A Mobile Learning Startup Idea

Moving away from a web focus and web design.

May 28, 2013

Do you dream of launching your own ed tech startup?

Of taking the plunge of turning your ideas, knowledge, and networks into a company?

The factors that stop me from going the startup route are:

Time: Startup founders have no life. They work nights, weekends, and holidays. Forget work / life balance when you are trying to get a company off the ground. I'm not ready to sacrifice family time for the life of a startup founder.  

Money: In 2017 I'll have two kids in college. Today I have a mortgage, orthodontia bills, summer camp expenses - you name it. I'm too risk averse to fund my company on credit cards and loans from friends and family.

Career: I love my higher ed gig.  I am privileged and fortunate enough to work at one of our top institutions of higher learning, with colleagues that I learn from everyday, in a job that fits my passions and skills. Great higher ed jobs are few and far between, and I worry that if I left my current job to found a startup that it would be difficult to get a similar position in higher ed.

This does not mean that I don't dream of starting an edtech company.  And I have a few ideas.

The idea that I'd like to share with you today is about a company built around mobile learning.

I am continually frustrated with the mediocre quality of our mobile learning platforms. The problem seems to be that e-learning platforms have been designed first for the web, and then retrofitted for the mobile world.

Learning management systems are built first for the web. Every LMS has a mobile version, but I don't know of any school or program that is using the mobile version of the LMS as the primary e-learning platform.   

The most elegant e-learning platform built specifically for mobile is Apple's iTunes U Courses app. This app, when combined with the web-based course manager for content uploading and student management, comes closest to a clean, simple, and flexible mobile learning platform.   

The iTunes U Courses app, however, has some major shortcomings:

  • No integration with student information systems (SIS) and no ability to pre-enroll students.
  • The absence of any collaboration tools.
  • The lack of any assessment tools.
  • No ability for student submission of work.
  • No grade book.
  • No Android app - iOS only.

What iTunesU Courses does extraordinarily well is provide a platform for the secure delivery and consumption of curricular content - including text documents and videos.  It allows offline access, dynamic content updating, and the ability to use other apps to work with the materials.

The company that I would start would take the iTunes U Courses app as a model, and then build out a set of equally elegant but powerful tools for the functions that it lacks. The emphasis would be on simplicity, aesthetics, and the user experience. Non-essential features would be rigorously excluded.   

Perhaps most importantly, the only platform available would be the mobile app. No web equivalent.

My company would be mobile learning platforms for programs or schools that wanted to be only mobile.

This strategy would not work for most of the market. Only niche programs would want to be mobile only. That would be fine with me. I'd build one thing, and I'd do it very well.

Should I start this mobile learning company?

Is there a mobile learning platform that I don't know about?

What would it take to overcome my fears of time, money, and career to get into the edtech startup game?   

What would it take for you to found your own edtech startup?


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