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In Pandemic’s Wake, Learning Pods and Microschools Take Root

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This article is part of our latest Learning special report, which focuses on ways that remote learning will shape the future.

In March, when the coronavirus shut down schools in Portland, Ore., Juliet Travis was desperate to find ways to engage her 12-year-old son. The public schools’ remote-learning efforts were hit-or-miss at best, she said, so she signed him up for Outschool, which provides live, virtual classes and allows students to invite their friends to join them.

“I was trying to keep his education going and make it fun,” she said.

This fall, Ms. Travis and the parents of several of her son’s friends decided to create some semblance of school. “We podded up,” she said. In addition to Outschool classes, Ms. Travis hired a retired teacher to go to their homes once a week and augment the public school’s history and English curriculum. And a trainer from a local gym conducts physical education classes twice a week in a driveway or garage.

The cost of these learning pods varies, and Ms. Travis said hers was $40 per week per child for the teacher and the fitness trainer. Outschool classes average $10 per class, and families in financial need can access classes free through the company’s nonprofit arm, Outschool.org.

“The pandemic has launched the largest educational innovation experiment in the history of mankind,” says Sujata Bhatt, a senior fellow at Transcend, a national nonprofit that helps communities and school districts create innovative, equitable learning environments.

Parents are increasingly turning to microschools — very small schools that usually have a specific culture — and learning pods. Microschools can be based outside or inside a home, and may or may not be state-approved and accredited. Learning pods are generally ad hoc and home-based, most having been created this summer in response to public school closings. (The Pandemic Pods Facebook page has more than 41,000 members.)

Like the one Ms. Travis started, learning pods are often a mix of the public school’s remote curriculum, supervised care and enrichment activities.

“So much personal growth takes place in school,” Ms. Travis said. “My son needed to be learning with other kids.”

ImageJuliet Travis organized a learning pod with several other families in Hillsboro, Ore., including this physical education class with local trainer Chris Sledge. Her son Dash is third from left.
Credit…Juliet Travis

True microschools, however, predated the pandemic. Jerry Mintz and the organization he founded, Alternative Education Resource Organization, have been helping parents and educators start “learner centered” schools, including microschools, since 1989.

“Here is the basic difference in the schools in our network and regular schools: We believe kids are natural learners and the job of the educator is to help kids find resources; they are more guides than teachers,” Mr. Mintz said.

This is a consistent theme among microschools: the desire to let students steer the learning. Rather than giving answers and solving problems for students, many microschool educators guide students toward finding the answers themselves.

The mission of NOLA Micro Schools, founded in 2015 in New Orleans, is to have learning driven by the “unique passions, struggles and curiosities of our students.” All the students — elementary, middle and high school age — learn together in one physical space, “a modern-day one-room schoolhouse,” said the head-of-school, Ashley Redd. Tuition is $9,000 annually, but NOLA offers a sliding-scale tuition for those in need.

LEADprep, a microschool with two Seattle-area campuses, was founded in 2013 by Maureen O’Shaughnessy, a career school administrator with a Ph.D. in education leadership. The schools serve children in middle and high school and each campus is capped at 30, with an average student-teacher ratio of five to one.

“In a microschool, if you master things quickly, you move ahead quickly, but if you need more time, learning is slowed down so you can fill in the gaps,” Ms. O’Shaughnessy said. Tuition is $25,000 a year but 40 percent of families receive financial aid. “It’s basically a sliding scale,” she said. “We never turn a family away.”

Edgecombe County Public Schools, a district about 75 miles east of Raleigh, N.C., that serves around 6,200 students — the majority of whom are low-income and high needs — began its own microschool in 2017, in collaboration with Transcend. The North Phillips School of Innovation was housed in the high school and had 30 eighth- and-ninth-grade students. Additional costs for curriculum and professional development, as well as hiring more staff, were minimal and covered by grants.

Edgecombe’s superintendent, Valerie H. Bridges, said the microschool had two aims: to help students find purpose and passion in their lives and to strengthen their resilience. After one year, the students reported a significant increase in their sense of belonging and feelings of safety and their standardized test scores in reading and science went up.

