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Wordle & EasyPeasy: Giving Children Everywhere The Best Start In Life

The single, most advanced, quantifiable and proven monitoring platform to help families maximise their child's learning potential.

Photo of Sandra Sobanska
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Updates: How has your idea changed or evolved throughout the Prize? What updates have you made to this submission? (1500 characters)

Here are the key updates to our idea and the submission: 1. Narrowed down the target user to 2 groups with highest pain point: new parents and low-income parents. 2. Documented previous research and Identified assumptions to explore further - we now explain how the solution responds to specific pain points and outline the roll-out plan. 3. Conducted home-based contextual inquiry with 10 families. Placed the Wordle device in their homes for one week and asked them to keep a daily journal to learn more about how the parents use the device and what do they think about it in the long run. Results helped us to finalise the form factor. 4. As our team consists of 2 teams that worked separately before, we created mockups of how we could incorporate each others product and preserve a consistent experience for the user. 5. Answered questions asked by our mentors about ways in which we are planning to roll-out our platform to low-income settings. We extended the conversation with child care services in our network to do so. 6. Wordle team has finished their research paper from the clinical trial that was run in the Summer 2017 and attached it in the application. 7. The first batch of device prototypes was manufactured and shipped to the US for home-based Beta testing with first parents in San Francisco. 8. EasyPeasy has successfully launched the second randomised trial; a large randomised control trial undertaken by Durham University and funded by the Education Endowment Foundation, an independent charity dedicated to breaking the link between family income and educational achievement. In this trial 2000 households will receive the EasyPeasy programme for 20 weeks.

Name or Organization

Wordle (Oya Inc) & EasyPeasy (Character Counts Ltd)

Geography

Wordle is based in San Francisco (US) and EasyPeasy is based in London (UK).

What is your stage of development?

  • Early Stage Innovator, with at least one-year experience in ECD

Type

  • For-profit

What is the stage of your proposal?

  • Full-scale roll-out: I have completed a pilot and analyzed the impact of that pilot on the users I am trying to reach with my idea. I am ready to expand the pilot significantly.

Describe how your solution could be a game-changer for your selected Opportunity Area (600 characters)

There is a clear gap in the market for science-based tools to support parents in a quest to help a child grow. The key existing solutions are too expensive for majority of parents, like visits to child specialists or hiring tutors. On the other hand, the existing knowledge about what parents should do are based on generic and averaged out data from parenting books and common developmental assessments were created up to 40 years ago. We have built the first platform that makes it possible for parents to monitor and improve child's development in the comfort of their home.

Select an Innovation Target

  • Technology-enabled: Existing approach is more effective or scalable with the addition of technology

Tell us more about your innovation (1500 characters)

Our platform uses Natural Language Processing algorithm to quantify the language environment of a child and provides parents with personalised and actionable educational content. Why is this revolutionary? We are using the best evidence from decades of research and practices of home-based intervention programs and putting it on a mobile platform which can scale without limits and has the capacity to adapt to the needs of each family. Through this innovation we are able to: 1. Personalise the content delivered to each parent based on their objective data and child's unique developmental profile. 2. Reduce the costs of delivering early childhood interventions at mass scale through the use of mobile phones. 3. Develop a way to quantify the impact of early interventions on a child’s cognitive development and drive more investment into ECE research and policy-level initiatives. After 2 years of user research conducted with parents in the USA and US as well as 2 successful randomised control trials, our teams join forces to create the most advanced, language monitoring and home-based intervention platform that is affordable, improves parent-child interactions and uses machine learning to tailor personalised intervention that maximise each child’s potential.

What problem are you aiming to solve? (3 sentences)

1.“Parenting noise” and lack of a single, only science-based sources of parenting information 2. Lack of home-based, low-cost diagnostic tools that would help parents understand their child’s development better and track the impact that their actions have on the child’s development. 3. Low scalability and high cost of the way that ECE interventions are currently suffering from.

