Matygo emerged out of Vancouver’s GrowLab accelerator in late 2011 to take advantage of the growing popularity of the “flipped classroom” philosophy in education, which, as Knewton describes it, seeks to invert traditional methods of teaching by delivering instruction online (through videos, etc.) outside of class, while moving homework into the classroom. Khan Academy is one of many examples of how startups are applying the flipped classroom model to improve the learning process.
Initially, the startup focused on developing a cloud-based learning management system (LMS), along with providing free, online courses to let anyone learn how to code, for example, along with classroom collaboration tools. However, as it goes in the burgeoning EdTech space, the startup’s learning platform never quite hit its stride, struggling to reach scale and profitability amidst slim margins.
Instead, after pulling back and delving into months of research, the startup identified three areas in which EdTech businesses are finding success: They help get internal teams up to speed, create customer evangelists, and they improve partner channel revenue through sales and product training. In November, Matygo rebranded as Learndot, focusing instead on bringing universities to businesses and the enterprise.
In other words, Learndot is building a training and certification platform for businesses that enables anyone within an organization to build courses, certify customers, educate partners and get employees up to speed, from the cloud. Learndot launched its new platform in beta in November, and were quickly overwhelmed by the response, receiving hundreds of trial requests within the first few months.
The startup wasn’t ready for the response, Learndot founder Paul Roland Lambert tells us, and they had to turn people away, as it initially took the startup nearly a week to set up a single trial manually. Now, with customers like Get Satisfaction, Clio and Zirtual on board, Learndot is officially coming out of restricted beta and opening its platform to the public.
In its newest form, Learndot is focused on providing enterprise clients with a results-centric education platform, in an attempt to improve training outcomes and to streamline the learning process, while allowing organizations to emphasize great content rather than simply prioritizing compliance.
Traditionally, business leaders and organizations have looked at training as a checkmark they need for compliance, which has led to corporate education taking a backseat on a company’s list of priorities. Recently, however, this mindset has begun to change as organizations realize that education can be used to deliver long-term results and give them a competitive advantage.
“We believe all organizations will benefit by nurturing a culture of learning, but people-powered businesses of all sizes see the greatest impact,” Lambert told Cantech this month. “This includes most service-based businesses, retailers, sales teams, or any industry where employee retention is a key metric.”
So, in essence Learndot is combining a course-creation tool a la Udemy with a platform for delivery, quizzing and analytics. Together, it allows anyone to create learning content and makes it easy to start small, test ideas with a few people, iterate and add as they go.
The idea is to offer a product that doesn’t require you to be an expert on workplace learning or training to build an awesome course. And, by providing easy access to analytics and data on employee performance within these courses, Learndot wants to make it easy for businesses to customize learning content, resulting in courses that are both more effective and aren’t excruciatingly boring.
This week, as part of exiting private beta, Learndot is launching Web signup so that anyone can sign up to use its SaaS tools mentioned above, beginning with a 14-day free trial. In addition, Learndot is adding a “forever free” plan, which provides access for up to five learners at no charge, in an effort to allow teams that want to test and evaluate Learndot do so without worrying about an expiration date. For organizations with up to 50 employees, Learndot offers a “Team” package that starts at $250, and a business plan for up to 150 employees at $500.
Through its new pricing scheme and re-organization, Learndot hopes to significantly lower the friction around testing out its product, while allowing small teams to use the platform for free. Startups helpin’ startups.
Public school systems are cheerfully decorated dictatorships: discipline, standards, and testing are the driving concepts of modern k-12 education. The very reason why districts purchase bundles of the same textbooks is so they can keep classrooms in lockstep alignment as teachers meticulous meet timely instructional goals. Amplify, NewsCorp’s new education division, finally revealed its long-awaited flagship product: a sophisticated tablet designed specifically for schools, which many finally be the perfect bureaucratic blend of classroom management, assessment, and monitoring that schools need to adopt technology en mass.
But what in the sam hill is News Corp. doing messing around in education? Well, it’s true that Rupert Murdoch is one of the more well-known (and polarizing) figures in the media landscape; his reputation precedes him, and it’s not one that’s typically been associated with education reform. While the News Corp. founder’s sudden transformation into an education reform advocate may seem a head-scratcher, the motivation becomes clear when, in Murdoch’s terms, one considers that K-12 education is a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone — and one that remains relatively untouched by corporations like News Corp.
A little over two years ago, Murdoch set out leverage the News Corp. brand to help fix a public education system that, in his words, has “lower standards than American Idol,” hiring one of the more prominent figures in American education, former chancellor of New York schools, Joel Klein, to pursue opportunities in EdTech. With Klein as his new education guru, the pair quickly made their first big strategic move, acquiring New York-based software, assessment and data services startup, Wireless Generation, for a whopping $360 million.
However, News Corp.’s plans for education were quickly derailed by the infamous phone-hacking scandal that forced Klein leave his position to lead the company’s internal investigation. After two years of investigations, trials and more, News Corp. rebranded its education unit last summer as “Amplify,” revealing some of the basic tenets that would shape its digital strategy, which include “assessment via mobile tools, curriculum design and the online distribution of resources via AT&T-powered tablets,” as Greg wrote at the time.
Klein and company are convinced that, for public education reform to be successful, the private sector needs to get more involved — as does the role of technology in the classroom to help both teachers teach more effectively and help students learn. Amplify attempts to put those ideas into practice, by allowing the company to not only sell its curriculum on any tablet makes its way into schools, but by betting that schools will be willing to fork over a pretty penny to access blended learning tools (and an infrastructure to store learning data) all through a custom tablet.
Of course, Ammplify isn’t the first to offer these types of learning tools on mobile devices, as many startups (and even bigs like Pearson) already have similar cross-platform, web-based tools on the market. However, no particular device or platform has emerged as the clear leader, and by offering classroom management tools and features that one would expect from News Corp, like a kill switch that allows teachers to limit students’ access to apps on the tablet, Amplify hopes to get a leg up.
As to those features: Amplify’s Android-based 10″ tablet comes preloaded with all the basic learning software that teachers need to dole out information on any given subject: textbooks, multimedia lessons, Encyclopedia Britannica, and a graphing calculator. It even includes the widely popular Khan Academy suite of YouTube-based lectures, which were recently converted to an off-line textbook-style format.
More importantly, Amplify’s tablet suite is a managerial dream: teachers can carefully monitor students behavior, administrators can deploy content across an entire grade-level, and districts can evaluate schools with custom standardized tests.
Amplify gives teachers, as both disciplinarian and educator, impressive control. They can selectively enable or disable apps to direct student learning; distracted students get an “eyes on teacher” alert if their usage behavior indicates an inattentive mind. Impromptu polls and tests individually evaluates each student and gives them customized refreshers.
The very cost-structure of the tablet system is designed for administration. Even with a two-year subscription at $99 per year, the wifi-enabled tablet is still a pricey $299 (a 4G version is $349 with a $179/year contract). But, it’s meant to be purchased by whole schools, districts or states, and comes with 24-hour live technical support to ensure students are meeting goals in a timely fashion. If schools could replace some of their textbooks and IT overhead, the cost appears less daunting. But, it’s still high.
Just as important, Amplify has been built around the Common Core, a new national curriculum guideline emphasizing career and college readiness. Yet, since the federal government can’t set national standards, schools have been left to fend for themselves and develop their own tests. Amplify’s evaluation wing aims to ease the confusion and develop a reliable set of measures that can easily be distributed school-wide with the click of a button.
During Greg’s interview with Amplify CEO Joel Klein at Techcrunch’s Disrupt San Francisco, he made it clear that all of the wonderful hardware in the world won’t make a difference unless it’s built for the schools and teachers. There’s already a crowded market of education technology, from classroom management software ClassDojo, to tablet software from textbook giants McGraw-Hill and Pearson.
Successful players in the education space knew that schools need scale, structure, and support. When Google entered the market, they got buy-in from state-level officials and now have over 20 million users.
Klein, knows that education is a game of Monopoly: provide a school everything and ye shall receive everything. The result, in this case, may be the push that the education system needs to enter the 21st century.
On Monday, Google announced it is partnering with DonorsChoose.org to offer a significant holiday season discount for teachers: the Samsung Series 5 Chromebook for just $99. That’s a solid $300 off the already very cheap $399 laptop, and includes not just the hardware, but management and support as well.
Yet it’s not that simple. The offer is limited to full-time public school teachers in the US, and expires on December 21, 2012. If you meet the criteria, put in a request at DonorsChoose.org, where anyone will be able to make a donation to support your classroom. Only when you reach your funding goal will you’ll receive your Chromebooks from Lakeshore Learning.
The goal of the deal, according to Google, is to help budget-strapped classrooms across the country, hence why it is getting help from an online charity that connects donors directly to public school classroom needs. It also took the opportunity to reveal that more than 1,000 schools have adopted Chromebooks in classrooms, including school districts who have deployed Chromebooks to tens of thousands of students.
The company apparently picked the Samsung Series 5 Chromebook because it is “the most widely deployed Chromebook in schools.” That, or the Acer C7 Chromebook is already too cheap to discount at $199. Either way, the 12.1″-screen Samsung device is more powerful: it features an Intel Atom N570 dual-core 1.66 GHz CPU, 2GB of RAM, and a 16GB SSD drive.
