But as the possibilities proliferate, figuring out which courses best suit your needs and your budget becomes more difficult. And then there’s the problem of proving that you’ve actually learned what you set out to learn. Some online programs offer badges and certificates to students who complete their courses, but it’s hard to know what these documents really mean (at this point, at least). Completing a course isn’t the same as mastering a skill and most online education programs don’t follow a conventional grading scale that would show differentiation.
That’s where San Francisco-based LearningJar believes it’s found an opportunity. The startup, which launched in public beta this week, offers a platform to help people figure out the skills and courses they need to focus on to achieve their goals, track their progress and prove their competence.
“Education should be about learning how to solve a problem, showing how you would approach it and [providing] evidence that you solved it,” said founder Ritu Jain.
Jain, who has a finance and telecom background, started working on the company last September and was accepted to the Imagine k12 education-focused startup accelerator in January. LearningJar won the LAUNCHedu challenge at SXSWedu in Austin in March.
“We see that there’s a ton of great content you can learn online and offline, but what’s missing is [a way to determine] what’s the most relevant skill to learn,” Jain said. (We’ve covered a few startups offering online courses here, but there are plenty more.)
Community can help students find most relevant classes
When users come to the site, they’re asked the question, “What do you want to be?” If they click on “Web developer,” for example, LearningJar directs them to a page of free and paid courses provided by content partners. (As of now the site has a handful of partners, including Lynda, Adobe TV and Treehouse, but the startup is in talks with more, Jain said.) As more people join the site, the crowd can also weigh in with their experiences to help guide others to the most relevant courses. Users can also list skills not yet offered by the site and share information on how to learn them.
LearningJar also helps students track and share their progress with the online community and display the proof of their learning in an online portfolio. For example, if a student learned logo design, she could upload a copy of one of her creations or if she learned Web development, she could share code or screenshots of a site she built. For now, the site is focused on professionals, Jain said, but it could expand to personal learning over time.
LearningJar could match students with potential employers
The site makes money when users click on to a paid course and it may also sell advertising. But, more interestingly, it’s exploring business models that link it with employers. One option is a freemium service to help track internal employee development courses; another is a recruitment model that helps employers find potential job candidates through the site.
Given that people can already show off many of their skills on platforms like Tumblr blogs, traditional blogs, About.me pages, as well as Behance and Carbonmade, it’s possible that they won’t see the need to use a different service for that purpose. I also wonder if as LearningJar expands it will find that some potential content partners might regard it as a competitor.
Still, even though LearningJar is in its earliest days (at this point, it’s only taken pre-seed financing from Imagine K12 and is raising a seed round), I think it highlights some interesting issues in online education. Pathbrite, which announced Series A funding last month, also provides an online portfolio service for displaying achievement but it doesn’t offer LearningJar’s guidance counselor/career counselor role, which could be helpful as options for online learning continue to expand.
Also, as more employers evaluate job candidates’ online footprints and consider skills learned through online classes, proving mastery could become a bigger concern. As of now, people can list online classes taken on their resume or LinkedIn profile, but being able to show employers more detail and evidence could carry more weight. A service that authenticates mastery or certification could even be an interesting thing for a company like LinkedIn to potentially offer.