Disney invests $15M in educational gaming app Kahoot at a $360M valuation

When Kahoot, the startup that operates a popular platform for user-generated educational gaming, raised $15 million in October of this year, we mentioned that Disney might take a larger stake in the company, beyond the small investment it took after Kahoot passed through the Disney Accelerator.

Now with some 60 million games on its platform, today Kahoot announced that this has come to pass: Disney has backed Kahoot to the tune of $15 million — working out to a four percent stake in the startup at a $360 million valuation, based on the current share price of 28 Norwegian kroner (shares of Kahoot are traded on the Norway OTC as an unlisted stock).

Kahoot declined to comment for this story beyond the investment announcement posted on the exchange, but for some context, this is a nice bump up in Kahoot’s valuation from October, when it was at $300 million. Other sizeable and notable investors in the company include Microsoft and Nordic investor Northzone (which has backed Spotify and other significant startups out of the region).

On the part of Disney, it’s not clear yet whether its Kahoot stake will lead to more Disney content on the platform, or if this is more of an arm’s length financial backing. The entertainment giant has made nearly 50 investments by way of its accelerator program. In some cases it increases those to more significant holdinga, as it has in the case of HQ Trivia, SpheroEpic Games, the company behind Fortnite (a very different take on gaming compared to Kahoot), Samba TV and more.

Disney has been dabbling in both gaming and education as vehicles to market its many brands, and also as salient businesses of their own — no surprise, given that one primary focus for it has been on younger consumers and their needs and interests.

In some cases, it seems it may use strategic investments to do this, for example with Disney-themed nights on HQ Trivia. Interestingly, although it doesn’t appear that Disney invests in Byju’s — which itself just raised $300 million — the educational app, which has been described as “Disneyesque”, teamed up with Disney in October to develop co-branded educational content, another sign of Disney’s interest in the field.

Kahoot has been around since 2006 but has seen a sharp rise in users in the last few years on the back of strong growth in the US — benefitting from a wider trend of educators creating content on mediums and platforms that they know students already use and love.

Kahoot’s last reported user numbers come from January, when it said it had 70 million registrations, but its CEO and co-founder Åsmund Furuseth told TechCrunch in October that it was on track to pass 100 million by this month. Kahoot didn’t release updated figures today, but my guess is that Kahoot has hit its target (maybe even passed it), and that is one reason why Disney decided to exercise its investment option.

Kahoot is not your average gaming company: some games are created in-house, but the majority of them are user-generated — “Kahoots” in the company’s parlance — created by the people setting the learning tasks or those trying to create a more entertaining way of remembering or learning something. These, in turn, become games that potentially anyone can use to learn something (hence the name).

There have been about 60 million of these games created to date, a pretty massive amount considering this is educational content at the end of the day.

Kahoot has developed its business along two avenues, with games for K-12 students and games for business users, building training and other professional development in a wrapper of gamification to engage workers more in the content. 

In practice, about half the games in Kahoot’s catalogue are available to the public and half are private, with the split roughly following the company’s business model: games made for corporate purposes tend to be kept private, while the educational ones tend to  be made publicly available. The business model also follows that split, with Kahoot’s business users accounting for the majority of its revenue, too.

We have contacted Disney for comment too and will update this post as we learn more.

 

Existential education error: Failing to train students on software

Although many of the milestones of the digital revolution have sprung directly from the research output of America’s colleges and universities, like Athena from Zeus’s forehead, on the instructional side, American higher education has taken a laid-back approach. Sure, there are more courses in computer science, millions of students taking courses online and MIT just committed $1 billion to build a new college for AI. But a campus-visiting time-traveler from 25 or 50 years ago would find a very familiar setting — with the possible exception of students more comfortable staring at their devices than maintaining eye contact.

This college stasis may be even more surprising to visitors from the transformed workplace. Jobs that made no or marginal use of digital devices 10 years ago now tether workers to their machines as closely as today’s students are glued to their smartphones. Processes that involved paper are now entirely digital. And experience with relevant function- and industry-specific business software is required in job descriptions for many entry-level jobs.

