Q&A With Joel Jacobson, Co-founder of Defined Learning
EdTech Times spoke with Joel Jacobson, co-founder of Defined Learning – a startup that’s developing application, Defined STEM, enabling students to make connections between STEM classroom content and career pathways. The application is also useful for the teachers to discover and reuse resources to design performance tasks.
Company at Glance:
Founders: Johnjoe Farragher, Joel Jacobson, and Rob Eifler
Product stage: Market
Company Twitter: @DefinedSTEM
ETT: Who are your core customers and how did you come across the problem you’re addressing and how did you define it – what was your process in identifying it?
JJ: Our core customers are regional entities, school districts and schools. As Defined STEM began, we wanted to hone in on the idea of relating the foundational knowledge gained in the classroom to what is happening in the real world. We took on the question, “when am I going to use this,” as a challenge, and applied to all subjects across all grade levels.
Our goal is to demonstrate relevance through the use of performance tasks and challenge students to transfer and apply the knowledge through real world projects. We present these challenges through performance tasks as well as literacy tasks, which focus on non-fictional reading and writing.
ETT: And how did you develop a solution to this particular problem and what was your process of arriving at it?
JJ: Our process was predicated on the needs of the districts, teachers and students. Schools are looking at innovative ways to relate what is happening in the classroom to the real world. Many school districts are attempting to incorporate performance tasks as a means to accomplish this goal.
Teachers today have so much on their plate and creating performance tasks is time consuming. Defined STEM has a library of performance tasks around a central theme which is demonstrated through the use of career-based video.
ETT: What it is that you’re doing differently than your competitors? And do you expect to develop other differentiators in the future?
JJ: This is an exciting time for schools and school districts. There are fantastic resources available, which can aide districts in achieving their specific goals and initiatives. In terms of Defined STEM, when a district or school is interested in relating real world concepts and challenging students’ critical thinking skills through performance tasks, we really do not see competition.
ETT: How are you building the library of STEM content?
JJ: Defined Learning adds content to our library on a monthly basis. There are many factors that go into the addition of content. Here are a couple:
First we listen to the needs of our customers. We listen to our customers across the country and evaluate areas they think would be beneficial to our current library. As part of this process, we evaluate usage patterns and general trends year over year. Once we identify content either through the trend analysis or customer feedback, we take our findings to our customer base, a select group of ardent Defined STEM users to further assess the need. If our findings are validated we make additions to our library.
We are also continually monitoring our library by analyzing the state and national standards. We continually look for opportunities to further enhance our connection with all the standards. When we identify standards that need to be addressed, we create the necessary video, performance and literacy task to address the standard.
ETT: What is your algorithm or method of matching students, STEM content, and their future career aspirations? In other words, how does your platform work?
JJ: The teacher drives defined STEM. The teacher has the flexibility to edit and assign every aspect of Defined STEM. This allows for the teacher to differentiate based on ability and also on career interest. The Defined STEM library offers a tremendous amount of flexibility; both inter task and intra task, for teachers to provide each student with the appropriate tasks.
ETT: Could you tell us about other startups or product builds that you have been a part of and what your role was?
JJ: This is the first true start-up we have been involved with. Our background is in delivering dynamic, on-demand content to the classroom. We have built services within companies we worked for as well as built and delivered content on behalf of companies we have consulted with.
ETT: Where is education technology market going in the next few years, especially as related to STEM? What are the potential risks to this market niche?
JJ: Over the next few years we feel strongly that the STEM space will be looked synonymously with good teaching… more of a “STEM for All” approach. All students need proficiency in these areas for future success.
ETT: What advice, if any, do you have for someone thinking about launching a company in the education technology market?
JJ: It is important to have a thorough understanding of the space a company is considering launching into. Assuming a company has that understanding ,they will be able to adjust to obstacles they are faced with.
EdTech Times thanks Joel for speaking with us, and we encourage you to learn more about Defined Learning at:
Yevgeny Ioffe, or as people call him, Yev, has been working in both the startup world and established companies. His career spans from joining Xplana Learning as it launched to Cengage Learning to MBS Direct when it acquired Xplana in 2009. Yevgeny brings to EdTech Times his passion for start-ups and technology, along with his interest in the ever evolving world of edtech. Yevgeny obtained his BSc and MA from Brandeis University and MBA from Boston College.