Explain your idea (5000 characters)

Our solution is an advanced, parent-centric platform that consists of 3 components: 1. A monitoring DEVICE powered by proprietary Natural Language Processing algorithm, specifically trained to analyse parent-child interactions for quantity and quality of a child’s mental and in the future also health patterns. 2. A MOBILE PLATFORM that uses machine learning to give parents feedback about the number of words and conversations they have with the child, as well as provide them with personalised content based on the data from the device and their own interests and schedule. 3. A database of proven, expandable and interactive VIDEO CONTENT that teaches parents how to improve the quality of their interactions with the child. Following our UX research and, we have also defined a set of key features for our solution space which include: STEP 1: MONITOR Parents place the device at home and download the free companion application on their phone and go through the initial setup which includes: - building their profile - highlighting skill areas which they would like the child to develop - specifying the time when they typically engage with the child - complete an initial diagnostic assessment to establish a child’s stage of development. The application personalizes the interface immediately and saves parents time on finding the right information they need. Using the app, parent can also control the time of the day during which the device will be monitoring and decide how often they would like to receive reports about their own behaviour patterns. As the child grows and moves around, the device can be taken out of the docking station and clipped on the baby, the parent, toy or the baby bag - and be able to "follow" the child to accurately monitor their interactions with the environment. STEP 2: ANALYSE Our teams have identified the most critical indicators of a child’s development and simplified them into a single index - called the Learn-O-Meter. Interested parents can tap into the breakdown of the Learn-O-Meter through the app (which can also be shared with a speech therapist) while in its basic form, the score provides an easy-to-understand, visual clue for the parent to check if they’re on the right track. The platform also includes several diagnostic tests for different indicators of child development, like memory, size of the vocabulary or language reception. These tests, that were typically only available for parents who could afford a visit to a child specialist, will now be available in a mobile, game-like format to widen access to data - driven child assessments and help parents make better decisions regarding their child’s education. STEP 3: IMPROVE Based on the parent’s preferences and the data about their child’s developmental path, the application provides families with ideas and motivation needed to support playing and learning together through EasyPeasy’s engaging video content. The activities apply behavioural insights to help seed positive habits of play and interaction at home by using prompts, encouragement, and personalised recommendations to parents. STEP 4: INTEGRATE The future potential of our platform lies in its ability to bridge between the home-based setting and childcarers, schools and researchers. Integration with the wider education ecosystem allows us to achieve two main objectives. Firstly, it increases adoption, as parents already trust these well-established institutions which can become efficient distribution channels. Secondly, the existence of a support network which parents can reach out to will help to keep them engaged with the platform and stay motivated to stick through with their good habits. Our platform has already been proven to integrate with early years settings (children’s centres, primary schools and nurseries) and extend the reach and impact of practitioners and teachers. We developed a desktop dashboard component to allow practitioners/teachers to share information and advice about home learning and play directly with parents. Practitioners also receive data on parents’ engagement and can then use it to more effectively target services, as well as for reporting and accountability. This support network provides an additional layer of support for parents to stick to good habits and increase long-term sustainability of the platform.

Who benefits? (1500 characters)

DIRECTLY 1. New parents (based on continuous UX research for the past 2 years in US, UK, Asia): - Receive evidence-based parenting information and reduce anxiety about their child’s future success - Receive personalised inspiration for easy, impactful ways to engage with children at home - Can check whether the child is receiving enough language exposure in their critical period of development - Can share child's data with specialists and doctors to support better diagnosis 2. Low-income parents (based on direct work with 1000s of families from a low-income background): - Learn low-cost, easy and fun activities at home - Avoid the stigma of social workers visiting them to deliver interventions - Can use an easy-to-understand source of curated information and feel empowered to provide their child with a better future INDIRECTLY - Speech therapists can use the data and insights from the platform to have more accurate information about child's daily language environment at the point of diagnosis. - Speech therapists can use the platform to suggest educational ideas and speech training assignments to engage parents outside of the therapy session and increase the probability of success. - Researchers will be able to lower the cost of delivering ECE interventions and increase their scale beyond geographical boundaries.