This hit home a few weeks ago when speaking to an audience of 250 college and university officials. I asked which of their schools provide any meaningful coursework in Salesforce, the No. 1 SaaS platform in American business.

Not one hand went up.

There are many reasons for this. Few if any faculty have dedicated their careers to (or even get marginally excited about) equipping students with the skills they need to secure and succeed in their first jobs. No one’s losing their job (yet) over failure to help students get jobs. Another is the cost of teaching; with strong employer demand for these skills, finding and hiring capable faculty costs more than teaching non-technical subjects. Finally, there’s the rapid pace of change in technology, and the sense that any educational effort will be obsolete in a few years. (Of course, the reality of business software is quite different; foundational platforms like Salesforce have a long shelf life — 10-plus years and counting — and some platforms are expected to last for a generation.)

But the primary reason colleges aren’t educating students on the software they need to launch their careers is the notion that it’s unnecessary because millennials (and now Gen Zers) are “digital natives.”

The idea of digital natives isn’t new. It’s been around for decades: Kids have grown up with digital technologies and so are adept at all things digital. It’s certainly true that today’s college students are proficient with Netflix and Spotify and smartphones. But it’s equally true that the smartphones they’ve grown up with haven’t remotely prepared them to use office phones, let alone career-critical business software.

Business software is really hard, even for digital natives.

Eleanor Cooper, co-founder of Pathstream, a startup partnering with higher education institutions to provide business software training, notes that millennials and Gen Zers are “accustomed to Instagram-like platforms which are both intuitive and instantly gratifying. But without exception, we find the user experience of learning business software to be exactly the opposite: instant friction and delayed gratification. Students first face an often multi-hour series of technical steps just to get the software set up before they begin working through tedious button-clicking instructions, which are at best mind-numbing and at worst outdated and inaccurate for the current version of the software.”

In an article in The New Yorker last month, “Why Doctors Hate Their Computers,” Dr. Atul Gawande describes the challenge of implementing Epic, a SaaS platform for managing patient care: “recording and communicating our medical observations, sending prescriptions to a patient’s pharmacy, ordering tests and scans, viewing results, scheduling surgery, sending insurance bills.”

First, there’s 16 hours of mandatory training. Gawande “did fine with the initial exercises, like looking up patients’ names and emergency contacts. When it came to viewing test results, though, things got complicated. There was a column of thirteen tabs on the left side of my screen, crowded with nearly identical terms: ‘chart review,’ ‘results review,’ ‘review flowsheet.’ We hadn’t even started learning how to enter information, and the fields revealed by each tab came with their own tools and nuances.”

Business software is really hard, even for digital natives. Today’s students are accustomed to simple interfaces. But simple interfaces are possible only when the function is simple, like messaging or selecting video entertainment. Today’s leading business software platforms don’t just manage a single function. They manage hundreds, if not thousands.

Gawande references a book by IBM engineer Frederick Brooks, The Mythical Man-Month, which sets forth a Darwinian theory of software evolution from a cool, easy-to-use program (“built by a few nerds for a few of their nerd friends” to perform a limited function), to a bigger program “product” that delivers more functionality to more people, to a “very uncool program system.” Gawande points to the example of Fluidity, a program written by a grad student to run simulations of small-scale fluid dynamics. Researchers loved it, and soon added code to perform new features. The software became more complex, harder to use and more restrictive.

And so beyond cumbersome interfaces, the second reason why business software is really hard is that it has become inextricably and tightly wound up with business processes. Salesforce consultants will tell you it’s easier to conform your business practices to Salesforce than to try to customize (or even configure) Salesforce to support the way you do business today. And that’s true for almost all business software. As Gawande notes, “as a program adapts and serves more people and more functions, it naturally requires tighter regulation. Software systems govern how we interact as groups, and that makes them unavoidably bureaucratic in nature.”

The myth of the digital native is convenient for colleges and universities, because it allows them to stay focused on what faculty want to teach rather than what students actually need to learn.

