Validating an EdTech start-up idea: An explanation database.

3 minute read

The Problem

I just watched Sal Khan’s TED Talk on teaching for mastery (as opposed to test scores).

He talked about how dumb it was that, instead of teaching until we’ve mastered the basics, we just ship students along the assembly line to the next class with shaky foundations. The fact that a “70” is good enough is absolutely baffling.

Before the internet, any lesson personalization didn’t scale well. Now that we have the internet (and AI!), there’s so much potential to make the learning experience absolutely amazing for students.

When I took classes in undergrad, I

  • sat through lectures that were either too fast or too slow and
  • covered stuff I either wasn’t prepared for or already knew well, then went home and
  • unnecessarily struggled through homework due to overlooked but vital details not covered, then
  • went to google the concepts and found an explanation that worked but could have been better.

Ideally, students would learn by

  • watching incredibly concise, step-by-step, and modular playlists of videos (like Khan Academy),
  • working out example problems specifically tailored to their skill level, and
  • turning them in to an AI that gives extensive, useful feedback.

Any one of those 3 would be a great boon to education, but my idea would work towards the 1st one.

The Solution

There is actually a lot of amazing content out there that explains a lot of stuff very well, but I don’t think it’s aggregated well enough.

When I’m learning something, and I stumble upon a gap in my knowledge, I’d like to immediately be recommended a short, specific explanation for what I don’t understand based on my background. It’s a big pain to google every other difficiency, constantly culling and filtering for the best one based on my specific background.

I’m imagining some kind of database / aggregator / recommendation system that takes into account all facets of your background and recommends the best explanation for your specific question or query based on (1) how technical you want it to be, (2) what medium you want the explanation in, and (3) what level of explanation you want (high level? super nitty-gritty? somewhere in between?)

For example, maybe I want to understand linear regression’s key assumptions better: I want a (1) somewhat technical (video) that’s maybe a (3) 4-6 min investment of my time. And, like magic, I’m represented a few candidate youtube videos (or maybe even minutes 4:00 through 10:00 of a lecture posted online) that other people “liked” and got value out of.

The Business Model

I really wouldn’t feel right if this were a pay-per-view or subscription model - I really align with the idea of anyone being able to access anything anytime.

I suppose it could make money in one of two ways (or maybe both):

  • crowd sourcing : if someone wants an explanation in a certain format, they can put up a price they’ll pledge and a few experts will be notified. Maybe multiple people can join in on this pledge and up the ante until someone makes an explanation. Once an expert explains it (and gets paid), the site gets a cut.
  • advertising / influencer marketing / affiliate sales : nobody pays for anything, the site is branded as a platform for experts to market themselves and for users to be recommended their media (and maybe their books or courses). The site takes a cut from all the sales / ads / possibly promoting experts.

I like the first one more, but I don’t know how willing people are (particularly students) to pay for micro-explanations.

In any case, if you got here and you have any comments, please feel free to message or email me and let me know what you think!