What kind of impact will your idea have? (1500 characters)

CHILD'S COGNITIVE AND EMOTIONAL SELF-REGULATION In November 2016, the University of Oxford and the Sutton Trust published the results of a Randomised Controlled Trial of EasyPeasy (see University of Oxford report at https://easypeasyapp.com/evidence/), showing how EasyPeasy had a statistically significant, positive impact on children’s cognitive self-regulation skills (e.g. concentration, self-control, and persistence) and parents' increased consistency with discipline and boundaries. RECEPTIVE LANGUAGE SKILLS Similarly, Wordle conducted a pilot study where it was found that parents who had access to the platform spoke more to their children, spent more time with them and ultimately their children had 27% higher language scores than their counterparts from the control group. LONG-RUN SYSTEMIC CHANGE There is also a bigger mission to our solution. By using a mobile platform and making parents more aware and responsible about their role in the child's development, we will inevitably generate cost savings for governments by providing quantifiable evidence to allocate resources into Education more efficiently. In the long run this will lead to increases in global productivity and positive outcomes for the society.

How does or how could your idea impact low-income children? (1500 characters)

EasyPeasy’s ‘business-to-government’ (B2G) service has been designed from the beginning to target and support low-income and hard to reach families. Through delivering EasyPeasy and licensing it to local education districts, school and nursery chains, it was possible to keep this service free for the needy. By design, through a digital dashboard, teachers are able to onboard families from their communities who they think could benefit most from the app (often pre-vetted low-income families) and use the platform, as it has the ability to seamlessly integrate with their existing internal systems through an API. We’re then able to invite parents directly to the platform through an ‘opt-out’ rather than ‘opt-in’ method, having a significant impact on our ability to identify and reach out to hard to reach and less engaged families. The promise of combining EasyPeasy with Wordle’s analytical power and real time feedback is that by putting that data in the hands of parents and practitioners, we can drive deeper and more powerful engagement and improvement in the home learning environment.

Innovation: What makes your concept innovative? (5000 characters)

Our concept combines the success of EasyPeasy and Wordle and brings technological innovation into the early childhood space. From our user research we know that families want to spend quality time with their children, however, they have to juggle family time with work commitments and uncertainties about the best way to interact with their children. Our teams have determined 4 key features of our solution space, which has been guiding our prior and ongoing development: 1. MOBILE Almost every family has access to at least one smartphone - including parents in low-income communities. We think there is enough technological momentum to replace the currently dominating, SMS-based intervention model and use a mobile application format. Features of mobile applications like gamification or contextual notifications can solve one of the biggest pain point faced by parents - lack of time and fluctuating levels of motivation. Additionally, mobile platform allows us to make parents the data collection agents and help them realise how critical their engagement is in their child’s development. The effectiveness of this "responsibility-assuming" model has already been proven through telemedicine and example of platforms like Fitbit that motivates users to be more healthy by tracking their fitness activity every day. 2. PARENT-CENTRIC Typically, parent-directed educational content is delivered to parents through face-to-face interactions with a researcher or more passively through written materials like books or text messages. Although effective in short-term, this content has not been proven to engage the caregivers in the long-run or generate a lasting positive behavioural change. This is what led us to explore the question - How could we make the format of educational content more inspiring and impactful? Based on EasyPeasy’s experience working with low-income families and inspired by the current popularity of video formats on mobile platforms, EasyPeasy created a series of 70 instructional videos and validated it for effectiveness in a study with The University of Oxford. EasyPeasy videos apply behavioural models to help seed positive habits of play and interaction at home by using prompts, encouragement, and personalised recommendations to parents. Further on, Wordle’s personalisation algorithm is able to recommend these videos to parents based on their interests expressed when building a profile as considering their typical time availability. 3. SUPPORT NETWORK The key in sticking with good habits is often access to support groups and sources of information that allow one to justify the need for positive change. As the platform becomes more popular, it will become a bridge between the offline and the online and group families.. EasyPeasy has already tested this vision with success in their trial where they grouped parents into virtual support networks that gave parents and practitioners a space to share experiences and tips about play and home learning with each other. This is a great solution to connect with ‘hard to reach parents’, track engagement within the home learning environment and offer remote support to families. Over time, our vision is for the platform to become a one-stop source where parents can not only track and improve their child’s development but also connect with other parents and discover books, toys and other science-based tools to support their child’s growth at different stages of development. 4. SCIENCE-BASED From the beginning we have been committed to active validation of both the platform’s efficacy as well as content’s effectiveness through randomised trials with top universities. EasyPeasy’s content has been shown to significantly impact children’s cognitive development and increased parental abilities to set boundaries after just 18 weeks. Wordle was tested for effectiveness of its technology in a pilot with Hong Kong University of Science and Technology where children of parents who used the platform showed 27% better receptive language skills. The platform is currently being reviewed further by researchers from UNSW, USF and Stanford. Following this early validation, we are working closely with researchers and policy-makers to continue optimising the algorithm, format of the content and incorporating more diagnostic tests.