Software-defined business practices are increasingly standardized across functions and industries, and highly knowable. And because they’re knowable, hiring managers want to see candidates who know them. So it’s not just about educating students on software; inherent in preparing students on business software is equipping them with industry and/or job-function expertise. And that requires much more than 16 hours of training.

“Why can’t our work systems be like our smartphones — flexible, easy, customizable? The answer is that the two systems have different purposes,” Gawande explained. “Consumer technology is all about letting me be me. Technology for complex enterprises is about helping groups do what the members cannot easily do by themselves — work in coordination.”

The myth of the digital native is convenient for colleges and universities, because it allows them to stay focused on what faculty want to teach rather than what students actually need to learn. But it’s self-centered, superficial and silly. Rather than thinking about technology in terms of Netflix and smartphones, walk down the street and take a look at the software being utilized to manage your college’s admissions, financial aid and human resources functions. Indeed, 95 percent of your graduates will begin their careers working in places that look a lot more like this than like the faculty lounge. And that’s if they’re lucky. Otherwise they’ll begin their careers working in places that look a lot more like Starbucks.

In his article, Gawande notes that despite the many challenges of adapting to working (and living) on a business software platform, software is eating the world for a good reason: to improve outcomes for consumers. The Epic implementation should allow hospitals to scan records to identify patients who’ve been on opioids for more than three months in order to provide outreach and reduce risk of overdose, or to improve care for homeless patients by seeing that they’ve already had three negative TB tests and therefore don’t need to be isolated. “We think of this as a system for us and it’s not,” said the hospital system’s chief clinical officer. “It is for the patients.

These improved outcomes are synonymous with the data analytics revolution — a revolution that has colleges and universities excited about new programs and increased enrollment. But all the additional data to improve these outcomes needs to be captured first. And that’s done with complex business software. So it’s unfair, or at least hypocritical, of colleges and universities to attempt to pick the fruit of big data without first sowing the seeds. And sowing the seeds entails a serious investment in preparing students with the technical and business process knowledge they’ll need to use the software that makes big data possible.

Edtech unicorn Udacity lays off 125 people in global strategy shift

Learning platform Udacity is to axe a big chunk of its workforce — which looks to be between a fifth and a quarter — as part of a global reorganization effort, according to VentureBeat.

It reports the company is cutting 125 staff from now through early 2019.

We’ve also heard from a source that around 100 Udacity staff have been laid off, with affected employees mostly in content, video and services.

We’ve reached out to the company for comment.

According to VentureBeat’s report the firm will close its office in São Paulo, Brazil, with the loss of 70 employees. The remaining cuts will come from departments in the US related to creating courses, it adds.

Two months ago we broke the news the company had quietly let go of 5% of its global workforce.

VentureBeat says now the layoffs will leave Udacity with 330 employees.

The edtech firm was one of the early providers of MOOCs, before low pass rates seemingly triggered a reprogramming of its business model, with Udacity refocusing on the tech space — offering so-called ‘nanodegrees’ in topics like AI and blockchain.

After that shift co-founder Sebastian Thrun stepped away as CEO, handing over to Vishal Makhijani. However the latest cuts come hard on the heels of a reversal of that, with VentureBeat noting Thrun took over day-to-day operations and the exec chairman role last month, following the departure of Makhijani.

Since then the board of directors and Thrun have voted to downsize portions of the company, it adds.

In another notable reversal this year, Udacity suspended a money back guarantee for people who completed a Plus tier nanocourse and couldn’t find a job, pressing pause just a few months after it announced the guarantee.

Thrun told VentureBeat the guarantee remains on pause — with no decision yet taken whether to cancel it outright.

TechCrunch’s Kirsten Korosec contributed to this report

Apoll01 wants to remake education by decentralizing the diploma

Dan Genduso spent nearly a decade working in consulting before landing on the Disrupt Berlin stage to launch his first startup, Apoll01 — a small company with a big idea about how to solve America’s expanding education crisis. 

First at Accenture and then at Slalom Consulting in San Francisco, Genduso focused on building out customer engagement platforms that captured the workflows, institutional knowledge and digital assets surrounding the development of customer profiles.

