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Teaching service Knowmia seeks to revolutionize tutoring

Product likely to be used for 'flip teaching'

Published: Friday, Aug. 28 2015 6:33 p.m. MDT

Knowmia, a new educational tool, lets educators browse videos to see how other teachers are presenting various topics, making it a good lesson-planning resource. Classroom reviews come alive when teachers and students move between video stations to study old content in a new way. (Shutterstock) Knowmia, a new educational tool, lets educators browse videos to see how other teachers are presenting various topics, making it a good lesson-planning resource. Classroom reviews come alive when teachers and students move between video stations to study old content in a new way. (Shutterstock)

There's a new player in the online education world, an upstart intending to shake up a lucrative global industry.

San Francisco-based Knowmia uses video lessons uploaded by teachers to provide home tutoring options. The service also allows teachers to upload self-made video content they can assign as homework. Using Knowmia, struggling students can find teachers whose style suits them, then work at home on catching up at school.

Knowmia was founded by Ariel Braunstein and Scott Kabat, two members of the team that launched the Flip Video line of pocket camcorders. Knowmia enters a field dominated by Khan Academy, a popular digital repository of educational video content and classroom reporting tools. Khan's not-for-profit library of free video lessons is free to users and is funded by donations.

There is big money in the $54 billion supplemental education market, however, which includes companies like Huntington Learning Center, Kaplan and Sylvan Learning Center and the Japan-based Kumon Center. Kabat and Braunstein intend for Knowmia to revolutionize the industry by using Internet crowd-sourcing to make individualized tutoring less expensive and more convenient.

Education Week blogger Jason Tomassini described Knowmia as being "like a combination of Khan Academy, Netflix and Pinterest," and Kabat agrees.

"Khan is clearly onto something big, and we are huge supporters," Kabat said. "We feature some of the Khan lessons on our site, but we want to be a platform for thousands of Khans."

Like Pinterest's online photo-sharing site, Knowmia's content is crowd-sourced — contributed by the public. And, like Netflix, Knowmia gradually personalizes itself for its users as it learns more about their interests and preferred learning styles. Though there are numerous providers of digital education, Knowmia's founders hope their plan to curate program individualized to learners' needs will allow it to take hold as Pinterest has, revolutionizing the tutoring industry in the process.

Knowmia's creators scoured the web to amass a growing library of 8,000 videos created by 900 teachers -- a network that will grow. All of this basic content is free to students who visit Knowmia.com, and teachers are allowed to upload their own video lessons to the site at no cost.

However, students must pay extra to receive Knowmia's premium level of service, which includes curated video mini-courses designed to reach specific educational goals, and assessments to ensure those goals are met. Knowmia's tweak on the popular freemium model allows teachers to earn revenue by developing personalized courses for students.

Melody Pak, who spent three years teaching ninth-grade algebra to charter school students in New Orleans, La., enjoys creating mini-courses for Knowmia.

"It's been great being able to present material in a different medium and with such a variety of teachers on tap," she said. "I'm bringing all these different teachers to a student in a personalized way."

Pak said Knowmia lets her browse many videos to see how other teachers are presenting various topics, making it a good lesson-planning resource. And, classroom reviews come alive when she has her students move between video stations to study old content in a new way.

Students can also use Knowmia for homework help and test study, and for catching up after absences, Pak said. And, teachers can use it to individualize instruction for slow and advanced learners. Part of Knowmia's magic is that it can match teaching styles with learning styles, Kabat said.

"There is no such thing as a good teacher or a bad teacher, because we all learn differently," he said. "There is something to be said for giving people the opportunity to find the right teacher, and that person might not be in their neighborhood."

Knowmia is likely to be used for flip teaching, a new trend in education, Kabat said. In a flipped classroom, the teacher might reverse the traditional classwork/homework setup by creating video lectures for students to watch at home. That way, the teacher can supervise students as they do their individual assignments while they are in the classroom. The flip model allows teachers to keep students on task for assignments and provide help to those who are lagging.

"Flipped classrooms are a hot topic right now," Pak said. "With all the videos, and a teacher community at its disposal, I can see Knowmia becoming a great tool for educators interested in creating their own flipped classrooms."

Knowmia's content is geared to high-school students but will expand to cover the K-12 curriculum. Contributing teachers do not have to prove accreditation or competency but must include their names and schools and give information about themselves. "We count on the community to review and regulate the content," Kabat said.

To help teachers illustrate educational concepts within their videos, the site provides the Knowmia Teach iPad app, a sort of iMovie program that can be used to punch up video lessons with enlarged visual images that teachers can write on, according to the technology blog GigaOm.

Knowmia makes tutoring less expensive, less time-consuming and more convenient, Kabat said. He and Braunstein helped up-end the video camcorder world when their Flip video camera went on sale in 2007, only to see the camcorder market disrupted again by smartphones. Kabat said he intends to take what he learned in the camcorder industry and apply it to disrupting the booming supplemental education market, which Business Wire estimates will be worth $100 billion by 2017.

In the United States, the need to meet benchmarks set by the No Child Left Behind Act and win college scholarships drives the tutoring market. The gigantic international market for tutoring, which Kumon dominates, is fueled by competition to pass entrance exams for college admission, Business Wire said. With Knowmia, Kabat sees an opportunity to satisfy those needs.

"Supplemental education was ripe for disruption," he said. "The market is growing by double digits every year. Video hasn't played a huge factor, and we think it can."

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company