Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

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Desire2Learn is a 10-plus year old Canadian company
that makes learning software — a learning
management system to be precise — and here’s why,
in spite of that description, it shouldn’t bore you to
sleep. In a space that’s traditionally been controlled
by bigs like Blackboard and Moodle, Desire2Learn has quietly managed to carve out its own growing
share of the market. Last September, the Waterloo-based company raised
a sizable $80 million round from NEA and others, and
today has over 700 clients and more than 10 million
people across higher education, K-12, healthcare and
beyond are using its learning software. Although the company doesn’t disclose financial
information, we’ve heard that its institutional contracts
are now translating into millions in revenue, which
along with its raise, has allowed it to expand its staff
from 600 to over 750 over the last year. In turn, the
company has been ramping up its focus on acquiring EdTech talent and is rumored to be planning an IPO
in the U.S. at some point down the road. While Desire2Learn has established a solid base, it’s
strategic M&A that can help lead the way forward,
fighting off a flattening growth curve and leading to
better products. The company has been acquiring
with more frequency of late, including two back-to-
back in January and March. Desire2Learn acquired course recommendation
engine, Degree Compass in March and is already
putting its tech to use to continue expanding its
learning platform. This week, the company announced
what it called “the biggest update to its Learning Suite
to date” — an update in which Degree Compass’ tech plays a central role, not only by expanding its toolset
but by potentially changing the way students navigate
their academic career. To do this, Desire2Learn wants to bring predictive
analytics into play in education. But why? Well, first
and foremost because, today, if students want to
figure out whether a course is right for them — or how
well they might perform in that course — they’re hard
pressed to find a good answer. They can ask fellow students, check websites that rank faculty based on
nebulous criteria or try to find surveys, but none of
these options are ideal. With its new analytics engine, Desire2Learn aims to
change that by giving students the ability to predict
their success in a particular course based on what
they’ve studied in the past and how they performed in
those classes. The new, so-called “Student Success
System,” was built (in part) from the technology it acquired from Degree Compass; however, while
Degree Compass used predictive analytics to help
students optimize their course selection, the new
product aims to help both sides of the learning
equation: Students and teachers. On the teacher side, Desire2Learn’s new analytics
engine allows them to view predictive data
visualizations that compare student performance
against their peers so that they can identify at-risk
students, for example, and monitor a student’s
progress over time. The idea is to give teachers access to important
insight on stuff like class dynamics and learning
trends, which they can then combine with
assessment data, to improve their instruction or adapt
to the way individual students learn. In theory, this
leads not only to higher engagement, but also better outcomes. For students, they use Desire2Learn as they normally
would, using it to view course materials, take
quizzes, submit homework and chat with their peers.
The platform then collects and analyzes each
student’s personal data and, by drawing from a wider
set of inputs, the engine can more accurately predict which classes students will perform best in and what
their grades will be. The system is currently operating at about 90 percent
accuracy when it comes to predicting performance by
letter grades, CEO John Baker tells us — a number
which should improve as the engine accumulates
more data, he says. In addition to its predictive analytics, Desire2Learn is
also making some significant updates to its mobile
app, including new integrations with Dropbox and
SkyDrive to allow students to engage with learning
resources in the same way they do outside the
classroom. What’s more, Desire2Learn is moving into Patbrite’s territory through ePortfolio and its new tool
which allows students to build portfolios based on
their in-school projects, grades and achievements in a
way that’s applicable to life after school and finding a
job. Essentially, the tool allows students to move their
academic resume to the cloud so they can take it
with them after they graduate, which the company is
incentivizing by offering 2GB of free storage. Basically, what we’ve come to realize, the
Desire2Learn CEO tells me, is that the company’s
initial approach to business (or academic) intelligence
was off track. “Students and teachers don’t
necessarily want more data, they want more insight
and they want that data broken out in a way that they can understand and helps them more quickly
visualize the learning map,” he says. When I asked if building and adding more and more
tools and features would dilute the experience and
result in feature overload, Baker said that the
company doesn’t want to build a million different
tools. Instead, it wants to become a platform that
supports a million tools and allows third-parties that specialize in particular areas of education to help
develop better products. Through open-sourcing its APIs, Desire2Learn along
with Edmodo and an increasing number of education
startups are beginning to tap into the potential
inherent to the creation of a real ecosystem. Adding
predictive analytics tools gives Desire2Learn another
carrot with which they hope to be able to draw both teachers, students and development partners into its
ecosystem.

