Books are not the best way to learn. To retain knowledge you have to interact with it, and that’s where BenchPrep comes in. The startup licenses textbooks from big publishers like McGraw Hill and converts them into interactive web and mobile learning courses. Today, BenchPrep announces its expansion beyond college admission test prep. It will now offer courses to assist with high school, university, law, medicine, professional certifications, army, and more. It’s also releasing a new evaluation tool that determines a student’s weaknesses in a given subject. BenchPrep is the future of the ‘education anywhere’ movement.
The diagnostic tool and additional courses should help the 7-month old BenchPrep build on its existing base of 200,000 users, 7,000 of which are paying customers. Originally known as Watermelon Express, the company is backed by over a million dollars in funding from Lightbank. In May 2011, it rebranded as BenchPrep and pivoted from the standalone educational mobile app space crowded by companies like Inkling to developing multi-platform educational courses. The Chicago-based company now has 22 employees.
BenchPrep users can choose from over 30 courses such as AP US History, SAT Math, California Bar Exam, and Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist — though it leaves computer programming education to Codecademy. The diagnostic tool indicates where they need more practice. Each course offers reading materials, bookmarks and notes, flashcards, real-time chat and study groups, quizzes, and performance analytics. BenchPrep apps for iPhone, iPad, and Android let customers access their courses on the go.
I was surprised that big education publishers like McGraw Hill and Princeton Review would be willing to license their materials. But BenchPrep’s CEO and co-founder Ashish Rangnekar convinced them “We’re not competing for the same dollar. Licensing to BenchPrep creates an incremental revenue channel that does not cannibalize their book products.”
In about 7 days, BenchPrep can convert any textbook, say one on Calculus that sells for $50, into an interactive course it can sell for $100. That’s still much cheaper than taking a class in person. The publisher gets paid royalties on each course sale, and Rangnekar says BenchPrep plans to be cash-flow positive by June. New partnerships with more publishers will add 50 more courses to its library in the coming months.
Eventually, publishers might get a clue that interactive digital education is going to destroy their paper book business. If they’re smart they’ll start developing their own courses or raise licensing fees. Until then though, BenchPrep will be the savior of anyone frustrated by the static book-learning experience.
For a look at how the web and mobile apps work, check out this BenchPrep intro video: