Start A Free Learning Project
Help build the future. Here is a list of startup and project ideas that could benefit and support free learners. While not all of these should be venture-scale businesses, these are all projects we think should exist:
Like meetups, but they are purely online over a video call. People from all over the world join a 2 hour call to discuss a niche subject. The platform would both be for discovering what Online Meetups are happening, and for scheduling and joining those meetups.
In-Depth Learning Tools
Becoming a fast expert in a new topic is still a big challenge. There's lots of great content on the internet, but knowing where to start and curating the best content for learning any given subject is still an unsolved problem. That's because the tools we use today to search the web are designed for quickly finding facts, not for guiding you on a learning journey. For self-learning new topics, we need something that's more like a coach than an encyclopedia.
Learn more on the USV blog.
Free Learning Tutoring Marketplace
There are tutoring marketplaces for subject siloed tutors like geometry and machine learning and Spanish tutors, but you could imagine a marketplace of tutors that act more like PhD advisors than subject-specific tutors. Free Learners would leverage these tutors to guide their self-directed learning.
Self-Directed Online Learning Communities
A project called The Public School did this in 2009 but has since shut down. In The Public School, members of this online community proposed topics, and then if enough people indicated interest in the topic, they together found an expert to teach the interested group.
Classpass for University Classes
Lots of university classes and lectures have extra seats they could fill, and universities are often looking for new revenue sources. A platform could allow non-university students to book spots to audit university classes – either for the whole semester or for just one specific lecture. Users would pay for classes, just not at the high price of a standard university course because they do not get the diploma at the end.
Office Hours Tutoring Network
826 Valencia is a fantastic writing tutoring center started by Dave Eggers. The idea was that he would run a writing tutoring center out of his publication’s office, as there would already be writers there all day that could help a student if they stopped by the office for help. A project could operationalize this and help all sorts of companies and labs run tutoring office hours from their offices: research labs could run science tutoring from their lab, tech companies could offer math and science homework help office hours, and journals and publications could offer office hours for help with reading and writing.
Open Source Problem Solving
Similar to PolyMath, this is an online community for people who want to collaborate to solve problems. Just as any developer can view GitHub for open source projects to contribute to, any Free Learner should be able to view what knowledge projects across arts, medicine, theoretical math, machine learning, anything. Instead of people needing to join a research lab to contribute to research, they can contribute purely online.
Interactive What If
The absurdity and technical rigor of What If or Number Play, but instead of the answer being given to the learner, the learner should be given questions to help them figure out the answer over time. Hardbound is a startup that did this in 2017 but has since shut down. Brilliant is another company doing this today and is doing an excellent job. Mystery Science is a company that is doing this for elementary schools.
This is Encyclopedia Brown for adults, detective stories where it is up to the reader/viewer to figure out the solution to the mystery. The idea would be that in order to solve the case you need to understand some principles of physics or science. i.e. the main suspect of a case says she couldn’t have committed the crime because she didn’t have any of the chemicals found at the scene of the crime, but if you know chemistry, you would know that she did buy two chemicals that when mixed together, form the substance found at the crime scene. You could even imagine this as a real-time competition where millions of viewers compete against each other to solve the mystery as fast as possible.
Try This At Home
A curated platform for the top experiment you can try at home to learn any concept in sciences like chemistry, psychology and physics. The platform would help people learn by experimenting using materials they may already have at home (the way we made volcanoes with baking soda and vinegar or made parachutes for eggs in elementary school). There are a few of these sites for kids, but it seems like there is an interesting opportunity to do this for adults who want to learn for fun.
Free Learning Alexa Skill
Kids often ask questions to Alexa, and Alexa gives them the answer straight away. You could imagine an Alexa skill that recognizes when a kid is asking Alexa a question, and instead of giving the answer, asks a follow up question to the kid to help them discover the answer themselves.
LegalZoom for Charter Schools
The legal backbone for innovating in the schooling space. This business would streamline the process of registering as a charter school, helping more people start innovative schooling experiences, such as homeschooling and apprenticeship networks.