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Saturday, 3 January 2009

Startup Idea #112: Organising the world's online educational materials

The amount of online educational materials coming on to the Web is going to be, if not already, staggering. This site alone tracks the number of services offering free educational materials in medicine. With iTuneU, the amount of materials is going to get many, many times larger.

With so much content, the user runs into the classic attention problem: which one offers the best lectures in a topic that he/she should listen to? Many of the current educational offerings don't offer reviews, ratings et al of any sort. Without a way to filter the content, the user faces a uphill task of separating the good from the bad.

This, however creates an opening for anybody to take shot at solving this problem. We need services to help pull together discreet pieces of content into coherent streams of attention for users. This is particularly important for learning, as there is usually a sequential way to pick up knowledge.

The most obvious opportunity is to learn from the media side, and apply successful models such as Last.fm for online learning content. Aggregate content and filter them using your community. Let users see their learning 'neighbors' , their friends and create a community. Let users able to see the content their community is consuming in different ways. Let users discover new and relevant content through recommendations.

However, the more interesting opportunity may be to redefine how educational services are delivered. With the content and the ways to organise it in place, we can think of coordination tools that help users roll up their own leaning classes. Currently, the schools have the advantage of coordination with its administration and facilities. We can easily create scheduling and other coordination tools student need to organise their learning. There might even a VRM angle where lecturers will then bid to work with students.

Online learning is now on the inflection point. What other opportunities do you see?