Q&A with CourseHorse co-founder Nihal Parthasarathi

CourseHorse is a NYC based startup that aims to connect users with local, in person classes in areas such as music, cooking, yoga, writing, improv, web design, programming and more, and recently raised $500K in seed funding from a number of angel investors.

The startup, launched in 2011 by NYU graduates Katie Kapler and Nihal Parthasarathi, currently has 20,000 courses across 500 institutions on its roster, including those from CUNY (City University of New York) schools. The lineup also includes courses from other schools as well as some small businesses.

Recently, co-founder Nihal Parthasarathi took the time to lend us his insights on the ed-tech industry.  Nihal offered us his take on trends in the space, obstacles in adopting technology,  3 companies to watch, and the future of the industry. Check out our Q&A below.

If you could provide students nationwide with one education technology product, what would it be?
The single most important education technology ever invented is the internet itself, and ensuring that all students nationwide have access to affordable high speed internet should be our highest priority (current penetration is only about 77%). However, assuming that the internet is readily accessible, the next critical set of tools would focus on improving English language skills, like reading and writing, which by themselves lift performance in all other subjects. Picking a single tool that focuses on these skills is difficult, yet an e-Reader, like the Kindle (with e-ink, rather than Android), in the hands of every student would be a step in the right direction.

What do you think are the biggest obstacles in adopting technology in the education space?
As the costs of education technology decrease over time, the biggest obstacle to widespread adoption is culture. Innovative industries have a culture that fosters and embraces innovation and experimentation, yet for a long time, the education sector has been steeped in bureaucracy & tradition, the two greatest enemies of innovation. Once a technology-embracing culture has been established, time, money & resources will be committed to the adoption of new technology – that’s when the fun will begin!

Name three companies to watch in the next 12 months.
Aside from our own company, CourseHorse, we’d point you to:

  • Schoology: One of the biggest barriers to building successful ed-tech is selling into K-12 schools – there’s a new wave of companies serving as intermediaries that form the relationships and organize the externally available tools so that they work together seamlessly. Schoology is at the forefront of this educatio platform movement.
  • General Assembly: As the disaggregation of traditional education continues, General Assembly is a quickly growing example of a high quality yet traditionally unaccredited institution whose programs have proven themselves within the professional community.
  • Quora: Technology has the power to make education not just more accessible, but more interesting and exciting as well. As a community of questions answered by the experts, Quora is an education resource of the 21st century that empowers genuine curiosity and inquiry.

What is the biggest trend in education technology that we should be watching?
One key trend to observe is the way that technology is affecting the transition from education to profession, i.e. the link between training, assessment & hiring.

Where do you see education technology going in the next 5 years?
Education (including diagnostics & school operations) via tablet will become much more mainstream, and online ed tech tools will continue to expand the school’s reach into the student’s home. Yet the most successful technologies will continue to require strong participation on the part of the teacher to guide student inquiry, provide feedback, and maintain accountability.

Many thanks to Nihal for participating and don’t forget to check out CourseHorse