Posts Tagged: education

The future of education: the distributed school and customized learning

Ever since my friend Albert and his wife Susan have started to homeschool their kids, I have been thinking about the best ways to make custom learning more accessible to kids, families, and adults alike.

Albert and Susan have taken an innovative approach to homeschooling (if interested, you can read more about their experiences here).  They recently devised the idea to hire individual guides for each of their three children. Part concierge, part program manager and part learning specialist, these guides are responsible for creating a learning program tailored to each child.

Guides need to explore the child’s specific areas of interest (which means finding and coordinating time with skilled experts and arranging field trips), as well as building the child’s basic skills in reading, writing, presenting, researching, and analyzing in pursuit of their interests. In this way, the guide doesn’t necessarily have to have specific expertise in the child’s areas of interest, but they need to be able to coordinate access to the right tutors, experts, and resources. This goal is to give each child a fully customized education that encourages them to grow and learn by pursuing the topics that mean something to them.

Running this level of a homeschooling program is no easy feat. Parents need to find and select the right guides; the guides need to coordinate the right tutors and experts for each child. On an individual level, it can be extremely costly and time-intensive. But what if there were a distributed school that followed the same principles? For example, a school or learning platform that gave parents easy access to available guides and tutors for their kids to create a custom education.

This school could be tied to a physical space, although it’s not necessary. It would be a mix of online and offline teaching. It could offer existing courses from other institutions if there was a fit. And to make the program more affordable, a guide could be shared by 3-4 kids, and specialized tutors could be shared as well.

The prospect of such a custom learning experience makes me very excited and I hope that somebody will build a distributed school soon. Our family would be one of the first customers.


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New investment: Edmodo, social learning network for teachers and students

Image representing Edmodo as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

Education is – besides health care – one of the verticals with the most amount of opportunity still left in the digital world. And still a lot of innovation in this space in the past few years was rather incremental (e.g. online test prep, language learning) than ground breaking.

Things are starting to change and I was very excited that I got the opportunity earlier this year to invest alongside Union Square Ventures in Edmodo, a social learning network for teachers, students and schools. Edmodo “provides classrooms a safe and easy way to connect and collaborate, offering a real-time platform to exchange ideas, share content, and access homework, grades and school notices”. It has the power to help teachers engage students and allow students to reach their potential.

Education in the digital world feels like the 2nd or 3rd inning of a 9 innings baseball game and there is a realistic chance that we will not only be able to redefine in the next decade how students learn but make education universally accessible. I hope that Edmodo can play a crucial role in that process.

The company announced today a huge Series B round led by Matt Cohler from Benchmark and Reid Hoffman from Greylock with both joining the Edmodo board, helping the company to execute even faster on its vision to build the educational graph for learning.


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Take-aways from the ThinkEquity conference

I attended the yearly ThinkEquity conference in Half Moon Bay at the beginning of this week and have to congratulate the organizers for putting on one of the best events where private technology companies can present to investors. This year’s conference focused on 3 major areas: social gaming, display advertising and education (2 of the 3 areas coincidentally overlap with where I currently see opportunities). Some quick take-aways:

  • It is not really a secret anymore but social gaming is on fire. Zynga has apparently a revenue run rate of close to $100 million and is only a 2 year old company. Playfish‘s PetSociety has more than 10 million active users on Facebook and is just 8 months old. In all of these cases, two things come together: superior, viral distribution by building games on top of the social graph and excellent monetization potential through virtual goods. Social media has shown impressive growth in many areas over the past year but social gaming is probably the only category that has turned their audience into real dollars.
  • There continue to be large opportunities in display advertising: brand advertising is a significantly larger market than performance advertising but nobody has figured out how to scale it on the web. More standardization and more data will help the course but we are far away from finding a Google AdSense-like product for display.
  • Education is always being cited as the big opportunity of the future but the reality still looks different with even established educational companies struggling to find the right online model. It is worthwhile reading the Hacking Education post on the Union Square Ventures blog.

All in all it still feels like very exciting times in consumer Internet…

Thoughts on current opportunities in consumer Internet

After I got asked twice yesterday about where I currently saw opportunities in the consumer Internet space so it felt like good timing to sum up my thoughts on this topic in a quick blog post. Here are the 3 areas that I find the most interesting for the moment:

  • Better targeting and increased accountability for display advertising: Google has set the industry standard for performance advertising but nobody has yet figured out how to drive accountability into display advertising. There are several companies working on solutions but none has captured significant market share so far.
  • Marketplaces built on Twitter: Twitter is rapidly emerging into real-time search and there are opportunities to build (information, service or commerce) marketplaces on top of this eco-system. Examples are (matching of recruiters) or Stocktwits for discussions around stocks).
  • Education: the education vertical is a natural for a high online penetration and while progress is being hampered by slow-moving institutions sitting in the middle, more and more educational ideas are getting traction. Examples are Seattle-based Teachstreet (an online community for education) or recently funded Myngle (a platform for online language education).

All three opportunities feel equally big and important to me so it will be interesting to see what ideas will emerge in these areas over the next little while.