The corona crisis has given tremendous momentum to the development of start-ups focusing on online education and homeworking. This week Innovation Origins will therefore pay extra attention to start-ups in this edtech sector.
LessonUp is a platform for schools and teachers who want to produce and use online lessons. Altogether, there are thousands of lessons on the website on all kinds of subjects for primary, secondary, and higher education. “We want to help teachers teach in the digital age that we now live in,” says Kars Veling, one of the founders.
Why did you set up LessonUp?
“The platform is first and foremost for teachers. They’re always running out of time. By creating lessons online and putting them up on the site, others can make use of them too. You can modify someone else’s lessons as well. In addition, LessonUp makes it easier for teachers to teach digitally. For example, when they’re in front of a class and use an interactive whiteboard, or for when schoolchildren do homework and tests by themselves. I approached a number of publishers before we started, but they didn’t want to take up the challenge because then some of the textbooks they sell would most likely become obsolete. That’s when I decided to set this company up myself.”
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How many teachers and schools are affiliated with LessonUp?
” At present, almost 100,000 teachers and 160 schools. Most of them in The Netherlands, a few thousand in the United States, Great Britain, and Belgium.”
Has the number grown because of the corona crisis which is forcing schools to teach children online at home?
“Yes, it certainly has. The amount has grown by a factor of four in just a few weeks. But we’ve mainly taken on schools that also wanted to go through the workshops and the training programs. Teachers are able to use free lessons. They don’t have to pay until they use the homework and testing features.”
What was the main obstacle that you had to overcome?
“I thought that with my techie’s heart I knew how to help a teacher draw up a lesson. We wanted to make communication tools for that. But what I came up with didn’t save them any time whatsoever. Someone who is very good at explaining a subject is not necessarily very adept at using IT. We then interviewed teachers and sat at the back of the classroom. Then we figured out that they want to look in on other classes and gain something from those that they could easily adapt to their own class. This is how we found out what worked and what didn’t.”
What was your greatest breakthrough?
“That’s tough to say … There were plenty of moments that I could consider as breakthroughs. Like when we brought in an investor – after which we really started to think very carefully about which direction we really wanted to head in with the company. A key breakthrough could’ve been when we got a call from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam at some point. They wanted to put a lesson up on LessonUp.”
Why was that so important?
“If such a famous organization is listed on our platform, people think: we know them. Google has also put lessons on the site about how to deal with the internet. These were very significant contributions. Those lessons are used a lot. Then suddenly we noticed that we are a very appealing channel for these kinds of parties. The Dutch Ministry of Finance has also posted lessons there.”
Do these organizations pay for those services?
“Yes. They pay a license fee for them. Google said: we will pay, but you have to make sure the teaching material remains free. That suited our concept down to a T.”
Do schools use these lessons a lot?
“Yes, we can see which lessons are used a lot and which ones aren’t so much. These lessons are popular.”
What are you aiming to accomplish this year with LessonUp?
“I expect that we will continue to expand throughout The Netherlands and Europe. Between 200 and 600 teachers will be added every day. We plan to focus more on an international range.”
And where do you think LessonUp will be five years from now?
“Then we’ll have a million or more teachers and will be the place where teachers start their school day each day.”
Watch a lesson here from the van Gogh Museum about Hockney and Van Gogh.
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