With it being back to school time, it’s fitting to take a look at how local entrepreneurs are shaping online education. Whether it be using a funky new app that teaches kids mandarin or you tuning into a Khan Academy episode to learn code like Zuckerberg (back in his prime), education is definitely finding new ways to leverage technology – and grab the attention of entrepreneurs. There are a lot of things school doesn’t really teach and sometimes it has to do with professional development. This week’s featured entrepreneurs at Thinkific, break down how they are contributing to the online and mobile education space, especially with those life skills that really matter.
1. Who are you? Tell us about your business/core idea and how it got started.
We are Thinkific and we want to grow your mind. My brother Matt is a developer and my background is in law and business. We got into the business of e-learning through a love of education, both as students and teachers. A few years ago we developed our first e-learning business, it’s been a success so far and continues to fund our current endeavours. We also learned a lot about building and marketing effective online courses. With Thinkific we are making it easy for instructors and experts to share their skills online and on mobile devices and earn passive income doing so. We offer courses in a number of areas but our focus right now is on professional and career development.
2. Tell us more about how you stand out in the increasingly saturated online education space.
We focus on delivering the most effective educational experience. The entire Thinkific experience is based on empirical data to ensure that students have the best chance to achieve their educational goals, whether that’s earning a promotion or gaining new career skills. There’s also some great peer learning features built into our system. All our courses are available online and mobile and instructors and experts can even have their own mobile apps.
3. Where do you see online education in 30-40 years? Will companies like Thinkific disrupt universities to a point where some close down?
30-40 years is a long way out in the tech world, but I see things fragmenting more at first with some educators forging ahead with a number of trends including flipped classroom models, mobile education and more free resources particularly in the high-school and post secondary markets. Currently there seems to be much hype about entertaining education and not enough on what’s actually effective, I hope we’ll see a move away from sacrificing effectiveness for entertainment. There needs to be a balance between entertaining students to keep them engaged and delivering an effective educational experience. I think we’ve achieved that balance.
With respect to the universities, many of them are evolving to include online in their offerings with some going so far as to offer a flipped classroom model. Standford medical recently tested this model with great results – http://med.stanford.edu/ism/2012/may/prober.html
Unfortunately the current motivation for attending university is more about the degree and the job opportunities it offers rather than the education itself. It may be a long time before online education surpasses this hurdle. I think there’s a great opportunity here for universities to partner with online educational organizations to give students the best of both worlds.
4. What are some of the biggest challenges you and the team face today and how are you working to overcome them?
We’re currently just getting started so our big push right now is to expand our network of instructors and experts who are interested in teaching with us. Luckily with a professional background we’ve got a good network of experts to reach out to but we’re always happy to meet experts interested in teaching.
5. How does this improve the city of Vancouver? What is the real world problem you’re solving?
Specifically in Vancouver we’re working with some educational partners to offer a flipped classroom model. For example with the Launch Academy http://www.launchacademy.ca/ we are building online courses for potential and current entrepreneurs that allow students to follow up with offline mentoring sessions and workshops. The plan is to improve the educational resources available to entrepreneurs in Vancouver so that we can see more successful businesses created here. We are also working with a local university to offer similar resources.
6. What’s your advice for current or future entrepreneurs?
Validate your idea with potential customer feedback before you even start building. Then continue to seek validation before expending money or effort. You should have customers lined up before you even start working on a new project or feature. And focus. Entrepreneurs tend to be creative and see problems to solve everywhere. Be persistent and don’t get side tracked by the brilliant idea of the day.
This should not be an excuse to start skipping school, but rather, a unique opportunity for students (and graduates) to supplement their current education. Education is currently taking on interesting paths as it continues to flirt more with technology and the booming mobile industry. Education connects people and it continues to make more sense to be able to let those with life’s credentials to share their wisdom with eager minds looking to learn in unconventional yet convenient ways – such as from the comfort of ones own home.
Stay in touch @pauldavidescu
*Vancity Entrepreneurs is a weekly feature on the city’s most notable entrepreneurs or startups that are making Vancouver a better place. If you think your venture deserves to be on the series, send firstname.lastname@example.org an email explaining why*