Scale: Describe how your idea could reach a significant number of end-users. (1500 characters)

Based on our user research, we know that parents are struggling with either information overload or with lack of trusted sources of advice. Because of this, our teams are expanding reach through educational and institutional partners, in order to reach parents through agents they already trust. We have already established working partnerships with University of Oxford, Save the Children University of San Francisco, Stanford University, University of New South Wales and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. All of these universities have early childhood dedicated studies that impact from 1,000s to 10,000s families. EasyPeasy is also operating at scale in the United Kingdom, reaching 15,000+ families through current partnerships with 12 education districts across the country. These partners not only have access to low-income families but are also able to perform the pre-vetting of families participation in programs, especially if the platform will be offered to them at no cost. This will be critical for long-term sustainability. Lastly, we work with speech therapist associations as an important channel to reach new parents at the point of pain. For parents who have children with or at risk of speech delays, our platform provides a tool that quantifies language exposure received by the child. The regular data reports that parents receive can also be shared with those specialists to help them make better diagnoses.

Feasibility: Where are you with understanding the feasibility of your idea? Describe what you’ve done so far and your plans. (3000 characters)

As noted before, a key point in our smooth implementation so far has been the fact that our products are strongly rooted in science-based evidence and has been proven to impact child development both on the side of language as well as socio-emotionally. Key milestones and proof-points: 1. Positive results in language acquisition of toddlers from research-based studies out of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (the MIT of Asia) and Professor Chen who has a Harvard Ph.D. in Child Development and Language acquisition. 2. Positive results in teaching children cognitive and emotional self-regulation based on the study by Easy Peasy and Professor Kathy Sylva of Oxford University, where their web-app and video content shown significant improvement in the condition group. 3. Collaboration with Professor Stokes, a world expert in cognitive and language acquisition in toddlers (Curtin University, Australia and Hong Kong University) that resulted in adapting three developmental assessments (memory, visual memory, vocabulary) into the mobile format. 4. Grant submission with Professor Grosjean at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) that will use our platform as data analytics and social impact tool to both measure and provide evidence-based interventions in a study in Oceania in Summer 2018. 5. Financial backing by SOSV/HAX ventures, the world’s best hardware accelerator, Johnson & Johnson, the world’s most trusted baby brand, and Stanford Start X, an accelerator for the best of Stanford alumni companies. 6. EasyPeasy has established early validation for the B2G business model in the UK and developed a playbook to replicate this model in the US. EasyPeasy have established the following links who have offered us assistance should we move into a research and piloting phase in the US market. Success for All UK CEO, Matt Ditchfield has leant his support to EasyPeasy. Success for All is a whole school approach to school improvement grounded in co-operative learning with proven impact on literacy, and has been implemented with confidence by educators in the US and UK. They are well established across many states and schools districts with knowledge of settings that would be suitable for testing and adapting EasyPeasy for the US market. Tipping Point Tipping Point is a not for profit, grant making organisation fighting poverty in the Bay Area who reached out to EasyPeasy in 2016 to learn from our R&D process in the creation of EasyPeasy and expressed interest in collaborating. Nurse Family Partnership/HopeLab Director of Strategy & Innovation, Fred Dillon, reached out to EasyPeasy to explore the use of technology and design to improve the retention and engagement of users of this highly effective programme improving outcomes for teenage mothers and their children which serves communities in 42 states.