Google ended its announcement with a thank you and a suggestion that Chromebooks don’t get malware:
Thank you for your support in giving the gift of hassle-free technology to teachers and students. Working together, we can ensure “The virus ate my homework” is never uttered in a classroom again, and we can help classrooms get off to a strong start in the New Year!
If they get popular enough, Google will have to retract that statement. At prices like these, the company may actually pull it all off.
Image credit: Ivan Prole
Learning a new language can be tedious and frustrating. Thankfully, a new generation of startups are leveraging advances in mobile and web technologies to make that process more enjoyable and rewarding. Today, companies like Livemocha, PlaySay, Voxy, italki, MindSnacks and Duolingo provide increasingly viable alternatives to traditional language-learning software — the Rosetta Stones of the world.
Another recent entrant into the space is Y Combinator grad Verbling, a venture-backed startup that wants to help turn language learners into polyglots by using video chat to connect them with real, live native speakers. Unlike the text-focused and algorithm-based Duolingo, Verbling wants to help users reach fluency and avoid the drop-out bug by creating a frictionless, in-browser live video chat experience that encourages immersion — albeit a virtual one.
After joining, the startup automatically pairs people that want to learn Spanish and are fluent in English, for example, with the opposite — those who are fluent in Spanish and want to learn English. It’s immersion via reciprocity. Users are matched by their experience levels and are encouraged to switch back and forth between languages (by an accompanying timer), with the system suggesting various prompts and targets along the way.
Since launching earlier this year, Verbling has focused exclusively on English and Spanish, but today the company is adding support for nine new languages, including Italian, French, German, Mandarin, Japanese, Hebrew, Portuguese, Arabic, and Russian, bringing the total to eleven. Founder Mikael Bernstein told us that these have been the most-requested languages from its users and, really, they represent the most-commonly spoken languages in the world.
Its new support for 11 languages puts the startup in good stead compared to Duolingo, Voxy and MindSnacks and puts it on par with the site that it probably most closely resembles — Busuu. A number of sites offer some kind of tool for connecting with native speakers, including courses and lessons on top of that. Bernstein believes Verbling has an advantage in this regard because its been laser-focused on its novice-to-expert matching and one-to-one video model.
The co-founder tells us that users are now participating in over 50,000 practice sessions per month and that sessions saw 317 percent month-over-month growth in November, which he expects will compound with the launch of its new language support. On tap of that, with sessions increasing, Verbling is also launching its own classes.
But it’s doing so by sticking to its video-chat roots, as “Verbling Classes” offer nine language students the ability to join Google Hangout-powered classes led by an official, TEFL-certified Verbling teacher. Bernstein says that, they were initially skeptical of using Hangouts, but after Google reached out to propose the solution, they considered it more seriously as a valid way to replicate a classroom setting. Something he says that can provide a virtual classroom experience that’s more fun and conversation-based and one that could become a future monetization vehicle.
For its main one-to-one video chat experience, Verbling tries to improve stickiness by allowing users to stay in touch with a chat mate if they enjoyed the conversation and found it productive. Learning a new language is definitely aided by adding a little constancy and familiarity, so being able to send a friend request via the platform, message each other (or just do a voice call if video seems awkward) is a great way to encourage users to build working professional relationships and pick up where they left off.
At first, the startup will only be hosting its Google Hangout language classes in English, which will be limited to nine-per-class but will be hosted on a range of subjects. Nine will get to directly participate, but even if you don’t make it, you can still listen in and actively participate. Going forward, Bernstein says that the startup wants to be able to allow students to pay a small fee to guarantee their spot in one of its classes.
Going forward, Verbling will be focused on building out this portion of the site and will be raising an additional round of funding to support this growth. The startup $1 million from DFJ, Learn Capital, Start Fund, Inspovation Ventures, SV Angel, Meck Investments, Ace & Company and others, back in January. The co-fouder also tells us that Verbling recently added Gustav Rydstedt as its new CTO, who was formerly the lead engineer at Blizzard on Diablo 3 and hired T20-under-20 finalist and FamilyLeaf co-founder Brandon Paton.
Four years after it launching its first graduate program with USC, 2U today has announced its foray into undergraduate education through a new program called Semester Online. The company will be powering a virtual classroom environment and interactive platform for a consortium of 10 top universities, including some it’s already been working with (Duke and UNC) — along with newcomers like Northwestern, Emory and Brandeis — to name a few.
Beginning in the fall of 2013, the program will be open to any student enrolled in an undergraduate program anywhere in the world, with courses set to debut next fall (along with a handful of new institutions). Semester Online’s courses will feature the same faculty and curricula as their brick-and-mortar counterparts.
