Union Square Investment Puts Edmodo in High Gear

Image representing Edmodo as depicted in Crunc...
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The best and most visible social media investors, Union Square Ventures, announced today their investment in Edmodo.  Since hosting Hacking Education almost two years ago, USV has been actively reviewing education deals—this is their first investment in the learning space.  USV partner Albert Wegner outlines their investment premise in his blog post today on the company’s web site:

Early in 2009 we organized a one-day event in New York which we called “Hacking Education” — the idea was to bring together people from different fields for a discussion on how to disrupt and improve education using technology in general and the web in particular. The spirited and inspiring discussion that day prompted us to start looking at investment opportunities in education. We set out looking with a fairly specific set of ideas in mind.

First, much as with all other content, we believe the future of educational content are “micro-chunks.” These can be videos on Youtube or on the amazing Khanacademy, or Flash simulations, or Scratch Java applets, or blog posts. The Internet has already turned into an incredible wellspring of these kind of learning objects and many, many more will be created going forward.

Second, we firmly believe in the Internet’s ability to give “power to the people” by supporting decentralized decision making. In education, the decision makers who most need to be empowered are teachers. DonorsChoose has shown how effective this can be. With learning objects becoming available and improving rapidly all over the Internet, the historic process of states and/or districts making decisions about educational content is becoming untenable (which made sense at a time when textbooks would last a decade). Instead, teachers need to be able to easily pick what works best for their students.

Third, students today are growing up with the Internet and mobile devices. They will measure the systems they use in school, and for learning more generally, against the websites they visit and the apps they download to their phones. We therefore believe that to succeed, someone needs to deliver an experience that feels instantly familiar and comfortable for a net native generation.

When we launched Revolution Learning two years ago, social learning was at the top of our list.  We looked at everything out there and decided incubate our platform.  After building a robust back-end, we saw traffic take off on Edmodo.  Founders Nic and Jeff have built a lightweight teaching tool that make it easy to  make and manage assignments.  We merged the two projects, added some content management capabilities, and made it easier for teachers to connect with each other.  Today, Edmodo has 1 million users and is the largest and fastest growing social learning network in education.
Here’s the why the Edmodo story is so important:

  • *Application development platform are better: it’s much easier, cheaper, and faster to code great applications.
  • *New business models that rely on viral marketing rather than the district slog are showing great promise and empowering teachers to adopt new tools.
  • *Social learning groups are for some students becoming as important as classrooms in terms of academic architecture.   Social learning is becoming the dominant form of continuous professional growth for teachers.
  • *High engagement content mashups incorporating games, adaptive sequences, virtual environments, video, and sims—all surrounded by connections and conversations—are replacing print

Adding USV to team is an exciting step.  Albert puts it this way:

The team at Edmodo shares these beliefs and we are super excited to be working with them as investors. Edmodo is based on the premise that teachers need an easy way to share content with their students. Around this central concept, Edmodo has created a social and mobile experience that appears to be resonating well with teachers and students. The team at Edmodo, existing investor Learn Capital, and we are committed to supporting the learning community in schools across the country and the world.

You’ll notice he referred to Learn Capital.  To avoid confusion with some latecomers, we changed the name of Revolution Learning to Learn Capital.  We’re still the only pure play early stage global learning fund.  Today, with the Edmodo announcement we are also unveiling our portfolio for the first time.
As the world pivots from print to personal digital learning we have the opportunity to improve academic outcomes and extend access.  The learning sector will produce market returns while extending learning opportunities around the world.  It’s great to have partners in USV in the mix.
See some relevant stories:
A podcast I did with USV’s Albert Wenger about five months before their investment in Edmodo. You can click on the link in the story, and it should take you to the entire podcast for download.
Notes I took after the interview and podcast with Wenger.

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Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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