understand their students on a deeper, more individualized level.
AI’s role in this transformation cannot be overstated. With the incorporation of both predictive AI and Generative AI, we can automate personalization like never before. Large language models are the foundation we at Element451 are building on to deliver intelligent bots capable of conversing with students, providing answers and assistance comparable to a live agent. It’s not just an enhancement; it’s a revolution in how we engage with students.
This is just the beginning. As the technology matures and as higher education continues to evolve, the potential for further innovation is boundless. We are at a pivotal moment where we have the opportunity to redefine what higher education means.
‘This is just the beginning. As the technology matures and as higher education continues to evolve, the potential for further innovation is boundless. We are at a pivotal moment where we have the opportunity to redefine what higher education means.’
For Element451 and similar platforms, the current state of change is an invitation to lead, to innovate, and to be part of shaping a future where education is more accessible, more personalized, and more responsive to the needs and aspirations of its students. It’s an exciting time, filled with challenges, yes, but also with endless possibilities. The transformation from traditional to digital, and now to AI-driven, is not just a trend; it’s a new chapter in the ever-evolving story of education.
What’s it like working in Raleigh—even today, place has meaning. What’s it mean for you to be there talent wise, resource wise, meeting with others in person, etc.?
Raleigh, situated at the heart of what is known as the Research Triangle or RTP, represents a dynamic intersection of innovation, education, and growth. This vibrant ecosystem, aptly named for the triangle formed by three major research universities – Duke, UNC Chapel Hill, and NC State – has made Raleigh one of the fastest-growing technology hubs in the country.
What sets Raleigh apart is not just the concentration of technological advancement but also its deep connection to the field of education. North Carolina has one of the largest Community College systems in the country, with over 58 schools, many of which are proud partners of Element451. This unique confluence of higher education institutions and a thriving tech industry makes Raleigh the ideal environment for an EdTech company like ours.
The talent pool here is both dense and diverse. The presence of world-renowned universities ensures a constant influx of fresh perspectives and cutting-edge expertise, creating an atmosphere that is both intellectually stimulating and entrepreneurial.
Having spent more than 20 years in New York City, the bustling melting pot, I find Raleigh’s lifestyle a refreshing change of pace. While it retains the vibrancy and ambition of a major tech hub, it also offers a calmer, more balanced quality of life. The community feels more connected, and there’s a tangible sense of collaboration and camaraderie that permeates the professional landscape.
Being in Raleigh means more than just access to resources; it’s about being part of a community that shares our passion for education, technology, and innovation. The in-person interactions, community engagement, and local collaboration aren’t just logistical conveniences; they’re essential elements of our identity and mission as a company, including holding our annual conference, Engage Summit here.
In a world where place often seems to lose its meaning, Raleigh stands as a testament to the enduring significance of location. It’s not just where we are; it’s part of who we are, reflecting our values, our ambitions, and our commitment to building a future where technology and education are tightly connected.
Any advice to other startup founders working in education technology?
Educational technology is experiencing a renaissance. After periods of stagnation, the sector is surging forward, fueled by a combination of demanding consumers, emerging technologies like AI, and a renewed understanding of the profound impact that education can have on society.
My advice to other startup founders venturing into edtech would be built around these three core insights:
- Embrace the Mission: Education is inherently mission-driven. It’s not just about developing a product or service; it’s about contributing to the growth and empowerment of individuals and communities. You need to love what you do and believe in its importance. The financial upside may not be the largest, but the emotional and societal rewards can be deeply fulfilling. Building something that has the potential to change lives, to inspire learning, and to open doors – that’s a noble and exciting pursuit.
- Understand Your Consumer: Today’s students and educators are not passive recipients; they are informed, demanding, and fully aware of what technology can offer. They expect solutions that are timely, personalized, and efficient. As a founder, your success will hinge on your ability to understand these expectations and deliver experiences that are as engaging as they are effective. Think of them not just as users but as partners in the educational journey.
- Innovate with Purpose: The growth of AI and other emerging technologies presents a vast landscape of opportunities. But innovation in edtech should be driven by genuine needs, not just the allure of the latest trend. Ask yourself how technology can enhance learning, how it can make education more accessible, more relevant, and more engaging. Innovate with a purpose, with a clear vision of how your product or service can make a tangible difference.
- Build for the Long Term: Education is not a field for quick wins. It requires patience, perseverance, and a long-term commitment. Whether it’s navigating regulatory landscapes or building trust with educational institutions, success in edtech often comes to those who are willing to invest the time and effort to truly understand and serve the needs of the educational community.
Working in edtech is both a challenge and a privilege. It’s an opportunity to be part of something larger than oneself, to contribute to a cause that resonates with fundamental human values. It’s not always an easy path, but for those who are passionate about education and committed to leveraging technology for good, it can be a remarkably rewarding journey.
Any trends you are keeping a careful eye on? Which ones and why those?
Generative AI: Generative AI has been a transformative force in the technology landscape, and I’ve been living and breathing it for the past year. The potential of this technology to revolutionize the way we approach content generation, human-computer interaction, and even education itself is immense. We are actively educating our teams, partner and the industry on using new AI tools like ChatGPT and Bard for various content applications. Prompt engineering has opened up new frontiers, and we’re developing courses and training content to enable more people to harness this technology. What excites me most about Generative AI is its capacity to redefine creativity, efficiency, and personalization in ways we are only beginning to explore.
Chatbots or AI Bots: The rise of chatbots and AI bots as key interfaces for student interaction marks a significant shift in the way education communicates and engages. The traditional model of logging into multiple portals is giving way to seamless, conversational experiences. Students are increasingly expecting interactions that are as fluid and intuitive as speaking with a human, and AI-powered bots are stepping up to meet that demand. This trend is vital to us as it promises to enhance student support, streamline communication, and essentially restructure legacy student success technologies.
The Talent Gap: The widening talent gap in higher education and the pressures of shrinking budgets are forging a critical need for efficiency and productivity gains. It’s a complex issue that’s reshaping the very fabric of the educational workforce. AI-driven copilots and automation tools are emerging as innovative solutions to this problem, enabling higher efficiency with fewer resources. We’re actively developing solutions like AI-driven marketing campaign builders that enable complex tasks to be completed in seconds through conversational interfaces. This trend is about more than just technology; it’s about building a more resilient, responsive, and resourceful educational ecosystem that can thrive in the face of changing demographics and economic realities.
What are your thoughts on the future of technology in education—what’s coming, what’s of interest?
The future of technology in education, particularly the vision of personalized 1-to-1 learning, is an exhilarating prospect that is becoming increasingly attainable. While the traditional model of one teacher to one student may seem unrealistic, technology is bridging this gap, making personalized education not only possible but accessible.
The impact of this technological revolution may be most pronounced in K-12 education. By addressing learning disparities early in a student’s educational journey, we can prevent the gaps that often manifest later in higher education. Technology’s potential to offer each student a personal tutor or teacher can change the dynamics of learning, fostering individualized growth and development.
Innovative organizations like Khan Academy, with their AI tutors, and philanthropic efforts like those from the Gates Foundation are leading the charge in this area. By funding and supporting initiatives that bring technology into early education, they are helping to create a more equitable and effective educational landscape. The promise of a tailored educational experience for every student is within reach, and technology is the key to unlocking that potential.
Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: firstname.lastname@example.org