Former Flip Video execs go to school with crowdsourced education site Knowmia

The leaders of Pure Digital Technologies simplified video camcorders and revolutionized the market for amateur video with the Flip Video pocket camcorders. Now they’re back with a plan to improve supplemental education (think online tutoring) with crowdsourced lessons.

Ariel Braunstein and Scott Kabat have founded the education startup Knowmia to provide students with a freemium service that resembles a combination of the Pandora music streaming and Yelp reviews. Only they’re collecting the best online video lessons on K-12 educational topics and making them easy for students to access. It’s not an easy road, and many education startups have failed to revolutionize learning. But it’s certainly an ambitious project by a team that saw great success in the past. (Cisco bought Pure Digital for $590 million in 2009).

Braunstein and Kabat started their San Francisco-based company in 2011 and spent months talking to teachers and others in the education ecosystem about what is wrong with public education and how to enhance it with supplemental learning.

“As a father, I was interested,” Braunstein said in an interview with VentureBeat. “We saw that there was a special magic when a teacher and a student have chemistry. Unfortunately, it’s hard to make that scale.”

So their idea is to find the best online lessons — or have teachers create them — that students can view via an iPad video app. So far, they have collected a library of 7,000 videos. They are also creating curated minicourses or lessons that drill on a particular subject. Most of the videos are available for free, but students can pay for the minilessons. Parents can also pay to track a child’s progress.

“It’s personalized, affordable, and time efficient,” Braunstein said. “Anyone can cherry-pick videos. But we try to layer value on top of them.”

Braunstein was the cofounder of Pure Digital, and Kabat was its marketing executive. The two of them have raised an undisclosed amount of money as seed capital.

They believe the secret lies in curation. They want to find the best content from the best teachers. They want more than just popular educational videos. They want to find the content and get the teachers to create minicourses that enhance what is already out there in the public domain. The teachers get to share in the cut if the video lessons sell well. The courses include teacher comments and quizzes. Each video has tags and most subjects have “sub” subjects for deeper lessons. Categories include “basic” or “advanced placement.”

The global education market for supplemental learning, such as tutoring, is about $54 billion and is projected to double to $104 billion by 2017, according to Global Industry Analysts. The U.S. market is growing at a compound annual growth rate of 16 percent as parents try to deal with a weakening public education system reeling from budget cuts.

“No one that we’ve talked to today has said that the system is working well,” Braunstein said.

But he thinks technologies such as broadband and the iPad have the potential to create a significant shift, putting more control of education in the hands of parents and students. Paper-based textbooks also seem like they are on the decline. Knowmia competes direct with other online education sites and in-person tutoring.

Over time, Braunstein hopes to distinguish his company’s lessons through adaptive technology, which measures how well a student has performed and adapts the course work difficulty as needed.

Knowmia is in its public beta as a web site and it will introduce new features in the fall. Teachers can register with Knowmia to post the video lessons at no cost. They can use the free Knowmia Teach iPad app for assistance in creating their lessons if needed.  The company is enrolled in the current class of the Y Combinator incubator program, which provides seed capital from its Start Fund. Braunstein said the company will consider additional funding.