Kno: Software is eating education

In this interview, Kno Co-founder and CEO Osman Rashid explains where his eTextbook software is today, where it is headed, and how technology and the private sector will reform education.
Written by Chris Jablonski, Inactive

Kno, a Silicon Valley-based education software company, isn't just liberating students from the burden of lugging costly textbooks around campuses. Through its app (available on the web, iPad, and Facebook), the start-up is rewriting the rules for how students learn and interact with teachers.

Co-founder and CEO Osman Rashid recently told a group of students at Play, a conference recently held at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business that, "education technology is now a custom fit problem for Silicon Valley."

After the company scraped plans to build a dual-screen tablet earlier this year, it's been steadily adding features to its software and broadening its focus to include tools for educators.

ZDNet asked Rashid about the progress of his company's eTextbook software and where the future of education is headed.

You've recently announced Facebook integration with social learning features including "stickies", "bookmarks", and more to come like "Journal". Can you provide a hint of what future updates will include down the line, perhaps social gaming?

This summer, we released our basic learning product available on Facebook but our in-depth social learning ideas are yet to be released.  We've been testing many things targeted at enhancing the student learning environment and that includes making the experience more social. We also recently announced that we'll be adding features that further develop the interaction between students and educators.

Based on what you've learned from your user base, how differently do electronic books facilitate learning as compared to their textbook counterparts? Specifically, is there data that supports the belief that interactive multimodal experiences accelerate learning, as in skills acquisition, comprehension, productivity, etc.?  Is there a difference between K-12 versus older learners?

We are focused on getting the core textbook experience right first - and let students use them digitally, tomorrow. That focus has allowed us to deliver value right away and start learning and influencing which way is digital education is headed.

Since the beginning, Kno has had a very active user base. We now have students from more than 4,000 different universities across the U.S. It’s still early days for a mass study but we hear individually from students almost daily about how Kno has enhanced their learning experience. Some of the big themes we hear over and over again are how much time Kno saves them. For example, if a student has time in between business classes, they can do their biology reading without having to carry extra books.

Students also mention that they are using the textbooks more since they have them with them - so they are engaging with digital content in a more meaningful way. Additionally, features like “Quiz Me” allow for greater absorption of the material. At Kno, we focus on higher education at the moment so we don’t have data on K-12.

Electronic books and online distance learning are a few ways technology can help reduce education costs. Are there any others?

In the future, every student will learn in a personalized manner, which means that students will also be able to get through learning faster. Assessment and adaptive techniques will allow for content to be customized for the student, which will reduce costs as well. All of the above may lead to students graduating faster thus reducing overall costs.

In your talk at UC Berkeley last month, you mentioned that there's big opportunity in what electronic books can enable, such as assessment tools for educators and self-paced study for students. What are the implications for the traditional student-teacher relationship?

We believe that there will be positive implications that will be motivational for both student and teachers. We believe that technology such as Kno will only enhance the student/teacher relationship. It’s not about replacing the one-to-one or one-to-many interaction. It’s about eliminating the friction between student and teacher to allow for more enhanced learning. Teachers will be more engaged with students since they will be able to see what actual efforts students are putting in and thus focus on areas of weakness - thus being more motivational.

South Korean education officials recently announced plans to digitize (in phases) all textbooks used in the classroom. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Education appears too beleaguered with financial and political challenges to propose similar initiatives. How do you see educational reform playing out in the US over the next few years, if at all?

Education reform will be driven by the private sector as we go forward. The U.S. Constitution does not allow for one system to be 'forced' across all the states like we see in many countries. If the U.S. government does not involve the private sector in a meaningful way, we will be leapfrogged by many countries.  We have seen early indications of that already.

However, I have no doubt that this form will be driven by technology based companies and Silicon Valley will be leading the way. How will education look like in the distant future, say around 2025?

By 2025, we can expect the world to be completely digital. Paper books will be a thing of the past.   Education will be delivered through analytics-based assessment tools and adaptive learning platforms.  Also, I think the possibilities for remote learning across geographies will be commonplace and provide access to worldwide subject experts for everyone.


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