Startup Highlight: Curious Tackles Informal Learning

The world of online education is buzzing with talks of MOOCs–massive open online courses–that many see as the future of higher education. MOOCs certainly have a place, though I’m not quite sure yet of just what it is. But there is no question that the web has both a massive supply of and demand for more informal educational opportunities. There are thousands of educational video on YouTube, but except for such well known sources as Khan Academy, they can be tough to find and tougher to assess., a Menlo Park startup launched today, A big problem, wants to get the teachers and the students together and to help would-be web educations make some money in the process. The brainchild of Justin Kitch, who founded and later sold it to Intuit, is starting with about 500 curated lessons covering everything from beer making (photo) to exercise, from art appreciation to HTML coding. For the most part, the lessons stay away from traditional curricular areas, though there is the seemingly inevitable calculus tutorial and favor of more lifestyle and hobby-related content. “Our goal is a better way to deliver online education,” says Kitch. “Curious is a platform and a marketplace for teachers of anything.”

In contrast to many of the instructional videos found on YouTube, a considerable amount of care has gone into the quality of the Curious videos. While the quality of the ones I watched varies, even the worst were pretty good. The player features in-lesson quizzes: The instructor can insert questions into the video timeline. The video pauses and a question pops up on the screen. These can be a help in maintaining engagement or in student self-assessment.

One goal of curious is to provide the informality of YouTube, including the ability to start a course at any time, with something a bit more structures. “We did a lot of research onto how people learn online,” says Kitch. “The research shows you have 90 seconds before you lose someone. The idea is tyo provide a better educational experience than YouTube. YouTube gives a great educational experience, but not instruction.

Some of the lessons are free, but most cost between one and three “Curious coins.” New users start with 20 coins and additional units cost $1. The basic business model is a revenue share between Curious and the instructors.

The big test here is whether customers will part with their money in a world in which courses taught by professors from Stanford, Harvard, and MIT are available free. Succeeding in those formal courses, however, requires a heavy commitment of time over six to ten weeks, which explains why typically more than 90% of the students who enroll fail to complete the course. Curious offers lighter, smaller bites and just might succeed.



How The Internet Saved My Keg

If you are like me you have dozen’s of stories of how content from the Internet has helped you in some way. I often take the Internet for granted. Sometimes it takes a crisis where I use the web to gain obscure yet valuable knowledge to remind me of the power of the World Wide Web. I shared a story earlier in the year in my SlashGear column about how I got information, in real time from the web, to help me deliver babies from my pregnant goat. The crisis that time was due to a complication with the labor of one of our prized goats. This time however the crisis was with my keg.

I own a Kegerator, which is a small refrigerator specially built to house a keg and dispense cold draft beer. I emptied my current keg a few weeks ago and unplugged then cleaned my Kegerator. Over the weekend I decided it was time to get my next great summer brew. I plugged the Kegerator in and left to go purchase my next keg. When I got home my Kegerator was not cooling and I began to panic.

So as I always do when I am in search of information, I pulled out my phone and searched for reasons a refrigerator would not cool.

I quickly ran through the symptoms I found online until I identified the problem (the site I used was written by a fridge repair man who listed all the steps he would take to diagnose the problem). It appeared the coils were dirty and needed to be vaccumed and scrubbed. I quickly found a how-to-video on YouTube on how to properly clean and scrub refridgerator coils then followed the steps. I then plugged my Kegerator back in and sure enough it started cooling instantly.

Prior to the Internet how would I have solved this problem? Most likely I would have had to call an appliance repair service. Even in this scenario there would have been no guarentee that the refigerator repair person could have come out immeditely or even on the same day, assuming they were open on the weekend in the first place. It would have also cost a bundle to have emergency service done.

The bottom line is prior to the Internet I would have likely been sunk and run the risk of losing my entire keg. Every time I have one of these experiences where the Internet provides me with obscure yet timely and valuable knowledge I am amazed. We have a friend who actually used YouTube to learn how to replace her roof and did the entire job herself just using how-to’s from YouTube.

I ask myself is there any bit of knowledge that is not on the Internet?