The microschool has begun changing the design of the greater school system. It was expanded last year to include all eighth, ninth and 10th graders and this year, to all sixth- through 12th-grade students.

Credit…Veasey Conway for The New York Times

The district also created remote learning pods in response to coronavirus school closings, for students without Wi-Fi access or adequate adult supervision. Ms. Bridges sees opportunities for keeping these kinds of pods in the school system after the pandemic ends, potentially geared toward students with similar extracurricular interests or who need to work full time and might otherwise drop out.

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For both learning pods and independent microschools, there is a growing need for supportive technology. Several companies already existed in this space, like Curacubby, which offers administrative software for enrollment, billing and payment processing, and Prenda, which provides the academic tools needed to run a microschool, including Chromebooks and Wi-Fi filters for internet safety.

When the pandemic hit, about 700 students were participating in microschools supported by Prenda, mostly in charter public schools in Arizona; by October, that grew to more than 3,000, and the number of microschools jumped to 326 from 126. The company just expanded to Colorado.

Other education technology companies are adapting to meet the pandemic-driven needs of parents. Outschool is a marketplace of live, online classes often taught in creative ways, like teaching architecture through the game Minecraft or Spanish through translations of Taylor Swift songs.

The company is trying to keep up with a 2,000 percent year-over-year increase in classes booked; it went from 80,000 students on its platform in February to more than 500,000 today.

“We’re investing very heavily in increasing the number of teachers and teaching tools, because the range of demands are changing,” said Amir Nathoo, the chief executive and co-founder. “And the social component has become even more important.”

Credit…Tatiana Kiseleva

SchoolHouse, which launched in New York City right before the pandemic, was originally created to help teachers start their own microschools. The teachers on its platform had taken a year off to prepare, but when the pandemic struck, those plans were put on hold and SchoolHouse pivoted.

It had a community of teachers on sabbatical and lots of families contacting the company in search of microschools. Joseph Connor, SchoolHouse’s co-founder and chief operating officer, said the company decided to set up its own microschools, which it calls pod schools. The teachers became full-time employees with benefits and general commercial insurance, and they were connected to pods of eight students.

Tuition averages $14,000 a year per student, Mr. Connor said, but SchoolHouse also offers pods the option to use a sliding scale, where some families pay more and others attend free. SchoolHouse hit its five-year business goal in about five months.

“We really think this is a better way to learn and that even when there is a vaccine, people will continue to choose us,” Mr. Connor said. “We already have parents asking if this will be available next year.”

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Improve Your Home or Office Security with This Smart Detection Camera

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Save 33 percent on this security camera that doesn’t compromise.

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October 24, 2020 2 min read

Disclosure: Our goal is to feature products and services that we think you’ll find interesting and useful. If you purchase them, Entrepreneur may get a small share of the revenue from the sale from our commerce partners.

These days, people are out of normal routines. You may not know exactly where you’re going to be throughout your workday. And while the kids are attending school virtually, there’s one more stressor on your mind if you have to head out to the office for a while. Get some peace of mind with the blurams Outdoor Pro Security Camera Outdoor System.

Whether you want to know what’s going on at the office or at home, this surveillance camera is packed with security features. With smart voice integration, you can use verbal commands to view the security camera live stream and check in without having to get up or make a phone call. Plus, blurams’ facial recognition differentiates between humans, pets, and other moving objects so you can program it to let you know when somebody’s at the front door but ignore a notification if Fido is just coming in from the backyard. If the mail carrier is there with a package, you can communicate through the camera.

The blurams is also equipped with a siren and a flashing alarm in the event of an emergency, so people know immediately if something is wrong. Plus, it’s IP65 weather-resistant so it will stay up in a storm and continue to record no matter what it looks like outside.

Find out why the blurams Outdoor Pro Security Camera Outdoor System is an ‘s Choice product with a 4.2-star rating. Normally $89, you can get it today for 33 percent off at just $59.99.

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Plan for Large Purchases with This Budgeting App Designed for Couples

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This app was made to help couples save.

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October 24, 2020 2 min read

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Budgeting for your future can be difficult. Budgeting for a joint future with your significant other can be even harder. Whether you’re planning a big vacation, a wedding, a property purchase, or you just want to get your money in order, managing two sets of finances is a challenge. That’s why Honeyfi Couples Budgeting App was created.

Honeyfi is an app that helps couples see where their money is going and plan their financial futures together. The intuitive app allows you to view all of your accounts and transactions in a single central hub. (Of course, only the accounts you choose are visible—you still have a right to privacy.) Once your accounts are linked, you can track your budget and set savings goals to help both of you stay on the right path.

With Honeyfi, you’ll get notifications for new transactions and balance updates so if one of you is spending a little too much on lunch every day, there’s some accountability. As you save, you can customize your categories and budgets to your heart’s content, classifying exactly how you spend money so you know where to cut and where you can allocate a little more money. With such easy-to-use tools, it’s no surprise that Honeyfi has earned rave reviews from The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and has 4.4 stars on the App Store.

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Start saving for that big purchase with Honeyfi. Normally $59, you can get a one-year subscription now for 50 percent off at just $29.99.

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6 Ways to Make Money from Audio Content

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October 24, 2020 8 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

If you’re in a content-centric business — you write books, sell courses, run coaching programs, etc. — it’s worth paying attention to this emerging trend in content monetization. Audio.

Audiobooks and podcasts have taken the content publishing world by storm in recent years and the market’s impressive growth is projected to continue. If you haven’t started monetizing content in audio yet, this article will suggest several great ways to get started, with real-life successful examples for your inspiration. Some of them don’t even require you to create any new content.

But first, why should you create content in audio?

It is popular (and getting more so by the day)

For eight years straight, audiobook sales have experienced revenue growth in the double-digits, with sales totaling $1.2 billion in the U.S. last year. Similarly, the podcast market continues to grow – there are now 100 million monthly listeners in the U.S. alone. 

Audio content’s rising popularity can largely be attributed to the fact that we’re all living hectic, on-the-go lifestyles. Multitasking is the new norm, and given that the average American adult spends over four hours per day on their smartphone, mobile-friendly audio content is perfectly suited to capture your audience’s attention. 

Related: Why Audio Content Works for Engaging Audiences

The production cost is low

Unlike video, you don’t need makeup, lighting or an expensive cameraperson to make quality audio. All you need to get started is a decent microphone.

Done professionally, the cost of video production can range from anywhere from $1,500 to $10,000 per minute, as you need to factor in things like equipment, editing, a production crew and more. 

On the other hand, audio production is fairly inexpensive, and even more so if you choose to narrate your audiobook yourself. To start a quality podcast, you can expect to pay around $200 to $500 total for the equipment, editing and software — a far cry from what it would take to produce video content.

The content engagement is high

Because audio content enables people to listen everywhere, consumers don’t need to sit down and carve out time like they do when reading a book or watching a video. Therefore, there are many more opportunities throughout the day for your audience to engage with your content.

One study found that over half of audiobook listeners choose audio content for its convenience, and 41 percent enjoy audiobooks because they can listen when reading is not possible. 

Now if you’re considering selling your content in audio format, what are some of the ways to go about it?

1. Sell an audiobook version of your ebook

If you’ve already written and published books, fiction or nonfiction, you can immediately act on this option.

While fiction audiobooks still make up the majority of sales, nonfiction sales remain solid and are expected to grow by over 25 percent annually in the coming years. So if you’ve already published a nonfiction ebook, there’s never been a better time to convert it to audio. 

When nutrition coach Joyce Laszloffy first published her I Kicked Sugar program as an ebook, she made only 80 sales in an entire year. But after converting the same content to an audiobook, she sold 4,000 copies in three months. When promoting her program via Facebook advertising, she found that her audiobook offer stood out and garnered more attention amid a sea of health and fitness ads.

Fiction authors can also boost their success with audio. Children’s story author Fahad Tasleem picked audio as his main content format after getting feedback from parents. He made over $100,000 from his Quantum Chronicles audio series alone last year.

2. Sell your webinar or live event recordings as audio courses

Do you host live workshops, seminars or webinars regularly? If so, repurposing your live recordings into audio courses may allow you to create an additional income stream without additional work.

Heather Robertson, a weight loss coach, did just that when she created her membership program, “Half Size Me,” which now has close to 1,000 subscribing members. Webinar recordings and various audio recordings are the mainstays of the program because they are convenient to create and easy to consume. Similarly, personal growth teacher Matt Kahn records the talks from his live events and sells them as audio courses.

3. Sell a streaming library as a subscription

For creators who have a large number of existing recordings or record content regularly, take a page from the business model of Audible and , and consider offering your entire recording library as a streaming subscription. Selling a subscription provides recurring income and predictable revenue. It also allows you to build a loyal audience who tune in to your content regularly. 

Selling audio streaming subscriptions is not just the specialty of blockbuster platforms. Many independent creators have done it successfully. Renowned meditation teacher Andrew Johnson packaged his life’s work of over 30 meditation albums as a subscription program, and he made over $10,000 on the program’s launch day alone. The ease of access that the audio streaming format provides is a big draw to his program.

Or take author and activist Marianne Williamson, for example. Since she gives talks every week, she has enough content to offer them as both video and audio subscriptions to fit different customer needs.

4. Sell premium (a.k.a. paid) podcasts

If you have a free podcast that’s attracting a growing number of loyal listeners, consider creating a paid version of it. This option is likely more profitable for independent content creators than selling advertisements. 

It takes serious listener volume to make a meaningful profit from ads. If you have 1,000 regular listeners and are publishing a weekly podcast with two 30-second ads per episode, you can expect to make around $144 a month. Additionally, many podcast ad sponsors have minimum download number requirements.

In contrast, if you create a paid podcast that charges $10 per month, and 10 percent of your regular listeners sign up, your monthly revenue would be $1,000. 

One thing to note is that the run-of-the-mill interview-style podcast may be easy to create, but it’s usually not good enough to be the flagship content of a paid podcast. Creators who run successful premium podcasts tend to share some common traits:

  • Have a distinctive point of view 

  • Offer information or teaching not available elsewhere

  • Exist in a well-defined niche that an audience feels passionate about

Controversial radio personality Jeff Fillion, the host of the popular RadioPirate premium podcast, is an example of someone who embodies these traits. Love him or hate him, he has a clearly defined voice and set of opinions, and his niche content is in contrast to what you can normally find in most mainstream media. Together, these qualities have enabled him to attract a loyal audience willing to pay for his podcast.

Related: 5 Vital Aspects That Make a Podcast Show Succeed

5. Convert your YouTube channel or blog into a paid audio series

You may be surprised to know that you can actually sell your content that’s already available for free. For example, Canadian vlogger Shi Tao sells an audio program with hundreds of subscribers. Many of the episodes in the program are audio versions of videos on his YouTube channel.

Why does this work? Again, audio content’s convenience and ease-of-access is a value add for customers on its own. When watching a YouTube video, you must either be on your computer or keep your phone active to view the content. But if you’re streaming audio, you can listen anywhere with ease.

6. Publish free podcasts as lead magnets for your paid content

Given how popular podcasts have become among consumers with high purchasing power, if you’re not using free podcasts as a lead generation tool for your paid content, you’re missing out!

USA Today bestselling novelist Sarina Bowen publishes the First Chapter with Sarina Bowen podcast, which offers free sample chapters from her paid audiobooks. Sales coach Victor Antonio runs the popular Sales Influence podcast, and many of his episodes are snippets from his paid training materials. They help drive listeners to his paid content. 

Related: Is Audio the Future of Social Media? Twitter’s Jack Dorsey Thinks So

Whether you’re converting your ebook into an audiobook or creating a new premium podcast, there’s no shortage of options when it comes to monetizing your content in audio. By offering your audience an audio option, you not only create another income stream but also boost the content engagement from your customers, many of whom are craving the intimate and personal listening experience provided by the audio medium. Now that’s a win-win situation.

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