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Top Hat Monocle, the Toronto-based provider of
mobile-based classroom response systems, has
decided to get Lasik and has dropped the ‘monocle’
from its name and logo. Top Hat, as the company will
now be known, is celebrating this move with the
launch of a redesigned corporate site at TopHat.com and, more importantly, it also
switching to a freemium model where classes with
fewer than 30 students can now use its tools for free. The tool was always free for educators, but students
had to pay $20 per semester to subscribe to the
service. As Andrew D’Souza, Top Hat’s COO told me
yesterday, the company decided to make this switch
in order to accommodate a number of different
scenarios. Many teachers, for example, want to adopt Top Hat in the middle of the semester but don’t want
to have to ask their students to pay at that point.
Some also just want to try it, but they don’t want their
students to have to sign up and pay – especially if
they aren’t sure that they’ll continue to use it. Top Hat
is also seeing strong interest from teachers in K-12 schools and this switch should help them to use its
tools, too. The 30-person limit, he told me, is meant
to ensure that the company’s costs for offering the
free service (mostly SMS fees), remain reasonable. “Our goal is to put Top Hat in the hands of every
student and teacher” D’Souza said in the
announcement today. “With this new pricing model,
we’re eliminating the barrier for instructors to give the
platform a try in their class. We expect this to
significantly accelerate the word-of-mouth-driven adoption we’re already seeing.” As for the name change, D’Souza told me that for a
mobile-first company, “Top Hat Monocle” was always
a very long name. Half-jokingly, he also added that
‘monocle’ turned out to be hard to spell for many
users. Quite a few people were already referring to the
company as ‘Top Hat’ anyway and the team decided that the tool had enough brand recognition that
making the switch wasn’t very risky. Top Hat is currently being used in 350 universities
worldwide.

20130507-230814.jpg With the growing demand for video-based online
education, Curious.com is joining the crowd today
with a marketplace that aims help students and
teachers connect around a range of subjects, from
pipe soldering and salsa dancing to jewelry making
and knife sharpening. With 10K learners logging 150K sessions during its
five-month private beta, Curious launches today with
hundreds of short, video-based lessons for people
who want to learn a new skill or rekindle a favorite
hobby. Founded by former Homestead founder and
CEO Justin Kitch, who sold his company to Intuit for $170 million, Curious is taking a page out of Udemy’s
book by not only offering learning content to students
but by allowing teachers to market, share and
monetize their lessons and engage with new
students. To support its launch, the company has raised $7.5
million in Series A financing from Redpoint Ventures,
former Apple Chairman Bill Campbell and Jesse
Rogers, including a personal investment of $500K
from Kitch. Kitch tells us that there are millions of teachers out
there who are itching to share their expertise with the
world but don’t have access to the tools or marketing
skills to bring their knowledge online. The Web today,
he says, is littered with low-quality learning content
delivered in static ways that fail to keep students engaged. With Curious, Kitch wants to make online learning
more digestible and accessible to the average web
surfer, while helping wannabe teachers make a buck
or two on the side by helping them, say, learn how to
brew a tasty Pilsner. The platform allows teachers to
sign up for free and use the site’s “lesson builder” to design, publish and market their own lessons in under
an hour. Teachers can link their related lessons and track how
many views their lessons collect, while enabling
learners to submit projects they drum up during class
and create “Curious Cards” to share their
achievements with the world. Through its comment
and messaging system, Curious allows teachers to work with students individually, while answering their
questions, reviewing projects and providing speedy
feedback. While there are a ton of online lesson platforms out
there, from Khan Academy and Skillshare to Udemy,
CreativeLive and Lynda.com, Curious is looking to set
itself apart by keeping videos short and serving
content in bite-sized, episodic chunks. Students can
engage with the content on their own time, as Curious eschews the traditional scheduling approach, opting
for convenience and immediacy. Learners can stop lessons whenever they want, share
projects during the process or at the end of the lesson
and post questions to the community or directly to
teachers. At launch, the site offers more than 500
lessons from over 100 professional teachers, curated
by Curious’ staff of educators and video experts. The startup wants to help its teachers monetize their
content, but it’s also looking to keep things
inexpensive at the outset, so the most lessons will
cost is a few dollars. Teachers can offer their lessons
for free, or for a few bucks a pop. In another twist for video-based education, Curious
offers its own micropayment system and currency,
called “Curious Coins,” which allow learners to
securely purchase premium lessons without having to
swipe their credit card 15 times. Another nifty feature that helps it stand out from the
crowd is Curious’ internally developed media player,
which breaks each video up into short 30- or 60-
second intervals. Each section is watermarked, which
allow attachments to surface at the appropriate
interval and makes it easy to flip back and forth between sections. Comments pile up below the
videos in a river, while students enrolled in Curious
have the ability to view comments by section. Curious isn’t yet ready to provide its own studios for
teachers, so educators have to provide their own
video, but the platform takes care of everything else.
The Lesson Builder helps teachers split their lessons
into sections, add attachments and text and publish.
Curious’ team is actively perusing the Web to find the best teachers in any given subject, wherever they
live, inviting them to the platform if they pass muster. Curious takes the standard 30 percent for all lesson
sales in its marketplace, although that could be
subject to change going forward. To celebrate its public launch, the startup is offering
new learners $20 of free Curious Coins. For more, find
Curious at home here.