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DIY Co. launches JAM to help kids learn what they don’t in school, with a little help from Cartoon Network

TechCrunch TechCrunch 8/07/2016 Lora Kolodny

DIY Co., the education tech startup led by Vimeo designer and co-founder Zach Klein, has launched a new online learning platform for kids called JAM.com.

The company also quietly closed a $4 million round of venture funding led by Learn Capital, and joined by Spark Capital, at the end of 2015 to support the development of JAM, Klein told TechCrunch.

Courses on DIY’s new site JAM were created for kids up to age 14. Klein said, “There’s a huge landscape of skills worth kids learning now that schools aren’t teaching, and a new set of teachers who aren’t full-time educators willing to help them.”

So far, courses on JAM include titles like: How to Invent Your Own Machines, Become a Pro Chef, and Become an Animator.

The animation course, which DIY developed and is promoting in a partnership with Cartoon Network, is free for any students and parents who sign them up to take it. Others cost $99 for a course that is available to students for up to one year, with a 7-day free trial period to start.

One of the creative talents behind the animated series Adventure Time on the Cartoon Network, Julia Pott, helped develop JAM’s animation course. Pott also appears in the video portions of the JAM course.

DIY produces all of its JAM courses with hand-picked instructors, some of them on staff at DIY and others who are experts in a given field like Pott. The startup generates revenue from the purchases of courses.

Klein has committed to keep all of the company’s apps and sites free of advertising, and will not sell user data, he said.

Cartoon Network President Christina Miller said that at least three students will have the chance to see the animations they create for this course promoted via the Cartoon Network’s online properties, and even possibly on air in interstitials if they are exceptional.

Pott will review the animations and determine which should be considered for such Cartoon Network promotions.

The Turner Brodcasting-owned network has committed $30 million to projects that specifically support “STEAM” — science, tech, engineering, arts and math—skills and concepts to kids and its audience. DIY Co. is a partner it has already worked with in the past via this STEAM initiative.

Miller said, “Coding is as much about the art class of the future as it is about scientists and engineers. We want to make sure we raise up the next generation of animators, and inspire kids. We reached out to DIY because we liked what they are doing around community.”

Learn Capital’s Rob Hutter said his firm funded DIY in part to help it launch JAM. Moving forward, he expects the New York-based startup to develop additional courses and amass feedback from families on existing courses.

DIY Co.’s approach is mobile-centric, the investor noted, which makes it appealing to kids who often have a primary internet access point through a tablet or smartphone outside of school.

Klein added that JAM courses include more than just videos and interactive quizzes that other more simplistic apps are offering.

Kids interact with JAM courses through a bot interface. It helps answer basic questions and advance them through various activities they need to complete these or master a new skill.

The bot and course content directs them, at times, to go away from their screens into the real world to get things done. That’s important in an era where kids are already spending perhaps too much time in front of screens.

Additionally, when a kid joins a course on JAM they join a community online. Their work for the course can be seen by everyone. When a kid begins a new quest, or section of a course, JAM prompts them to take a look at work by other members to get them inspired.

“We see ourselves helping parents to provide good screen time options for their kids. After they go offline and do something in the real world, then they can come back to the screen to report it to the community,” Klein said.

In the future, DIY Co. aims to make its bot interface more sophisticated, using artificial intelligence, so that kids who have a lot of seemingly tangential questions, can interrupt a course, and speak with the JAM bots as they would an understanding parent or teacher.

JAM is a distinct site from the company’s original social network for kids, DIY.org, which is also centered around learning and kids’ creative or intellectual interests. That site remains completely free, and ad-free, for users and open to any kids whether they take JAM courses or not.

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