You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Amazon jumps into online learning with Inspire, a platform for free crowdsourced and premium materials

TechCrunch TechCrunch 27/06/2016 Ingrid Lunden

Back in March, we reported on how the e-commerce and cloud services giant Amazon was poised to up its stakes in the educational publishing market with the launch a new, free platform called Inspire for teachers and others to post and share education resources online. Today, the company has confirmed it is doing just that. It has announced Amazon Inspire, a platform for teachers to source free learning materials for students from kindergarten to twelfth grade, starting first as a beta in the U.S.

Designed to look and operate much like Amazon’s well-known flagship site — but without the e-commerce back-end — Inspire lets users sort content by relevance, user ratings and popularity, along with several criteria pertaining specifically to the materials at hand (level, skill, etc.). The content is a mix of “crowdsourced” resources from teachers and other educators alongside primary materials posted by third parties like the Folger Shakespeare Library (which is initially adding in 100 plays and related lessons and teaching modules) and the Newseum in Washington, DC.

The third-party contributions could be helpful in filling out the platform if educators are slower to contribute, although Rohit Agarwal, who is the GM of Amazon K-12 Education, says so far that has not been the case. “Our early partnerships indicate that educators are more than happy to contribute content,” he told TechCrunch. “Entire districts and states are contributing to Inspire, whether they are creating or curating materials.”

Amazon Inspire is the next phase of Amazon’s ambitions in the online education world, after the company acquired TenMarks, an online math education startup, in 2013; continued to offer TenMarks’ products; and then joined the U.S. government’s Open Education initiative in 2015. The TenMarks team is leading the charge on Inspire, and Agarwal had been the CEO of the startup.

Amazon does not earn an income directly from Inspire, where there is no fee to join and no cost to use the materials on the platform. But the service will serve as a bolster for several products that are key and strategic for Amazon as a business.

These include Whispercast for managing e-books, textbooks and educational apps (Whispercast had a big education-focused upgrade in 2015); AWS access to schools, students and teachers; Kindle direct publishing for education; “School Lists” and Amazon Business to buy supplies; and of course physical products like the Kindle e-reader and the Fire tablet.

Adding Inspire into that mix will help educators look to the platform as a one-stop shop of sorts for all of their online educational needs. And while having it be free of charge on one hand is simpatico with the bigger concept of public educational resources not going the way of big business, it will also potentially make it that much more alluring and easy to use compared to other platforms that might require payments.

From around the time that we first published our report on Inspire in March until now, Amazon has been quietly (but not secretly) adding people to the community on an invitation-only basis. If you are involved education communities on sites like Twitter, you may have seen some people Tweeting about Inspire as a result.

As a result, the program is launching with a sizeable number of users already. Although Amazon (being Amazon) declined to give specific user numbers, it says that the states of Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts and Vermont have endorsed the program, along with school districts in Visalia, CA; Mineola, NY; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; El Cajon, California; Missouri; Nashville and Tullahoma City, Tennessee; and Virginia Beach.

The idea is that by launching Inspire now as school breaks out for the summer — specifically at the ISTE educators’ conference in Denver — the program will grow its ranks, and content trove, by autumn when school resumes. Folger alone plans to add 2,000 more pieces of content by that time.

More from TechCrunch

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon