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‘Don’t let the bigger picture overwhelm you”: A chat with Devni Wanigaarachchi

Updated: Oct 17, 2023

Melbourne Learning Studio (MLS) is a learning-based service providing personalised English language and Mathematics tutoring programmes for primary, secondary and senior school students in Melbourne, Australia.

Founded by Sri Lankan Devni Wanigaarachchi, the service has evolved into an essential service for Melbourne school students.

Devni, the key instructor at MLS, is currently the CEO at Speaker Global (Pvt.) Ltd., a Sri Lankan based public speaking training company, and Founder of Outreach charitable initiative, Sri Lanka. Devni is a driven entrepreneur and educationalist, and we spoke with her about her latest venture.

What inspired you to launch a learning-based service such as Melbourne Learning Studio?

I left Sri Lanka in 2019 right after my A/Ls to study in Melbourne. During my stay in Melbourne, I used to work as a part-time STEM tutor in different firms. I was able to get good exposure towards tutoring and I absolutely loved what I was doing outside of my university workload.

I loved going to the institutes I worked for, and really enjoyed my time teaching; however, in March 2020 everything changed. When Covid-19 hit, I had to work from home and tutor the kids. At first, I thought it would be good, as it’s very convenient for me. But I remember, right after I conducted my first online tutorial for a group of Year 1 kids, I told my mother that this isn’t working.

The kids who embraced me and had fun in the centre didn’t respond the same way online. It was very difficult to keep them focused and engaged throughout the lesson. Gradually, I saw most kids losing their enthusiasm because of the lack of collaboration happening online.

Initially, I tried convincing myself that this situation will be over in two to three months and we will be back working in classrooms. Five months down the line I realised that this is a situation that’s going to remain for a while and that the kids needed a better approach. This is when I realised something had to change.

I had many plans in mind to get my children engaged. I started to come up with simple strategies to establish my own venture where my primary focus is to give engaging, quality and personalised tutoring programmes for school students. I wanted to come up with a system where I could guarantee that no child gets left behind.

Whether the child is six months behind or six months ahead of their curriculum, whether the child can easily forget concepts and doesn’t like studying at all or whether they won’t collaborate well in online learning environments, I wanted to build a platform which could cater study plans for each and every type of student. This is how I came up with the idea of an online based learning platform.

What has it been like growing a personalised education service from the ground up?

At first, my aim was to build credibility in the industry. I didn’t have a brand name back then. I just simply told my close friends and family that I was available to tutor. Eventually, I got my first student.

I was charging the lowest rates for a 150% effort. My job was to teach English to a Vietnamese girl. Through referrals I started expanding. By December 2021, I had around 30 students learning English and Mathematics, and preparing for exams with me. This is when I thought I have to launch my own tutoring business.

MLS provides comprehensive and affordable private lessons with 80% success rates; how have you procured the resources necessary to offer your results?

The primary focus of MLS is to measure the progress of students on a weekly, monthly, and a quarterly basis. We work on a learning management system, which has been extremely effective when giving online study material access to our students.

We function as a mini-online school. We provide all necessary study materials to students and provide online monthly quizzes and reports to measure their level of understanding in each subject.

The process of getting the study materials together and creating the base of the system took me around 10-11 months. It was a very long and a difficult journey as I was doing it all by myself.

However, as we have worked to build a strong system, now our workload flows very smoothly among our administrative coordinators and myself – no matter how many new enrolments we get on a daily basis.

What are the benefits of joining MLS as opposed to school learning and other online services?

Some students fall behind in schools and although the school provides them with performance indicators, parents often find it tough to follow through with it. Especially in Melbourne, most parents are full-time workers.

I have built a system in MLS where parents have to spend less time doing homework with their kids, and instead let the kids explore homework activities on their own. When our students work on their homework activities, our learning management system ensures quality support throughout the tasks.

There is an emphasis on personalised learning, how important is it that a learning tool caters to a student’s individual needs?

Each student comes from different social, emotional, and academic backgrounds. As teachers, we need to understand it and make study plans for them accordingly. What often happens is, teachers make the same study plan for all the students and some students are eventually left behind.

This is why I thought of taking a different approach at MLS with the study plans. After the initial consultation of my students, I ensure that I show the academic path of the child clearly to the parents and the efforts the child has to put to reach their best potential. Some students require more worksheets and practice questions, some need a little bit of motivation, some students need help with overcoming the gaps in knowledge and some little kids simply need more attention, love, and care to stay on track with their studies. So we provide necessary support to these students by creating a personalised portal on our online learning management system.

Who is your target demographic, and how about some tips and tricks to using your service?

Our target demography is the Australian community. I always tell my students, when each tutoring session is over – complete your homework, revise through your notes, watch the videos on our learning platform, and prepare well ahead for the next lesson. With the revision process and support we give our students, we have seen amazing results in their school and state examinations.

During this pandemic, MLS sounds like the ideal service for home-based learning. What’s next for the service moving forward, and how about some tips to reap the best possible benefits from MLS?

Our parents love the approach we take at MLS. I have a very close bond with all the parents I work with. I think it’s essentially to be open and approachable so that they can feel free to share their valuable feedback and comments. We have got amazing feedback from the parents and we came this far because I humbly listened to their requests and tried my best to put my efforts into responding to our parents.

Could you share some ideas for scaling an online business?

Currently most people are affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, while such occurrences close many doors, it also shifts our mindsets, focus and opens several others doors. The shift in thought process from brick and mortar to anything and everything online, has been clearly seen with Covid-19.

All you need to do is identify your passion, not be afraid, and take that little step towards making it a reality. Gone are the days where you need to buy or rent a building or office space to start your business. I think online-based businesses are the future of many industries because consumers (and in my case the parents and students) prefer the convenience, time-saving, and peace of mind that comes with online platforms.

Therefore, my advice is do not let the bigger picture overwhelm you and deter you from reaching your dream – break it down, and identify what little step you can take today that will positively impact towards your bigger goal.

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