Online learning sites are popping up across the web, from massive open online course (MOOC) providers like Coursera to the non-profit video-centric community Khan Academy. But New York City-based Socratic believes that even though more teachers are uploading high-quality content to the web and more students are searching for it, they still need a better way of finding each other.
Six months ago, the startup started prototyping its “open platform for students and teachers” and began inviting teachers to the site a few months later. On Tuesday, the young company said it had raised $1.5 million in a seed round led by Spark Capital and including betaworks, Andreessen Horowitz Seed, David Tisch (BoxGroup), John Maloney, and Terrapin Bale.
Co-founder Christopher Pedregal, who previously worked at Google (s GOOG) and edtech startup Lore (which was recently acquired by Noodle), said students are increasingly heading to Google to look for answers but often encounter misinformation or inadequate answers.
“There’s a bit of an information retrieval problem. Students aren’t finding the information they need when they need it,” he said “Something is missing from the ecosystem.”
Socratic’s goal is to become an online community – not unlike StackExchange or Github – where teachers upload video lessons and K-12, college and graduate students can find accurate information on every topic they might encounter in school, Pedregal said.
Considering that it’s only a few months old, the site for now includes pages for only two subjects, so they have a ways to go. And it isn’t without competition: sites like Knowmia, TeacherTube and SchoolTube already give teachers and students a place for sharing and viewing educational video. But the company plans to use its new funding – and the guidance of its new investors – to build out the service and bring more teachers into the community. Pedregal also said the site includes crowd-curation tools for quality control.
For now, there are no plans to charge for content on the site. Like online communities Tumblr, Twitter and StackExchange, Pedregal said, they intend to focus first on building their community and monetize later.
Pedregal acknowledged that in edtech, there aren’t yet big success stories for companies that have taken this approach (Edmodo comes close, although it hasn’t yet shared much revenue information). But he said that given the company’s ability to operate outside the restrictions of the school system and the experience of their investors they feel confident that they can make their model work.
“We’re not selling to schools, there’s no need to convince school boards or work with teacher unions,” he said. “We’re a consumer Internet company that’s dealing with educational content.”