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Guest Blog: Sandy Khaund is Founder of Irynsoft, a mobile software company in the California Bay Area
Several years ago, I took a distance education class. Having spent eight years in higher education across four degrees and three schools, I was fascinated by online learning as a viable alternative to traditional (face-to-face) education–especially for those who otherwise couldn’t access a college education. However, the limitations were clear. I was tethered to my desk to watch the class. I didn’t really interact with my classmates and had no way of bringing my existing friends into the mix or even knowing if those existing friends were part of the school. When I completed the class, there was no way to find out what other classes I might want to take. Overall, it was a very disconnected experience. At the time, I accepted it as that was the difference between a residential experience and an online one.
But then something happened. The world changed. Smartphones began appearing in pockets everywhere. Facebook created a new model for 500 million people to interact with one another online. Sites like Netflix and Amazon began giving us suggestions based on our past behavior, introducing us to things we didn’t even know. And with all of this, we at Irynsoft were inspired to re-imagine how people access higher education instruction.
We set out to boost student success through easy-to-consume content at an affordable price. Content that ideally adapts not only to the student’s skill level, but also to his/her lifestyle. By increasing the customizability, convenience, and affordability of educational resources while optimizing user experience, you can advance engagement, retention, and ultimate success of students. That’s our mission.
Irynsoft offers a platform called VIRT2GO, which consists of several key components: Interactive Video with concurrent note-taking capability, community elements such as ratings and discussion forums, Facebook connectivity to enable sharing and personalization. VIRT2GO’s portability and community helps students to overcome the biggest hurdles that plague on-line education today: finding the time and finding the help. A short YouTube demo can be found at: http://bit.ly/c7vsUG
We’re at the intersection of three powerful trends: online learning, social networking, and mobile devices. VIRT2GO couldn’t have existed five years ago as the technology and the social graph didn’t exist. But now, we are leveraging Facebook and mobile devices to adapt to the lifestyles & wallets of online learners. We bring valuable learning content and the equally valuable learning community to students wherever they go
As an initial showcase of VIRT2GO, we created “VIRT U”, short for the virtual university, a marketplace of open content that appealed to current students and lifelong learners alike. Featuring content from top schools, VIRT U offers content on a broad range of topics. This product was released to iTunes free of charge and has generated thousands of downloads with no marketing. Our OER offerings to date have been about validating our product, experimenting with new product features (not every feature is in every product), and giving back to the OER community of which we are huge fans. We weren’t looking for a huge audience as our business model is to sell our product to online universities looking to expand access to their content to increase attraction, retention, and participation in their degree programs.
With the success of VIRT U, Irynsoft established relationships with additional partners: MIT, Cornell, and Khan Academy. While we were aware of the power of OERs, I don’t think any of us anticipated the huge groundswell of support for our apps. In 2010, Irynsoft has built sizeable user base as hundreds of new users download our apps and access educational content through their mobile phones everyday. As a result, Irynsoft gained a greater appreciation for customer behaviors and desires. With tens of thousands of downloads and a strong body of feedback and data from over the last year, we have recognized some key learnings:
I hope you’ll join our community and share your thoughts. If you have an iPhone, you can find our apps at: http://bit.ly/irynsoftonitunes. We have a beta version of VIRT U for Android which will go to full release soon and we are working on tablet versions. As the year continues, we’ll be rolling features in and out of our OER versions of these apps and we have a few exciting surprises in store. Plus, we are experimenting with some new business model ideas that are more in line with how people have been using our apps. I welcome your feedback and suggestions. We have an easy feedback tab on each app, you can access our feedback website (http://getsatisfaction.com/irynsoft/), or I can be contacted directly at sandy AT irynsoft DOT com.
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