When we spoke to 2U co-founder Jeremy Johnson earlier this year, the startup (known then as 2tor) was on its way to closing a $26 million series D round, which would bring its total funding to just under $100 million and make it one of the most-funded startups in education (and the country). Naturally, I was curious why a company that partners with graduate schools to build, administer, and market online degree programs needed so much capital, especially when all reports were that the business was growing at a healthy clip on its own.
In the world of quick flips and early exits, where speed and “just ship it” rein, his answer was somewhat unusual: Today, there’s a lot of lip service being paid to disrupting education, but if you’re actually going to make a difference and create an online experience that produces student outcomes equivalent to their offline counterparts, then you have to take the long view, he said. You have to be willing to spend money and invest years in development.
Thanks to its deep pockets, 2U typically invests up to $10 million in each program. Higher ed institutions, especially graduate programs, have historically shied away from offering substantial (if any) online degree programs. By supplying their own capital, tools and expertise, and by partnering with institutions and faculty to customize the platform to fit their needs and interface, the startup was able to convince respected graduate programs at USC, Georgetown and UNC that they were committed.
If the goal is to create viable online education programs, then schools want to be able to give credit and apply the same admissions process (and criteria) they use in their on-campus programs, along with increasing their enrollment and margins. It also helps that the company spent several years developing its own web-based infrastructure that gives professors the ability to share materials with students, provide lectures and interactive lessons, student support, social networking, as well as mobile apps that enable students to participate in live, synchronous class sessions via webcam — from anywhere.
Of late, one of the hottest subjects in education has been MOOCs, otherwise known as Massively Open Online Courses. There has been a parade of new MOOC platforms over the last six months, with the most recognizable names now being Coursera, Udacity and EdX, the collaboration between Harvard, MIT and UC Berkeley. MOOCs have been pegged by some as representing the future of the educational system, democratizing education, bringing quality learning content to people of any age, in any corner of the world for a small fee — if not for free.
Coursera, in particular, has received a lot of attention in part because it raised $22 million from some high-profile investors early on in its development, but also because it focuses on partnering with and offering classes from only the top institutions. Touted, of course, as an online Ivy, Coursera has scaled quickly and now hosts about 200 courses from 33 domestic and international schools and reaches over 1.3 million students.
However, while MOOCs are great for distance learning and continuing education, most platforms aren’t credit-bearing — meaning they don’t offer diplomas. The other strike against it is that, because most of them are free, they don’t have business models, and it remains to be seen how they plan to monetize and just how much value there is for teachers. Lately, Coursera has pretty much had to bat away colleges looking to get on its platform. But how much of this eager adoption is a result of institutions feeling pressure to “go digital” and open their walls? Why can’t a university have its teachers learn how to teach in this new context and then go develop its own?
What’s so cool about 2U’s new platform is that it’s not a MOOC. As Inside Higher Ed’s Steve Kolowich wrote today, 2tor’s program really represents the next phase of this evolution and is the first real example of a collective of top higher ed institutions offering the same courses and teachers that a student would find in the physical classroom, yet in an online-only setting that actually offers credited courses to students who aren’t enrolled at the universities offering them.
That’s not to say there aren’t alternatives. StraighterLine offers a subscription-based (and relatively affordable) service that allows students to take a variety of accredited, general ed courses online, but it focuses on the first two-years of colleges, can’t offer you a diploma and hasn’t yet added course content from the cream of the crop.
Instructure recently launched a cool hybrid MOOC, which offers both massively online, free classes as well as tuition-based online courses from some top schools, like Brown University. I’d say it’s the closest to 2U, as its platform is strong on the customization front for schools and has the quality LMS tech to back it up.
But, again, it isn’t investing $10 million in building real, integrated, credit-bearing online classrooms for every degree program. And, for the closed content, only students who are actually enrolled in the school can access and search their online course options.
Udacity wants to move into this space as well, if not by offering accredited courses, by building out its job placement tools and network.
In comparison, 2U’s platform offers undergrad courses in a virtual classroom that is instructor-led, has video-based discussion groups and virtual seminars and lectures, while maintaining some sort of emphasis on learning and collaborating in small groups. That’s not to say that this form is “better” than that of MOOCs, but it does feel more like on-campus education and is way, way more personal. My two cents would be that learning is inherently social and that’s something MOOCs don’t really do well yet.
The other important feature for 2U is the fact that it offers selective admissions criteria for each course. This basically means that students have to pay and schools set the admissions criteria — and the same goes for prices/tuition. 2U also does a rev share deal with its partner institutions. So, at the end of the day, students may even end up paying the market rate, which is the biggest strike against 2U. Though of course, it depends on how the company looks at its role in the space. If they’re serious about innovating and disrupting higher education and not just revenue generation, it needs to be part of higher ed’s pricing solution, not the other way around.
More on the new 2U here.