Each of us was given directions to the cabins located deep in rural Pennsylvania. We planned to spend three days, around-the-clock, hashing out plans for the new venture. It would be several weeks before we settled on a company name.
Most of us had never met. We arrived from different cities, states, and even countries. Some came to the venture after working in a well-known R&D initiative at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University. Others were former education publishing executives, still more came from academia. Programmers rounded out the remaining.
Like many of our colleagues in higher education, we were dissatisfied with the current state of online learning. We wanted to show what was possible if you brought together the best of learning theory, provided educators with actionable information about what’s working and what isn’t, and made the long-awaited holy grail of personalization feasible and trustworthy. Reflecting our roots in Carnegie Mellon University, the foundation for this venture was science: the best approach would be backed by evidence of improved learning outcomes.
Experience has shown all of us in higher ed that improving student outcomes and increasing retention rates is difficult. If technology is going to a play a major role in helping those students that don’t succeed quickly or easily, we need to take instructional design seriously, and bring all of the capacity of the digital learning to bear.
A Very Good Start
It’s tough to launch a new business, no matter the field. Most new ventures don’t survive. Very few get the funding they need to make a serious go of it against the big players. Worse still, higher education is an especially cautious sector and because of our particular approach, we needed to find colleges and universities that were just as ambitious as we were.
We launched back in mid-2013. The team has grown since then. We’ve been lucky enough to work with more than 40 partner institutions including Western Governors University, the pioneer in what is now the very active space of competency-based learning and education, and the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley - one of the highest ranked MBA programs in the world. Earlier this year, we beat out 270 other organizations to win the Return on Education Innovation Award (ROE) at SXSW. And late last year we were the grateful recipients of the Next Generation Courseware Challenge from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
If this good fortune wasn’t enough, this week we announced 9.75 million USD in funding from Draper Triangle Ventures, Hearst Ventures, and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
This seems, then, like the ideal time to stop and say thanks. First, thank you to Carnegie Mellon University and William Gutman, in particular, for providing such a solid foundation. But we also need to thank the colleges and universities that have chosen to work with us to explore the limits of what’s possible with adaptive learning.