Business Viability: How viable is your business model? (5000 characters)

Our solution is viable because: 1. EasyPeasy is a sustainable business that currently covers its operational costs through a combination of direct sales and development grants, and supports thousands of families and early years practitioners across the UK. 2. Similarly, the team behind Wordle has a successful track record of obtaining government grants and venture capital investment in Hong Kong and in the US, based on which they have an efficient cost-structure and a well-trained talent pool of full-time, full-stack engineering and design talent. 3. The founders of both companies have extensive networks in academia, national-level initiatives as well as the private sector and thus we are confident in our ability to rapidly scale across different geographies. 4. We have a strong evidence base of the effectiveness of our products and their ability to improve outcomes for children. 5. Both teams have a strong workforce to work together to advance this idea, as well as strong links with our backers to help us to achieve our shared mission. Most importantly, the innovative element of a quantifiable platform that we are building offers an exciting opportunity for for-profit investors to be able to create impact assessments of supporting ECE solutions. For example, some of the currently existing interventions that distribute books to low-income communities have no way to track the impact those books have on child’s literacy later in life. This might make donors reluctant to support such initiatives, as it is difficult to put a value to the direct ROI of such action. We believe that our unique ability to monitor the level of parental engagement with the solution and track developmental outcomes for the child should be a compelling value proposition for Gary Community Investment.

HCD: How have you used human centered design to build or refine your concept? (5000 characters)

Throughout our submission, our teams have documented the key findings from our research and prototype testing in a graphical format and added it to our application in order to share the key finds with the IDEO community. Here is an overview of the tools and methods that we applied: 1. GV design sprint We used the sprint methodology to go through our needs finding stages. We prototyped some simple solutions and explored new ideas. 2. Affinity maps and Card Sorting 3. How might we…? We phrased our ideas in the form of questions that we might be able to solve. 4. Contextual inquiries We visited several homes of our early parent users to observe the environment their children were growing up in. We paid attention to everything from the space itself, to the items kept around the child and out of reach. We inquired into certain decisions the parents made with regards to how they set up the play area of their children. 5. User personas Through all our research we identified two groups of users that could benefit most from our platform - New parents and low-income parents. 6. Journey maps The journey maps helped us to outline the use cases and scenarios of our platform

Tell us more about you (3000 characters)

ABOUT WORDLE The idea of Wordle was first sparked in Dr Lamont Tang’s head as he became a father 2 years ago. Lamont is a Neuroscientist who completed his degree at Stanford University and his Ph.D. in Neuroscience at Brandeis University with former president of Society of Neuroscience, Professor Marder. While Lamont’s formal training was studying the biophysics of neural circuits and how they can both be stable (e.g during early development) and yet plastic (the ability to learn), it was after his son was born that inspired him to learn about evidence-based ways to help nurture his early development. Through his wife, Economics Professor Jane Zhang, Lamont learned about the stark effects of socio-economic status on the learning outcomes of children (which can be detected by the age of 18 months) Lamont was further inspired to self-fund and write a grant to pilot a novel, cost-effective, and scalable technology to both monitor and improve a child’s learning environment. After positive results from this initial pilot study, Wordle was created to help harness predictive technologies to build tools to nurture not only Lamont’s own son, as well as something meaningful and impactful for families around the world. Oya Inc is now a US based company on a mission to make early childhood intervention more accessible and effective for parents, educators and researchers all around the world. Wordle is their first product, a scalable technology that has been shown to both monitor and improve a child’s learning outcomes. ABOUT EASYPEASY EasyPeasy was founded by Jen Lexmond. After graduating with a first class degree in Philosophy, Politics, & Economics from the University of Warwick, Jen worked for the think tank Demos, leading a longitudinal research programme on social mobility and human development. She also spent time working for the British Government’s Digital Services team, leading large scale public service transformation programmes for the Department of Health, Ministry of Justice, Department for Business, Innovation, and Skills, and Department for Work and Pensions. Jen’s research and design work has been widely cited in academic journals and in government white papers in the UK. Jen is passionate about both technology and social change. Through her research, she saw the need for greater investment and innovation in early years learning and how technology could bridge the gap between theory and practical application at scale. To do this she created EasyPeasy. Jen knew that technology could be used to innovate at scale and bridge the gap between theory and practical application for families. EasyPeasy is now a 9-member strong team, based in East London, working to help children from all backgrounds develop the skills they need for a successful and flourishing life.

Do you have the people and partners you need to do what you’ve described? (600 characters)

What we need are partners that can help distribute our technology into local communities like: - 30 million Words Initiative, - Early Years Foundation, - Gates Foundation, - Bezos Foundation - Zuckerberg Foundation We also need more ECE academics to speak about and publicize their work (via video) and celebrities who can put a face to the issue and galvanize the public’s interest in this critical area and underserved area.

As you consider your next steps, what kinds of help could you use? Is there a type of expertise that would be most helpful? (1800 characters)

Building upon the previous question, we need to work with: 1. Researchers/academics in ECE, 2 Leading and local practitioners in ECE, 3. NGOs and non-profits who work in the local communities 4. Experts in deep technologies (Artificial Intelligence and Natural Language Processing), UI/UX 5. Designers who can understand, empathize and design tools and interventions that best engage and serve our families (parents and children) But to really make a difference, we need to galvanize the public interest and policy makers at the local, state, and Federal level. This might take a combination of enlisting public celebrities who both understand and can put a face to the problems of ECE as well as to help lobby local, state, and federal politicians to make the required changes to help serve the needs of ECE in order to affect evidence-based and deep social impact.

Would you like mentoring support?

  • Yes

If so, what type of mentoring support do you think you need? (1200 characters)

1. User-centric design and engagement 2. Game design 3. Pricing models 4. Building long-term content-based partnership schemes 5. Hiring talents in the fields of Natural Language Processing and Artificial Intelligence

Are you willing to share your email contact information submitted on OpenIDEO with Gary Community Investments?

  • Yes, share my contact information

[Optional] Biography: Upload your biography. Please include links to relevant information (portfolio, LinkedIn profile, organization website, etc).

Dr Lamont Tang: Managing Director, Oya Labs LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lamont-tang-b642073/ Website: www.oyalabs.com In the News: http://www.ejinsight.com/20171123-a-startup-develops-tool-to-aid-language-devt-in-toddlers/ Jen Lexmond: Founder & CEO at EasyPeasy LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jenlexmond/ Website: https://easypeasyapp.com/ In the News: http://www.wired.co.uk/article/easypeasy-app-kids-screen-time-parents

[Optional] Attachments: Please upload relevant attachments or graphics or show us how you prototyped.

[Optional] Video: You are invited to submit a 30-60 second video that introduces you and/or your team and your idea.

Mentorship: How was your idea supported? (5000 characters)

Unfortunately the mentor who we were initially matched with had to resign from the program due to unexpected family circumstance. Nevertheless, we were able to utilised our own network to find mentors. Mentor 1: Professor Mary Gale, Senior Entrepreneurship Lecturer at Babson University We had a 1.5 hour long call with Professor Gale, after one of our teammates was able to arrange a time. The Professor was very supportive of our mission, especially given the fact that she has grandchildren and knows first-hand how her children struggle with ensuring enough language exposure for their kids. Professor Gale’s mentorship was critical to help us: - Revisit our UX research process and solidify the insights we gathered and more clearly document the user personas and user journey - Ask ourselves how will we bring this solution to the market - step by step - Explain more clearly how will we work with low-income communities through childcare hubs in their neighbourhoods. Mentor 2: Jacquelyn M. Rose, MPH, Manager, Connecticut Children’s Advancing Kids Innovation Program We connected with Jacquelyn through the OpenIDEO open forum and following this we scheduled an online call. We were able to learn more about the Innovation Program that she is supervising at the Connecticut Hospital and we initiated discussion about participating in the program, given interests from both sides. Jacquelyn’s feedback helped us to: - Better explain the scope of collaboration between our two companies and visualise how our interfaces will be integrated - Describe how embedding diagnostic tests into the platform will help to assess impact - Explore ways in which we could connect with the health sector and professionals like midwives to connect with new parents.

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Photo of Erin Lease
Team

With so many programs and services delivering tips and information to parents, I am so excited about this project proposing to personalize the information based on data. I look forward to following your progress - I think we can learn a lot about how to use big data to personalize interventions from this work!

Photo of Sandra Sobanska
Team

Dear Erin Lease , thank you for your words of support! We are strong believers in data-driven parenting as well, but we know that to make it work, it also needs to adjust well to parents busy schedules and help them tune into what matters. That's what we're trying to do - make parenting fun, engaging, simpler - but at the same time rooted in tangible insights. Are you also working on something in this space? We'd love to know more about you :) - The Team

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