The Coursebook Wants to Become "Pandora for Learning"

Education is a busy space for startups right now, with online tools like Planboard introducing its lesson planning tool for the K-12 bracket, and Rafter launching to help post-secondary schools manage their course materials. After graduation though, many former students become lifelong learners, taking courses on the side or learning a skill in their spare time. With many tools for lifelong learners, from online learning tools like Codecademy to YouTube videos and blogs, it can be hard to know where to look to find the best online learning resources.

New startup The Coursebook is aiming to become the “Pandora for learning” with its resource for lifelong learners. The company helps people discover, track and share learning resources, aggregating videos and podcasts (and other types of media down the road) into one place on the web and in an iPhone app. It scrapes freely available content from sources like TED and Stanford, and targets people who are out of school and looking to learn about any subject. “It’s not education for college students. It’s for people who are always learning something new,” Scialom said in an interview.

Founder Alex Scialom, a former early employee at Box.net, got the idea for The Coursebook when he decided he wanted to learn to code in Ruby on Rails, and was overwhelmed by Google search results on the topic. “I found myself in front of four million results, and it was all unorganized,” Scialom said. “I realized that whatever you want to learn online you’ll have the same problem – all the content is available, but it’s really hard to find it, and find it in a way that makes sense to you.” He put together a prototype and demoed it at San Francisco’s Startup Weekend Education in September 2010, and won both the Jury’s and Public’s prizes. The company was also selected to be part of the Kauffman Labs Education Ventures program, and in June 2011 Scialom won $50,000 in a UPenn business plan competition.

The Coursebook’s web tool allows people to search through curated content by provider or category and set up a “learning network” of friends who are also learning new skills. The iPhone app features a stream of recommended videos and podcasts and lets people make and track learning goals. Content is recommended to users based on what their friends are reading (users can connect their Facebook and Twitter accounts), and the type of content they’ve viewed in the past. Until users have a past history though, the recommended content will be chosen by Scialom and his team, and will focus on tech-savvy users. “The marketing push is will be really heavy for tech geeks and people who likes startups and technology,” he said. “The recommended content is going to fit that audience.”

Right now the web and mobile apps are free to use, and the content is free as well. Scialom hopes to add the ability to contribute their own learning resources to the app, and and will then use profile data to upsell users on paid content, whether it’s events, books, or classes. He said he may also explore affiliate programs, advertising and a paid version of the tool. He is also looking to raise a seed round of funding for the company.

While there are many tools that target lifelong learners, The Coursebook is unique in that it’s not creating content. Grovo targets anyone who wants to learn something internet-related, while Udemy allows people to take and build courses on any subject. Skillshare focuses on lifelong learners, but offers in-person classes. But YouTube’s Education portal competes directly with The Coursebook, and traditional e-learning resources like TED have their own high-trafficked websites. The Coursebook’s biggest challenge will be to convince users that they are a hub for lifelong learners, and become a destination over existing solutions. According to the U.S. Department of Education there are 172 million lifelong learners in the country, so Scialom has a big market to tap into. He says he’s open to partnering with tools like Skillshare to get their classes listed on the tool, which could also help adoption.

The Coursebook is launching in the next few weeks. Get priority access to the private beta by signing up with code “betakit” on The Coursebook’s invite page

Erin Bury

Erin Bury

Erin has covered startups and technology for over three years in publications including Sprouter Weekly, The Globe and Mail, Business Insider, Mashable, and VentureBeat. She also writes a regular startup column for the Financial Post, and is a technology expert on CTV News Channel. Before BetaKit Erin worked as Director of Content & Communications at Sprouter from its launch in 2009 until its acquisition by Postmedia Network Inc. She was recently named one of Marketing Magazine's 30 Under 30 in 2012.

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