“I was building those out and personalizing products and advertisements to people,” Genduso recalled. “I got kind of tired of doing that and started to notice that there were other applications for this technology to enable people instead of enabling companies.”

That realization started Genduso on the path that would culminate with the launch of Apoll01 and its first product, a digital identity management tool, built on Hyperledger, that the Apoll01 founder hopes will be the first step in the transformation of the American educational system.

There’s no doubt that education in the U.S. is at a tipping point. Whether or not anyone ascribes to the belief of Harvard University Professor Clayton Christensen, the progenitor of the popular theory of disruptive innovation, who predicts that “50 percent of the 4,000 colleges and universities in the U.S. will be bankrupt in 10 to 15 years,” there’s no arguing against the fact that a wave of attrition is coming for higher education in the country.

That statistic is sobering, but debatable. However, even the Department of Education and Moody’s Investor Services predict that the number of college and university closures will triple in the coming years. 

What’s worrying to Genduso is that this thinning of educational opportunity for students is occurring alongside what will be rising demand for new skill sets as automation transforms the workforce.

Longer term, Genduso sees Apoll01 as a new platform for managing labor in the age of automation. In a future where automation has erased traditional notions of work, Genduso sees people operating in a more flexible and attenuated gig economy where workers will be matched with short-term projects in the same way that Uber drivers are now matched with riders. He thinks that Apoll01 will be the ledger that has a full accounting of its users’ skillsets and is able to match them with the jobs that need to be filled.

“The same way I was automating operations of a company by making it so there’s no middle man, I realized I could match people to education and to work without the middleman as well,” Genduso says.

That’s the long-term vision, but the first step is getting an identity management system to store all of the different accreditations, certificates and skills that a person has amassed over their educational career in a single place. And that’s what Genduso is launching on the Disrupt stage.

“Right now, think about how there are online training platforms like Salesforce’s Trailhead,” said Genduso. “There are industry-specific schools like blockchain schools. You have specialized training schools and then you have Coursera and Udacity. There’s nothing that’s pulling those things together to put a school system together. No one is pulling that together to create an accreditation and acknowledge that what you’re learning counts.”

That vision was enough to earn Genduso a finalist slot in the U.S. Department of Education’s “Reimagining the Higher Education Ecosystem Challenge” and garner praise from the country’s controversial Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. Apoll01 was among a number of companies including Competency Catalyst, EdRec: Next Gen by Design, and FlexchainEdu, trying to create ways for skills learned outside of the traditional classroom to be acknowledged by employers and traditional universities.

Other companies, like Learning Machine, raised $3 million to pursue putting digital diplomas on the blockchain. In fact, traditional universities have already acknowledged the value of the tools and services that Genduso is hoping to develop. In September, Genduso was accepted into the University of Southern California’s Rossier EdVentures education technology incubator.

“The original use case of this product was to start within universities to better understand their students and personalize online education for their students. [Universities] wanted to better understand what their students had been learning outside of the university system from other online learning platforms,” Genduso says.

However, the entrepreneur soon realized that for Apoll01 to be successful, it would have to be independent from the university system.

“The only way there could be a profile that moves outside of the university and within the university was through an independent profile,” says Genduso. So he developed an identity management tool on top of the Hyperledger Fabric open source blockchain toolkit.

Some universities are already putting diplomas and certifications on the blockchain. Learning Machine is working with MIT to put their certifications and digital diplomas into a cryptographically secured ledger, while Southern New Hampshire University and Central New Mexico Community College, both issue blockchain diplomas.

“I’m trying to get away from this world where everyone is screwing everything up by creating these closed systems for the user,” says Genduso. “I’m trying to get people who run these online institutions to get those pilot programs to get that started. My customer is not a university, my customer is every single person… I’m trying to do what’s best for them.”

Apoll01 already has its first customer, through a pilot with the blockchain based education company Teachur, but the company’s vision resonates with a number of different potential customers.

One of those could be edX, the online portal for massive open online courses (MOOCs) that were the darling of the education set only a few years ago. Writing in Quartz, edX chief executive, Anant Agarwal laid out a compelling rationale for Apoll01’s technology.

