Farb Nivi, founder of Grockit and Learnist, takes a quick quiz.
INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero
Farb: The history of technology has been to continually unleash more and more social learning, aka, people sharing what they know directly with each other. We think that given the infinite and growing didactic resources available online already, the focus should be in organizing the world’s knowledge and making it universally accessible and useful.
Victor: What prompted the idea or concept behind Learnist? What combination of factors or what incident led you in the direction of conceptualizing and making Learnist a reality?
Farb: Today, everything you want to learn is online. It’s probably in HD video, taught by the best person in the world, and free. None of these were the case even 5 years ago and this is one of the key factors that inspired Learnist. Also, technology and bandwidth and access have increased to the point that a rich multi-media experience is possible at home and on the go.
Victor: Why do you see Learnist as growing so quickly? Already half a million users – will this top out at 2 million or so, if not – will it grow to Facebook like numbers (hundreds of millions)?
Farb: We think that at least a quarter of the world is curious and interested in learning as a lifelong practice. If this almost 2 billion people don’t already have Internet and smart devices, they will very soon.
Victor: What is the value and benefit of Learnist in your view?
Farb: We think the value of Learnist is in organizing the world’s knowledge to make it readily accessible and useful to anyone, anywhere, at any time.
The world’s educational materials are already online or coming online quickly. Learnist helps people organize and share all of the world’s information in a way that encourages learning.
Victor: How is Learnist able to support deeper learning when there is easily so much information to be curated that superficial learning and the making of knowledge generalists seems so much easier?
Farb: Like any format of media, the power lies in the hands of the author or creator and their knowledge and their ability to present and transfer that knowledge by leveraging a variety of mediums. The difference between Learnist and a book publisher, however, is that Learnist can use algorithms and the crowd to help sort through and raise the best stuff to the top.
Victor: Talk about “dilettante-ism” vs. being a competent specialist or expert in a subject – and how Learnist plays into that.
Farb: Learnist is addressing this from multiple directions. We are building features like endorsements so that the crowd can help signal who the experts are, but also we are working on algorithms to assess what content is useful.
People “know” about different things at different levels. Experts are key to any learning community. In Learnist, we have community and third-party validation (Klout scores), but expertise is most easily recognizable via bios which can be verified via quick searches. When you see a bio that notes a Learnist user as a global authority, you feel good about their specific expertise. But, in some areas, like Kitchen Hacks, expertise doesn’t really matter, because sometimes it’s a chemist instead of a chef that figures out the quickest way to make ice cream.
Victor: Talk about “college credit” vs. “open learning” (no credit, just ‘get it’).
Farb: One’s a signaling mechanism and the other is a lifelong practice everyone should be, and thanks to the Internet and the sharing of knowledge, can be, engaged with everyday to make your life, and yourself, better.
Victor: Discuss partnerships and what you are looking for in a partner.
We are always looking for content. Didactic, rich-media content.
Victor: How are you monetizing Learnist? is there a longer-term money model that will kick in after so many users?
Farb: Our near-term focus is on building the best possible experience for a ton of users. We aren’t talking about monetization publicly right now.
Victor: What is social learning? How do you define it, and how is Learnist defining social learning?
Farb: Social learning is a broad concept. Other than the learning you receive from touching your hand to a hot stove, most of what you learn comes from others. School, work, play, they all include social learning, people sharing what they know with each other. The question is where and when is it done effectively and how can technology facilitate that. Learnist is a tool that makes it easy to share what you know and learn from others.
Victor: What is the importance of social learning?
Farb: Before I founded Grockit, I was an educator myself. I was teaching in both the public and private world and using social learning as the chief instructional design in the classroom. It was proven time and time again that my students learned better and were more engaged when they interacted with each other.
Victor: Where are learning, education and technology headed in the near and 3-year future?
Farb: All of man’s knowledge is online or will be there shortly. And, all of humanity is getting connected to global networks for sharing. The connection goes to a computing device that is increasingly smaller, costs less and more powerful. Many good things can come from this. Much of what we seek to learn is to make our lives better by helping us get through the gates we need or simply by helping us be the people we want to be. In this sense, the opportunities for this are growing rapidly and I think people will take more and more advantage of this and, quite frankly, they will have to learn how to.
Victor: Anything else you care to add or emphasize concerning recent events, learning, technology or anything else?
Farb: We are really excited about our latest changes to the app that have helped make the content more personally relevant and fresh. We are also excited about the rapid adoption of smartphones and Internet access in the coming 24 months. And, of course, we are excited to have great content partners like the BBC and Discovery on board to join the community of experts and learners that are already organizing and curating all manner of humanity’s knowledge on Learnist.
Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. Get your story told through case studies, white papers and other materials you can share at trade shows and on your website. Write to: [email protected]