Insert Learning's interactive edtech could supercharge other books

Insert Learning's interactive edtech could supercharge other books

This Minnesota platform applies a "learning layer to the internet" - a mission they're pursuing in edtech, but that could have wider possibilities for the book trade.

The pitch

InsertLearning is a platform which allows teachers to add instructional content (questions, videos, discussions, insight and more) into any webpage using a simple browser plugin, to create an interactive, differentiated lesson.

Students are encouraged to stay focused and become active participants in their learning by annotating text, answering text-dependent (“un-googleable”) questions, and joining live discussions. The platform also gives teachers and students access to a curated search engine of quality content on the internet including textbooks, primary sources, stories, and the news.

"We’re a teacher made, teacher praised learning platform that has proven itself in the classroom," co-founder Matt Nupen explains. "Partnerships with OpenStax and Google is helping build our base of 32,000+ educators and transform the internet into a completely new learning experience."

The team

InsertLearning was founded in Minnesota by Matt Nupen and Karin Hogen while they taught at-risk teens. They have now been joined by co-founder and lead coder Ben Pedersen. Nupen and Hogen still teach full-time.

What's the gap in the market?

Today, teachers and students expect content to be interactive and customisable - in and out of the classroom. Nupen believes that none of the existing edtech solutions truly met this need.

"Annotation tools lack the important interactivity of questions and embedded media," he asserts. "People need the ability to change the flow of text and sometimes have the reader slow down and think. Most learning tools and curriculum is too scripted and purposely limited to how they think learning should happen in the classroom.  Educators need freedom to differentiate, scaffold, and engage their students on a personalized level - to pick the text, the source, the types of questions, rigor, and additional information that makes learning relevant and authentic."

In fact, he believes that authenticity is a big probem is most curricula around the world. 

"A sports article should be on a sports website, not some textbook or sealed off LMS (learning management system). I asked a Kindergarten teacher why she used InsertLearning to present a website about ants to her students instead of just making a presentation.  Her response made me understand the real importance of authentic learning: “When I do a presentation my students think I’m this person that magically just knows everything. I wanted them to see that I learned about ants by going to this website and read about them. They need to learn that this is how people learn.  I want to set them up to be lifelong learners”."

Success so far

The platorm is only a couple of years old, but it has already won the Startup Weekend EDU Twin Cities award and was voted one of the Best EdTech Tools of 2016 by Commonsense Education. There's been some glowing press from within the tech community, too.

Biggest challenges?

The team struggles to help educators make the mindshift from worksheets and textbooks that have been re-used for decades. "Once there, we also need to continue to help people discover the most relevant content and craft the most engaging lessons for their students," Nupen reports.

Ultimate ambition?

InsertLearning aims to help all people share knowledge by becoming "the learning layer to the Internet". There could be interesting opportunities, too, to apply the platform's tech to other sorts of books, such as historical, cookery and self-help.

Advice to other publishing entrepreneurs?

"Keep talking to your users on the phone and run weekly tests to improve your retention/activtion rates."