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The Pain Test

In the last post, I discussed the problem that exists for people learning new subjects and my proposed solution. I’ll now continue the EdStartup posts with The Pain Test:

  1. Why is it hard for people to learn on their own? 
    It is difficult to focus and make sure you understand something when you are just passively involved in it. This is especially true when learning a “hard” subject such as physics, programming or other STEM subjects. One cannot learn just by reading, one needs to learn by doing.
  2. What are people currently doing to learn hard subjects?
    Many people attend classes to learn hard subjects, though they still need to learn a lot on their own. Students often study with each other to help get through the material. Students on their own often put a lot of effort into getting through a textbook, or sometimes watch online videos. To get practice, they do problems by hand, normally without getting quick feedback.
  3. What is being developed to help teach students learn?
    While it varies by school, some classes and recitations do an OK jobs helping students learn hard things. However, there is still a large demand for material that will help students learn on their own in a more interesting manner. Recently, there has been a large growth of online learning material, such as Khan Academy, Udacity, Udemy, Inkling and Veri.
  4. That’s a lot of sites! Why aren’t they good enough?
    Udacity is good, but it won’t be able to cover a large range of subjects since it’s produced by such a small group. Also, there can be more to learning than just watching someone with a tablet write. Udemy allows anyone to create content, but it doesn’t provide a means to create or publish interactive content. Some sites now provide quizzes, which is good, but they don’t go much beyond that. Inkling is interesting, but they’re focused on digitally updating textbooks, rather than creating completely new forms of content.
  5. How long has it been hard to learn hard subjects?
    Since they were discovered. However, there is high demand now for people with STEM skills, so it is even more important to find means to help students learn such subjects with less difficulty.
  6. How easily could something change to make it easy to learn?
    Without some of brain-modifying technology it will remain quite difficult. The growth of online learning looks like it will help though.

Interactive Education for Everyone

Summary: Website will provide a platform for creating and publishing various types of interactive educational content and educational games. Users of the site will be able to learn various subjects through interactive texts, quizzes, and games. Content creators will be able to upload and embed material that they created with other programs and they will be able to use site’s general purpose tools for creating interactive content.

Problem that’s solved: It is difficult to learn new subjects. Students in schools do not always have the best-quality teacher and they often need to learn material outside of class anyways. Many people want to learn new subjects but do not have access to actual classes, so they need to learn the material on their own by reading books o watching videos.

However, textbooks (and even videos) are often boring or difficult. It is often hard to focus on getting through the material and making sure one understands all of it. Reading a textbook is too passive of a means to learn a subject properly. While one can find many videos online on all sorts of topics, there is little interactive content available.

The Solution is to create a site filled with interactive content on thousands of topics. Since it is not possible to do this on one’s own, the website will provide a platform to enable other people to create and publish interactive educational content. It will consist of different forms of media and allow students to explore interact with demonstrations and virtualizations. If students encounters a difficulty, they will be able to click on the material to get more information or help. The student will need to answer a variety of questions and partake in the subject throughout the learning the material. There will also be some embedded educational games to help teach the material.

By providing content in such an interactive manner, it will be easier  and more interesting for students all over the world to learn new topics in many different subjects. (See also my post Future of Education.)

I am interested in fixing this problem because I have found that school and classes can often be boring and may fail to teach the material well. I think that the internet can be used help solve these problems by providing better alternatives for education. This will let people learn a subject wherever and whenever they want.

Disruptive EdTech Startups

The Washington Monthly recently published a long article about how education technology is beginning to make real changes. In the article it discussed the issue of whether education technology will have more success in helping the standard school system or in replacing it:

Is the real money to be made, per Marc Andreessen, in eating the existing education industry? Or will it be in providing service to the industry, helping them do what they do better? In terms popularized by Harvard business professor Clayton Christensen, this is the difference between “disruptive” and “sustaining” innovation.

While there is clearly some room for both types of technology, I am a bigger believer in the “disruptive” version. I think its more interesting to work on technology that will directly help students learn new material rather than work on things that help teachers get feedback or help college websites. This learning technology can then be used by anyone who wants to learn a topic, whether in a school or out of it.

There are many startup working in this area. Codecademy has become quite popular by focusing on one specific area that is in high demand now: learning to program. They provide short interactive lessons that let people easily practice as they learn. This lets students learn how to do things much better than reading any book would. This method of learning by doing can be expanded to other area also. I’m particularly interested in the potential of having other users create interactive educational resources for the public.

If students can learn to code on their own, they might be able to pick up a job without any formal degree. However, most “intellectual” jobs require a college degree of some sort. Degreed is looking to change that by letting people show their credentials from non-accredited institutions also. The common disconnect between what colleges teach and what is required in the job market may help employers realize there are other things to look for in job applicants. The question then would be if Degreed is necessary, or can people show their credentials through other means.

Two very succesful startups are Knewton and Dreambox. They both emphasize personalized and adaptive learning. Their success shows the potential for these types of technology to expand across all areas of education.


Intro Post

I’m interested in the potential of technology to change education and have written a few times about this topic on my blog, I wrote two longer posts about how technology can be used to change the way material is learned, and about how the curriculum itself should be changed. Below is a 20-second intro video, though its a bit strange.