By Amir Nathoo, co-founder and CEO at Outschool
This article is based on a talk I gave at the SEA Homeschoolers conference in Shepherdstown, WV on June 2, 2017. I proposed the session because live online learning is a relatively new format with interesting characteristics that not only make it beneficial to homeschoolers, but give it the potential to transform K-12 education as a whole.
With over 1,500 classes, Outschool is the perfect choice to add breadth and depth to your child’s course of study. Outschool classes take place online over live video chat for a convenient and collaborative learning experience. Here, I want to introduce Outschool, cover what live online learning is, and describe its benefits as part of the portfolio of resources you use for your family’s learning.
First I’d like to introduce our team. I’m one of the founders of Outschool, along with Nicholas Grandy and Mikhail Seregine. We’re based in San Francisco. Each of us has more than a decade of experience in technology as entrepreneurs and at tech companies. In 2015 we came together with the aim of using our technology knowledge and love of learning to build great products that could transform education.
Both of my parents were teachers so I’ve thought for many years about how technology could be applied to education. And when I learned about secular homeschooling from a friend in San Francisco who was homeschooling her kids, I was inspired by this innovative community who were using new approaches to tailor their kid’s learning.
Our company, Outschool, is a marketplace for live online classes for kids. We cover all ages K-12, and all subjects from core to supplemental – anything our teachers are inspired to teach and that our learners want to hear about. Parents use our website to easily find and book classes. Teachers use it to advertise their classes and run their classes with our classroom tools.
If you’ve ever bought something from Etsy or booked accommodation on Airbnb you’ll have an idea of what our website does. But instead of crafted goods from artisans, or space in a person’s home, our site is for online classes for kids.
As a marketplace, Outschool is very different from an online school. We don’t have a set curriculum, or fixed staff. Instead teachers propose what they would like to teach – we vet the classes for quality and secular nature, and do background checks, then make the classes available for anyone to enroll in instantly. We currently have 300 active teachers who offer over 1,500 different classes, a far greater selection than you’d find in regular school or even online schools.
We’ve worked with SEA Homeschoolers to define our class content policy. We review every class submitted to Outschool to check they are objective, secular and age-appropriate before we publish them. We insist that classes do not promote a specific religion or religious point of view, and that they do present facts, ideas, and theories that are grounded in science and accepted by the preponderance of experts in a field.
What is Live Online Learning?
I’d like to define live online learning and talk about its characteristics. Live online learning is where small groups of learners, led by a teacher, meet online over videoconference to learn a topic.
It’s collaborative. Meaning that it involves other people – it is guided by a teacher and participants learn from the teacher and their peers.
It’s accessible. By which I mean that classes are available anywhere with an internet connection. And they are affordable since the costs are split between multiple participants, there’s no costs for physical locations and there’s limited administrative overhead.
It’s personalized. Learners can choose from teachers from across the world and from a much wider selection of topics, schedules and levels than might be available locally. Teachers can tailor the experience in real-time according to the learner’s needs.
Looking at these characteristics you can see the differences with other types of learning. For example, learning with online content such as Wikipedia and Youtube is certainly accessible and personalized. But not collaborative.
Public school is free, available in most places, and ideally, is collaborative. But a fixed curriculum, large class sizes and limited choice mean it isn’t personalized.
Tutoring is personalized and involves learning with another person. But it is too expensive for most people to use for most of their learning.
Live online learning combines these valuable characteristics. It offers parents an accessible way to broaden their children’s education with personalized instruction from independent teachers and interaction with their peers.
We see a future where in-person learning is enhanced by live online learning to offer a breadth and depth of educational opportunities not possible today. We see kids who love to learn taking responsibility for their own development, and customizing their curriculums to follow their unique interests, strengths and challenges.
Using Outschool for your Family’s Learning
We hope you give live online learning with Outschool a try, and join our community of more than 30,000 families!
As well as being able to browse classes and enroll in them on our website, we make it easy to reach out to teachers with questions about adding their classes to your student’s portfolio, assigning credits, course descriptions, and many other helpful topics. New classes are added every week and you can receive personalized email roundups of new learning opportunities through Outschool.
You can enroll in classes using your own funds. Or if you’re with a charter school program that provides funds for independent study then email us at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can become an approved vendor for your school. We are already work with 14 charter schools in California, 1 in Canada and more are coming soon.
We’re looking forward to continuing to grow our selection of teachers and classes, and enhancing our service based on your feeback!
Amir Nathoo is co-founder and CEO at Outschool. He previously worked at Square leading the Square Payroll product and founded Trigger.io before that. He is a board member of the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum.