Small Companies Storm the Edutech Market; Teachers and Parents Needed To Accelerate Innovation

9/24/12Follow @sramana

Online education is now available for everyone. Parents can home school their children from the moment they start kindergarten until they graduate from high school. Online colleges and universities continue to gain legitimacy as more and more people pursue bachelor’s and master’s degrees via the Internet. Schools such as the University of Phoenix no longer stand alone as the only credible online institutions of higher learning.

Another trend in online education is e-textbooks. E-textbooks like the iBooks editions offered in Apple’s Online Education center make it easier and more affordable for educators to provide students with relevant, up-to-date resources. Students can carry tablets instead of mountains of heavy textbooks. Teachers no longer have to wait for new editions to come out. E-textbooks can be updated in minutes whereas their printed counterparts can take months.

But those aren’t the only trends and developments going on in the edutech world. We’ll introduce you to some companies within the 1M/1M portfolio that throw light on additional trends.

First, there’s CubertsCube, a Seattle-based company founded by Melanie Kusmik. CubertsCube is a wonderful online tool that children can use to develop their writing skills by creating, illustrating, publishing, and sharing stories. They can create stories on their own or with the help of a friend (called a “StoryPal”).

“Kids’ enthusiasm for technology mirrors our own. Most of them use technology for games and music. But what about using it for another form of art-writing? Could we inspire creativity and imagination intrinsically by allowing kids to be the creators rather than the consumers of what we adults imagine?” says Kusmik on the CubertsCube website. “Naturally their writing abilities will improve; they’ll become better problem solvers and communicators as they collaborate and share with others.” If you are a writing teacher and would like to play with this very early product, feel free to participate in their pilot.

Now, consider companies like Khan Academy. Founded by Salman Khan, a fellow MIT alumni and a former hedge fund analyst, Khan Academy is a non-profit organization that uses free YouTube videos to help people learn new subjects, languages, and more. The site has an impressive video library that students can use for learning, refreshing their memories or studying for exams.  In fact, today, teachers all over the world are using Khan’s videos to teach students, and entire school districts are experimenting with changing the method of education from ‘sage on stage’ to ‘guide on the side’ whereby teachers guide students to learn from Khan’s content, rather than from their own lectures.

One Million by One Million’s own Hifikids.com is a company that seeks to educate children of all ages through Web interaction across the globe. Tushar Sayankar founded HiFiKids in 2010 as a way to create a common platform for teachers, students, and parents to create quality educational material in terms of quizzes and video tutorials. Although it follows a similar model to the one that Khan Academy uses, where HiFiKids differs most is that the students can create their own tutorials to not only teach others but also reinforce their own knowledge of particular subjects.

Sayankar’s basic philosophy is that kids learn better when they have to also teach and explain what they have learned. As such, he shares Kusmik’s vision of ‘kids as creators’ and not just ‘kids as consumers’.

Another example of advancements in education technology comes from another One Million by One Million company, Insane Logic. Zoe Peden and her co-founder Andrew Jackman founded Insane Logic in 2010 after Peden had spent three years working for a U.K.-based communications charity that owned a proven language program consisting of sign language and symbols that aided language acquisition and development to build effective communication skills in children with learning disabilities.

Peden wanted to create something that would satisfy the public’s growing demand for a mobile version of these solutions. She started building a prototype of the language program on the iPad and Insane Logic was the result. Currently, the company has 1,100 paying customers and 5,000 customers on the free version of the app.

Today, Peden and Jackman have extended the brand to include a more mainstream audience with the release of a series of three game apps. These are all around building effective language development by using sign language, symbols, and pictures. They are aimed mainly at parents with children under five years old, in addition to the special needs market that Insane Logic is serving with its MyChoicePad apps. The first game, MyChoicePad Memory, should be out in the U.K. App Store in September 2012.

Of course, iPad apps and educational games have taken the EduTech market by storm. The application of social learning a la CubertsCube and HiFiKids is also a significant trend. Finally, edutech startups in the learning disability space seems to also be an area seeing lots of innovation.

One concluding thought: innovation in EduTech needs active participation from teachers, parents and kids. Traditionally, the schools have not embraced innovation easily. However, with younger teachers entering the workforce, and technology sweeping through the lives of average consumers, perhaps, during this decade, we will finally bridge the innovation gap.

Sramana Mitra is the founder of One Million by One Million (1M/1M), a global virtual incubator that aims to help one million entrepreneurs globally to reach $1 million in revenue and beyond. She is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and strategy consultant, she writes the blog Sramana Mitra On Strategy, and is author of the Entrepreneur Journeys book series and Vision India 2020. From 2008 to 2010, Mitra was a columnist for Forbes. As an entrepreneur CEO, she ran three companies: DAIS, Intarka, and Uuma. Sramana has a master’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Follow @sramana

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  • John

    I was curios to know about http://www.hifikids.com
    and it impressed me by simple grading based on quiz submissions. They
    implemented a niche process of grading students based on what they know
    about the subjects they learn rather than giving them limited test
    quizzes. It will not only motivate students but it will quickly turn
    into competition among all age students across the globe for quiz
    submissions. If they implement this method correctly in all the public
    schools, it can be used to grade the schools as well. I think http://www.hifikids.com has great potentials in US and I am going to contact the founder.