Online education has been around for years, but they were largely viewed as experiments. Over the last year, things have changed. Elite universities are not only taking online education seriously, they’re building it into their 10-year plans. Harvard and MIT’s EdX is one example, Coursera another, while startups like CodeAcademy, Treehouse, StraighterLine, Khan Academy, Lynda.com, Udacity, and Udemy (among others) are carrying the torch for the flipped classroom.
Interestingly, what unites these platforms, aside from the fact that that they’re all in some way educators, is that each has built their own custom software and infrastructure to deliver their content. Are any using traditional learning management systems, like Blackboard or Moodle? Nope. That’s because viable, interactive online education requires software that can meet a new generation of demands: Social, mobile, rich multimedia, flexibility, and scale.
Yet, while these well-funded startups have the resources and capital to build custom platforms, there are thousands of traditional schools, education providers, learning coaches, etc. producing stellar learning content that lack the tools necessary to share their awesome content with the masses.
That’s where Pathwright comes into play. Greenville, South Carolina-based Pathwright was founded by a team of hackers (and educators) who have set out to build a platform for “the next wave of educators” — a simple, DIY content management system that lets any and all educators create, distribute, and sell online courses under the banner of their own branded, online schools.
Today, those looking to take advantage of online classes basically have two options. Hack together an LMS like Moodle or Blackboard, or build their own education software. It was the same problem that led to open source CMSes, or DIY mobile app software, and white label solutions of all stripes. Moodle and Blackboard are notoriously bad, and taking the former route generally leads to poor design, UX, and suffers from a lack of branding options. In terms of the latter, if you have the time/resources to build your own great, but it’s not for everyone.
So Pathwright worked with educators and students to fine tune and simplify the process of building a DIY tool for educators. The startup beta tested with an early client, which has already delivered 8K courses and growing, Pathwright Co-founder Paul Johnson tells us.
The co-founder says that the big vision is, like that of Udemy, to give educators direct access to students anywhere in the world and to make a living without the need for institutions or legacy tech. Johnson sees a coming increase in the number of niche education options, with the best courses being offered by practitioner teachers, a la Lynda.com, as the lines between educational publisher, institution, and teacher are blurred. A tool that makes Lynda-style distribution possible (the model itself is hard to mimic as Lynda has professional studios to produce its video content) will be in an advantageous position.
That’s why Pathwright allows users to teach anything by way of creating interactive learning paths, create a single course, or build an entire online school, train employees and customers, offer courses as curricula, and coach or mentor people in any location.
How does it work? Users create a simple path of action steps to guide their students through each course on a single page. These pages can include video or audio lectures, assessments, readings, exercises, or any other type of learning action, and offer the ability to easily upload, create, or embed content from YouTube or Scribd, etc.
Each course comes with a built-in social network for every student taking the course, allowing students to share notes, ask or answer discussion questions, and receive grades and feedback from teachers. Teachers can then publish their courses is a built-in, branded catalog and sell them directly, make them invitation-only, or offer monthly subscriptions that unlock all the courses. Educators can also offer online-only or location-based courses, or both, may be self-paced, or on a schedule with varying degrees of teacher interaction.
While the increase in scalable, online learning options is good news for the soaring price of education, some online education startups suffer from undercooked business models or stifled revenue streams. In the end, this is a business, so taking a cue from the popular software startup pricing scheme, Pathwright makes its platform cheap to get started, with pricing increasing with scale and users.
There are no setup or fixed fees, but once a user has over 10 course registrations, Pathwright charges $7 per registration, plus four percent of sales made through the startup’s built-in catalog. If the school isn’t selling courses using their Pathwright account, then the four-percent fee is removed, and schools can pre-purchase registration credits in bulk to lower the per-registration fee. Find more here.
Additionally, the startup recently launched an option for schools to sell their courses on a subscription basis (a la Treehouse) as well as offering courses for other teachers to use in their own private classes. Pathwright also provides related services for a fee, like video hosting and encoding, branded, custom themes, curriculum conversion, etc.
While Pathwright’s suite of tools are going to make it an appealing option, the startup is not alone in this market. Under its current model, Pathwright will certainly have overlap with Udemy, which also allows anyone to build and sell online courses, as well as Litmos, an LMS that is more focused on business training but offers basic course building and selling options — to name a few.
Both companies are well established and have been in the game for several years at least (Litmos was acquired by Callidus Software last year) and are profitable, so Pathwright has some ground to make up. While we’re seeing a flood of new online ed players entering the space, the landscape is still largely emergent, and I’d say there’s still plenty of room for each to scale before they’re competing directly for customer acquisition. There are just too many entities looking for easy ways to offer, sell, and distribute their own courses, and the market is still largely under-served.
Pathwright hasn’t raised any funding to date and remains focused on product and marketing, but will likely look to begin fundraising later this year.
For more, check out Pathwright at home here. What do you think?