The Goals of Learneroo - How I Hope to Improve Online Education

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Why I Started an Edtech Site

I started college 4 years ago, and I decided to major in Computer Science so I could solve challenging problems and create things that could be used by people all over. In college, I found that college lectures did not really teach computer science or math that well and I felt there could be a better way. I wrote some posts and articles about ways to improve education with technology, most of which have been republished on this blog. Recently, I decided to do more than just write about it, and I started, a site to help people learn technical topics like math and programming. While a few large sites have began offering online courses in the past few years, I feel that a different approach is possible, which I will briefly outline in this post. Since my site is still in a very early stage, I have not yet fulfilled all these ideas, but that means I can still test them out and refine them as I go along.

The Learneroo Difference

While online learning has grown recently, most sites are still focused on simple video content - either of talking heads or scribbling hands. While scribbling on a screen is more visual than a person talking, its still basically the same technology as 10,000 years ago. While there's inherently nothing wrong with this, I think the web can move beyond a lecture-based model and offer more engaging ways to learn.


The main way people learn the necessary skills in topics like math and programming is not by listening to lectures, but by doing, i.e. by solving problems. Instead of having people listen to a lecture and then go and really learn the topic by solving problems, why not have them learn by solving problems right away? This way, they learn by discovering the ideas "on their own", instead of passively listening to them. This can be both more interesting and lead to a a better understanding.

To make this discovery process easier, difficult concepts can be broken down into small challenges, and the student can learn the full topic as they go through the smaller problems. Each challenge can have some short content that will give students just enough information so they can figure out the solution on their own. If a student needs more help, he or she can click on hints and text popups get through a difficult problem. While skilled teachers may try to get students to discover some material on their own, it is difficult to do this for a large class where different people will grasp different ideas. But by offering challenges with hints and other help, different students will be able to discover the material at their own pace. This is the apporach we will follow at Learneroo.

The Content Itself

The content within each challenge will go beyond simple videos and long static paragraphs of text. Instead we plan to offer interactive text, where different parts can expanded or skipped based on the preference of the user. The printed page only offered one way to be read, but computers do not have to "dictate" what the user must read.

Venn Diagram of Educational Content

As discussed in Less Writing, we will also offer visual charts and diagrams to demonstrate ideas in a more intuitive manner than text alone. We will also develop more advanced interactive features, such as games and formula demonstrators. While these interactive features will be more difficult to implement, they can really help make the learning easier and more fun. (See also the Future of Education).

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Since our content will mostly be non-videos, it will be easy for students to both skip to the parts they are interested in and quickly reference parts later. Nowadays, people do not need to memorize every detail of a subject, but they need to know the fundamentals and be able to quickly lookup the details. Since our content will be easy to scan, search and reference, it will help the student beyond passing a test and be a resource for them in the future.

The Curriculum

As discussed in a A New Curriculum, we will teach subjects that are important in the modern world, whether they are standard "school" subjects or not. This is some of the content we currently have:

  • Combinations and Permutations - A beginner course to teach a basic topic important to probability.
  • About Programming - This new content will help people find out what programming is, what they should learn, and what resources to use.
  • Sorting Algorithms - An algorithms module for people who know programming basics. This might seem more "standard" than "practical" but it serves as a good example, and we can let students skip it...

Within the subjects themselves, we plan to teach practical skills over "standard" curriculum. For example, computers are widely available for math, so we do not make users solve problems by hand to get numerical math answers. Instead, they just need to figure out the correct formula to give to the computer, and it will check if their answers are correct. (For example, see the Combination Challenge). We will follow similar principles when creating content on computers, physics and other subjects.

Help Wanted

Currently, I need more support to accomplish these goals, so I entered a contest on Elance to win up to $5000 of Elance credit. If you like my idea, please help by voting for my entry. (Update: Contest is now over.)

Also, I am looking for people who can help in the following areas:

  • Javascript and Ruby development
  • Web design
  • Creating educational content.

If you can do any of the above and are interested in helping or cofounding Learneroo, please contact me. I would also appreciate any general feedback, either by email or on Hacker News.

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