Mom’s Choice Awards is excited to announce another post in our interview series where we chat with the inventors, designers, publishers, and others behind some of our favorite family-friendly products.
Hello, Mom’s Choice readers! Thank you for joining us today for another installment in our ongoing interview series! For this interview, we were able to sit down with Helen Thomas, Chief Executive Officer of DMAI, Inc., a global general artificial intelligence company. DMAI, Inc. is the company behind the Mom’s Choice Award-Winning Animal Island Learning Adventure(AILA) Preschool Learning System YouTube Channel, as well as the AILA Sit & Play and the AILA 250 Words Book! DMAI, Inc. DBA Animal Island Learning Adventure, the next-generation cognitive AI education technology company, is bridging the gap to more accessible and affordable early childhood education by offering its engaging original content as a free virtual preschool via YouTube. Keep reading to find out more about Helen Thomas and her company’s award-winning Animal Island Learning Adventure Preschool Learning System YouTube Channel!
MCA: Hi, Helen! Thank you so much for taking the time to sit down and talk with us today! Congratulations on all the success your company has seen so far! Animal Island Learning Adventure is so much fun and interactive and just an amazing concept overall. I’d first like to start the interview by having you tell us a little bit about yourself!
Helen: Growing up, I was raised by my grandparents amid China’s Cultural Revolution, this made a huge impact in pushing me to break stereotypes and glass ceilings. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to receive my education at the Renmin University of China and the University of California Berkeley, Haas School of Business. Throughout my career, I held senior positions at multiple companies before creating Animal Island Learning Adventure (AILA) – all while raising two children.
At the beginning of my career, I held the position of CEO at LeapFrog China, where I helped the company grow from a small technology-based education toy company into the global player in the Asia-Pacific business landscape that we all know today. Following LeapFrog, I served as the SVP of Livescribe – where I was the only female and minority senior staff member, and helped the company grow worldwide sales from $0 to $50 million in just three years. Along the way I also cofounded Touchjet, launching three collaborative communication projects for B2B and B2C markets.
Throughout my 27-year career, I never forgot where I came from and how I was raised. Along with running my business, I provide my expertise as Executive Director of a non-profit organization that promotes trades, cultural developments, and entrepreneurship between the San Francisco Bay Area and Greater China called China SF.
MCA: Thank you for sharing that with us, you have achieved a lot during your career! Tell us about the creation of the Animal Island Learning Adventure (AILA) Preschool Learning System YouTube Channel.
Helen: In March 2020, the nation’s daycares and preschools were shuttered by the pandemic. As a result of social distancing protocols, the early childhood sector was devastated, with low-income children and children of color disproportionately affected. With the societal issue of early childhood education mired in deep uncertainty, our team of engineers, computer scientists, and content creators built a safe place for early learners to discover the magical world of learning: a virtual preschool learning system called Animal Island Learning Adventure.
We knew that we needed a relatively affordable educational solution for children and their families that delivers the right content at the right time, but we also recognized that not all families are able to afford the cost. For this reason, we decided to offer high-quality learning content, featured on our AILA Sit & Play, available on our YouTube channel at no cost.
The comprehensive library of educational content offers toddlers an opportunity to sing-along with Mr. Frog, read stories with Mr. Goose, dance, and learn their ABCs, 123s, colors, shapes, words, and more.
MCA: How is AI the key to uplifting humanity and setting our youngest generation up for success well beyond the years of their childhood? How does this philosophy tie into your company’s mission?
Helen: DMAI, Inc. is the next-generation cognitive AI technology company that develops education platforms to deliver the right content at the right time. AI is the key to effectively improving the lives of all children, and families, by delivering high-quality educational content unique to each child in a way that is engaging, attentive, supportive, and responsive. In addition, our mission at DMAI is to develop cognitive AI that makes connections to individuals.
At DMAI, we developed a virtual curriculum that progresses like an average preschool day. This intentionally helps set children up for success within their first classroom, and throughout the rest of their educational career. Children participate in sing-alongs, learn a “letter of the day,” review numbers/shapes/colors, dance, and listen to stories read by Mr. Goose, Animal Island’s friendly teacher. To ensure each lesson is authentic, our intelligent software (the teacher behind the scenes) delivers a curriculum using spiral, or mastery, learning. This pedagogical strategy promotes deep learning, enrichment, and exposure to a broad range of learning fundamentals.
