Versal Hopes to Help Online Learning Reach Potential

It's hard to believe that online education offerings by pioneers like Udemy and Lynda could have grown stale so quickly, but that is close to what the CEO of new startup Versal believes. Gregor Freund thinks that the offerings were never all that pioneering to begin with. According to Lauren Orsini of ReadWrite, all these platforms just digitized last-century presentation paradigms like Power Point and instructional films. To take off, online education needs a new approach.

This is where Versal comes in. The company, which launched this week, wants to be the platform for a new kind of course content – the kind that takes advantage of more than just 10% of a computer and that will do a better job of keeping students interested and engaged from the beginning to end.

Versal's killer app is something it calls the "gadget" tool. Through this tool, educators can utilize interactive learning exercises, or "gadgets," that students can study, manipulate, and model. Versal's drag-and-drop lecture creator already offers gadgets that illustrate interactive infographics, mathematical expressions, 3D modeling, and color theory.

Although Orisini says she used Lynda lessons to learn ActionScript, she admits that paying attention to the 20-minute lessons was difficult. That is why Versal looks like such an interesting alternative. Orisini likens using Versal's gadgets to gaming rather than typical learning models, and believes that using them will overcome even her internet-induced short attention span.

At the moment, those designing lessons have access to gadgets covering science, technology and art. That doesn't mean that Versal can't be used for other subjects. On the contrary, the company website provides tools for teachers to create gadgets on any topic they wish. The internet is not short on either Javascript developers – the language used to code gadgets – nor on existing learning-based JS gadgets that can be ported to Versal.

Versal launches today with just three example courses. That's because it isn't targeting students. In order to compete with Lynda or Udemy for student's attention, it first needs teachers to give it content. In order to lure certified teachers, the company is also launching the Versal Foundation. Nonprofits or universities interested in creating courses on Versal can apply for grants for anywhere from $1,000 to $25,000. To prompt learners to follow educators, Versal currently has no plans to charge for any of its courses. Freund would not disclose to me how, or if, Versal has a money-making strategy or even plans to implement one. However, we can guess that Freund has the resources to fund the Versal Foundation thanks to some of his previous startups. When Motorola acquired his startup, Starfish Software, he likely got a substantial payout. Freund also holds several software patents from his time as President and CEO of Zone Labs.

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