Last summer, we told you about the launch of Noodle Education, a startup co-founded and led by John Katzman, perhaps better known as a co-founder of The Princeton Review and 2U (formerly 2tor). The startup is on a mission to bring a Netflix-style recommendation engine to the fragmented and noisy world of education. Not unlike Google, Noodle Education wants to organize the world’s learning platforms and aggregate the huge amount of educational info out their on the Web into a learning-centric, personalized search and recommendation engine.
The startup has been quiet since, but today we’ve learned that the company has made its first acquisition, scooping up Founders Fund-backed learning management startup, Lore. Formerly known as CourseKit, Lore has been developing a new take on the familiar “course management system” with a gradebook, calendar and document uploader for class assignments, while providing students with “a social network-style newsfeed for classroom conversations,” as we wrote at the time.
Initially focused on building forums around courses with tools designed specifically for teachers, last fall, Lore launched its student-facing platform to let students create academic profiles, follow classmates and professiors and join study groups, clubs, and so on. The network had its first semester live last spring, and since then has signed up more than 600 schools and added thousands of courses across a range of disciplines.
While the terms of the deal were not disclosed, we do know that that this is primarily a technology acquisition. Katzman tells us that Noodle Education will be acquiring the platform and all of Lore’s assets, but that the startup’s seven employees are each evaluating whether or not to join Noodle on an individual basis.
Lore founder Joseph Cohen, who developed CourseKit (which later became Lore) with Dan Getelman, and Jim Grandpre while undergraduates at The University of Pennsylvania, will not be joining Noodle. That’s not to say he’s not happy about his startup’s exit — which he and his two co-founders left school to pursue full-time — in fact, he tells us that he couldn’t “imagine a better home for Lore.”
The company shares “shares [Lore’s] ambition to build a better future for education,” he continued, “and what’s more, John Katzman is one of the best, most experienced education entrepreneurs that I know, so I’m excited to see how he grows the platform and help him do it where I can.” Cohen hasn’t decided what he’s going to do next, whether that’s go back to school, or get back into the startup game, but Lore’s life will continue nonetheless, Katzman tells us.
But, what’s going to happen to Lore, you ask?
Well, the reason that Noodle Education has been quiet for the last six months is, in part, due to the fact that it’s tackling a huge problem — one that’s really too big and has to be segmented to be approached effectively. Education information, data is broad and diverse. When one looks at it in the big picture, this means information on schools, learning platforms, tutors, learning content, textbooks, testing, assessments, teachers, performance and on and on.
To create an educational search engine that works for anyone — regardless of whether you’re a parent looking for the best tutor for your third grader or you’re a high school junior trying to figure out what college to choose — is a big challenge. Especially if you want to build something that’s just as valuable for consumers as it is for businesses and offers personalized recommendations.
Katzman says that he started working at Noodle Education full-time in December because, although growth has been compounding 40 percent month-over-month, the problem has proved trickier than he had imagined. The other contributing factor is that Katzman and Noodle want to not only building a tool that will help learners and educations connect and find both each other and content more effectively, but to address perhaps the biggest problem in education: The cost.
The company’s underlying mission, the founder tells us, is to raise the overall quality of education while driving down the cost of tuition. In order to do that, the 25-person company has aspirations to build an educational marketplace around its flagship search tool and Katzman says they will be looking to both build and acquire great technology that helps them do that, while impacting the overall cost of and access to quality education.
Going forward, Noodle Education will look to develop complementary companies around its search and recommendation engine, beginning with “Noodle Launch,” a “sister” company that Katzman hopes to launch at some point in April or shortly thereafter. Noodle Launch will be focused on the cost issue, he says, and the question of “how do we make it less expensive to build out the asynchronous part of blended learning?”
The acquisition of Lore was the first step in this regard, he says, and my guess is that this won’t be Noodle Education’s last. “Lore has built a beautiful interface,” Katzman tells us, and by offering a social news feed experience that has become standards on networks like Facebook, Lore’s integration into Noodle will allow the company to offer students an experience they’re familiar with — while making the core Noodle experience more social.
Going forward, Noodle will look to build a marketplace of services around search, not unlike what Google has done around its own search engine. With how opaque, fragmented and dysfunctional the educational marketplace is at this point, that is an ambitious goal, and there’s no “silver bullet,” Katzman admits. But, if Noodle can begin to unite the disparate silos within education through some kind of unifying search and services marketplace, it could stand to have a significant impact on the learning experience and the current educational infrastructure. That said, it’s an enormous hill to climb.
We’ve also learned that the company is currently in the process of raising a significant round of funding to help it build its educational marketplace, so stay tuned for more news coming out of the Noodle ecosystem.