We will continue these efforts moving forward because we believe the most inspiring innovation is a generation of learners who solve problems through critical thinking and creativity. From the beginning, our mission to lift humanity through cognitive AI platforms has guided us, and the team at DMAI Animal Island Learning Adventure (AILA) has remained steadfast in our pursuit of education for the greater good.
MCA: That’s a philosophy Mom’s Choice can definitely get behind! How does Animal Island Learning Adventure (AILA) bridge the gap to more accessible and affordable early childhood education?
Helen: Animal Island Learning Adventure (AILA) continues to advance the quality and accessibility of early childhood education by bringing together, in a toddler-friendly device, an original series of learning adventures powered by next-generation cognitive AI. Noting learning patterns busy moms or dads might miss, our AI tailors educational content to best meet the developmental and cognitive needs of younger children. This is an unparalleled level of educational resources and support for early learners.
Affordability is key to ensuring all toddlers have an equal opportunity to jumpstart their educational journey. Throughout the lifetime of our AILA Sit & Play, the device, which operates as a cloud-based system, will continually receive updates with new content and populate with more advanced features as they’re released by our team, without a monthly subscription fee or ads. The device is truly a one-time expense to parents and caretakers, but a potentially lifechanging investment for their child.
Even so, not all families are able to afford the cost of our device, and we believe all children should deserve an equal chance at education – this is the reason we also made AILA accessible for free on our YouTube channel. There are over five thousand episodes for children, parents and preschool teachers.
MCA: The Animal Island Learning Adventure (AILA) Sit & Play is a hands-free, worry-free all-in-one intelligent monitor and edutainment system for toddlers and their families. How does AILA Sit & Play stand alone in the early education market?
Helen: The AILA preschool learning system stands alone in the early education market because it adapts to the needs of each individual child, much like a master teacher would do in an in-person classroom. Our hardware, software, and content have a singular focus: introducing preschool fundamentals to early learners in ways they will find engaging, fun, and enriching. As children continue their cognitive development, our AI technology recognizes they are ready to hone more complex skills and delivers lessons that pushes them to new levels. In addition, our flashcards, storybooks, picture dictionary, and posters help children connect what they learn on the device to the world around them. With these resources, early learners gain confidence while boosting kindergarten readiness.
One of the biggest rewards since this line of work are the successes our young learners. My heart is warmed by the first-hand experiences, including young children who were once diagnosed as “non-verbal” speaking their first words after using our system systematically.
MCA: What kind of feedback have you received about the AILA Preschool Learning System YouTube Channel?
Helen: During the pandemic, many parents and families turned to us as daycares and preschools were closed. This exceptional access to free high-quality educational content on our YouTube channel has been enthusiastically received. AILA’s YouTube channel currently has over 5.5K Preschool learning sessions –over the past year, our AILA YouTube channel has received over 3M views, 8.4M total impressions and a 207% year-over-year subscriber increase as of August 2021. These numbers signal the importance of free, high-quality educational content for children and their families, in which we strive to achieve.
We will continue providing educational content on our YouTube so that all children to have an equal opportunity at early education that is accessible and affordable.
MCA: What is next for Animal Island Learning Adventure?
Helen: Our team of engineers, computer scientists, educators, and content creators will continue to deliver high-quality educational content to early learners through curriculum and character updates. We’re also mid-release of a software update, referred to as “Play & Learn,” which enables interactive learning formats on the AILA Sit & Play device and expands the learning potential for children up to the age of 5. Through the expansion of our product breadth and age range, we welcome the opportunity to help more children from all backgrounds best prepare for success in school and life.
We also have big plans underway for the future; our team is finalizing an iOS application, which will release early 2022. Through our iOS app, children will gain access to a robust learning platform, similar to the content offered on our tablet but iPad and iPhone compatible. Also in development is AILA GO, a household social robot that provides life-long learning for families.
MCA: That is all very exciting, please keep us posted!
You can learn more about Helen Thomas and her award-winning product, Animal Island Learning Adventure by visiting her MCA Shop pages.