If you want to learn how to tie a tie or, apparently, get six-pack abs in three minutes, you can always count on YouTube (s GOOG). And if you’re ready to put in a bigger investment of time (and maybe money) for a course on Python or, say, Applications in Engineering Mechanics, you can head over to an online learning site like Udemy or a university partner like Coursera.
But what about the kind of lifelong learning that fits in somewhere between the trivial and the technical?
Launched earlier this year, Curious aims to be an online marketplace of lessons for enthusiasts, hobbyists and learners who want to indulge their curiosity — but in bite-sized snippets, not full-length courses. Through the site, students can search for classes on everything from salsa dancing to pipe soldering to beer brewing, but each class only clocks in between five and 15 minutes.
As founder and CEO Justin Kitch puts it, “We’re competing against Angry Birds… you could be playing [an iPhone game] or learning French.”
That’s an interesting way for Curious to position itself, especially compared to other online learning startups that tend to speak of their value in terms of disrupting higher education or preparing workers for a rapidly changing economy. But it seems to be gaining traction.
Kitch, who previously founded Homestead (and then sold it to Intuit), said that since launching on the web in May, the site has amassed 2,000 lessons on 100 different topics and has registered more than 400,000 video views. On Thursday, the startup brought its service to mobile with a new iPad (s AAPL) app.
Like the website, the iPad app lets students view the library of video lessons, leave comments and ask the instructor questions. But, Kitch said, the mobile interface makes it easier for students to watch the lesson while following along — for example, a student could bring the iPad into the kitchen to view a lesson, then take a picture of her soufflé and email it to the instructor with a question.
Curious isn’t alone in wanting to reach lifelong learners with lessons that are more practical and creative than academic. CreativeLIVE, Craftsy and Betterfly are a few other startups that offer video classes for hobbyists and those interested in less academic lifelong learning pursuits. It also overlaps with sites like lynda.com and Udemy that offer lifestyle-oriented courses in addition to technical content. And, to be fair, there’s plenty of content on Curious.com that could easily be on YouTube (even though it’s known for piano-playing cats and other silly clips, there are helpful lessons on the massive video site).
But, unlike YouTube, Curious lets users directly correspond with teachers and tag parts of videos with content-specific questions. And it gives learners a place to really get into the nitty-gritty of their favorite hobbies – students can ask organic gardeners about the best plants to crop based on the composition of their soil or ask a brewer about different options for sanitizing their beer. For instructors, who can offer classes for free or micropayments in the low single-digits, it’s a way to earn extra cash, but also raise their profile and get feedback on their instruction.
For now, the site, which has raised $7.5 million, is entirely free while it tests out its micropayment system but, eventually, it will start charging for some of its content.