“When you’re pitching Dave McClure — or any other seed investor — you have to start with any kind of traction.”
The Russian startup behind the app reckons it’s spotted a soundbite-sized gap in the e-learning delivery space. Unlike the long-form commitment (of at least weeks) required to take a typical MOOC, its online courses are broken down into “smaller, more manageable chunks” — basically minutes-long video lessons that can be gobbled down on your phone on the bus to work.
It’s e-learning for the Twitter generation. A sprinkling of micro-courses to go with your micro-blogs. An app to educate Generation Distracted.
“People have a desire to learn, but most MOOCs are set up similar to offline, classroom-held courses. We think the answer is providing a platform for the same quality of online courses, but in smaller, more manageable chunks that learners can do on their own time without the intimidating time commitment that comes with most MOOCs,” says co-founder Pavel Dmitriev.
“Coursmos’ micro-course formats provide quick-to-digest, low-commitment lessons that course takers can complete when they have three free minutes, not thirty.”
In keeping with this bite-sized philosophy, Coursmos has been developed mobile first — having launched as an iOS app late last month, with an Android app on the way. Dmitriev says it also plans to build out a web platform, too. It’s raised around $150,000 in seed-funding to date, since being founded in July — from an unnamed Russian angel investor, and Ukraine-based tech incubator Happy Farm.
Where is Coursmos getting its course content from? The crowd, of course. Which means courses are relatively thin on the ground right now. And variable in quality. But that’s par for the ‘platform play’ course.
The gem of wisdom that kicked off this article came courtesy of a micro-course created by Vitaly Golomb, a mentor at 500 Startups. A quick browse of other courses currently on offer turns up plenty of less pithy advice, so don’t expect to be protected from waffle just because Coursmos’ courses are short.
As with other user-generated content plays, Coursmos will presumably be hoping the cream of crowd-created courses rises to the top. To that end, there’s also a featured section within the app for flagging the better quality content — assuming, that is, it can get enough people creating content in the first place.
Elsewhere within the app, courses are divided into categories for easy browsing, with sections running the gamut from art to cooking to computer to handicraft to health to work and business. The app lets users save courses to a ‘Your classes’ tab for revisiting later. And each micro-lesson has a ‘mark completed’ button, so you can cross courses off your list when you feel you’ve successfully absorbed all its wisdom.
Which is all well and good but getting enough people to create enough courses to stock these virtual shelves remains the not-so-bite-sized challenge for Coursmos. Most of its course categories currently lack any content.
The proliferation of tutorial videos on YouTube shows plenty of folks are willing to share and show off their wisdom/inability to ingest cinnamon powder for free — or for their 15 minutes of Internet fame (and the forlorn hope of ad-revenue-powered riches). But YouTube is a very big platform, able to attract content because of the size of its audience. It also doesn’t require uploaders to actually have any expertise worth sharing. Being an e-learning platform, Coursmos’ bar is set a bit higher.
To incentivise course creation, it has one carrot: It’s giving instructors the option to charge for their courses — taking a 9 percent cut of any fees to fuel its own business model. Yet, despite this, it reckons most instructors won’t charge. And with MOOCs giving away an entire university-level education for free, it would certainly have to be an especially compelling three-minute video/course instructor to ask for payment. Add to that: Generation Distracted doesn’t open its wallet easily. It’s seen too much cool stuff on YouTube already, for free.
Besides MOOCs giving top-drawer learning away gratis, Coursmos is also effectively competing with all those free YouTube tutorials. Dmitriev says its hope is that an organised, low-friction delivery mechanism will help it pull attention away from funny cat videos.
“We think the Coursmos’ organization and singularly focused commitment to learning in short bursts of related course videos make for a much more robust learning environment,” he adds.
TechCrunch’s Steve O’Hear contributed to this article