Education isn’t static. In this future, traditional degrees themselves may become antiquated, and employers will increasingly look for what multifarious skills learners know versus what degree they possess. Modular credentials will be ideal for working professionals who want to update their skillset to suit the shifting job market, better preparing students and adults alike for an excitingly unpredictable future.

Initially, Genduso sees his company getting traction by charging universities a small fee for access to the profiles that his users are generating. Eventually, Apoll01’s chief executive thinks there’s an opportunity to raise money through the tokenization of the platform, where advertisers, continuing education companies, and other vendors in the education space would pay for access to the profiles created on Apoll01’s platform. The key, for Genduso, is to make the system as accessible as possible for the students.

“In the next 10 to 15 years 50 percent of colleges and universities are going to be bankrupt and we’re also heading to a time when 10 percent to 15 percent of people are going to be out of work. When you look at that trajectory how do you as a person in the labor force properly prepare for that?” Genduso asked. “You can start building a profile where you’re building up a transcript that actually counts for something and you can get it from all of these different sources.”

Apple to host free coding sessions at stores, rolls out new material for teachers

Apple today opened registration for thousands of free “Hour of Code” sessions taking place at its Apple Store locations around the world from December 1st through the 14th. The sessions are one of several programs the company has underway focused on helping more people learn to code both inside and outside the classroom.

For the sixth year, Apple says it will host daily Hour of Code sessions through “Today at Apple.” These take place during the first two weeks of December and will focus on teaching aspiring coders core concepts. For those ages 6 to 12, the sessions will involve coding with robots, while attendees 12 and up will use the educational app Swift Playgrounds to learn coding basics.

Apple today also introduced new material for teachers participating in Computer Science Education Week — the educational campaign held in early December that aims to introduce computer science and coding to K through 12 students.

The company created an Hour of Code Facilitator Guide that helps educators host sessions where students learn to use Swift Playgrounds along with other iPad apps.

Related to this, Apple also introduced a new Swift Coding Club kit for teachers and students that provides the materials needed for them to start their own coding clubs at school.

This kit is designed for students ages 8 and up, and will see them collaborating, prototyping and learning about how to code an app.

The Swift Playgrounds educational app, launched just over two years ago, is today available in 15 languages, including English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Chinese and Japanese, Apple noted. The app has been expanded since launch to include more courses, like those for programming toy robots or building apps that use AR, for example.

Now, Apple is turning mastery of the app into an AP (Advanced Placement) high school course, too.

The company says it will launch a free AP Computer Science Principles course syllabus and curriculum for the next school year, which will give students the chance to earn AP credit for learning to code in Swift. Students will also be able to take a certification exam — the App Development with Swift Level 1 exam — following their completion of the class. These will be held by Certiport Authorized Testing Centers worldwide, and will test students’ knowledge of Swift, app developer tools and core components of apps.

Swift Playgrounds has been a significant part of Apple’s educational efforts over the past couple of years. In 2016, the company launched Everyone Can Code, which teaches coding to students from kindergarten to college and beyond. That program is now running at more than 5,000 schools and colleges worldwide, says Apple.

Peer tutoring platform Knack raises $1.5M from Charles Hudson, Jeff Vinik

Knack, a peer tutoring platform aimed at college students, is taking a different approach than some online tutoring marketplaces have in the past. As a result, the Florida-based startup has raised a $1.5 million seed round co-led by Charles Hudson’s Precursor Ventures and Tampa Bay Lighting owner and Fenway Sports Group Partner, Jeff Vinik.

Other investors in the round included Bisk Ventures, the corporate venture-arm of Bisk Education; Arizona State University Enterprise Partners; Doug Feirstein, founder of Hired, uSell, and Liveops; former State of Florida CFO Alex Sink; Tom DiBenedetto of Fenway Sports Group; PAR Inc.; and Elysium Venture Capital.

While many tutoring marketplaces have focused on only connecting students with others who could help them with their studies, Knack has been instead also focusing on adding institutional partners as its customers.

Today, it works with over 50 colleges across the U.S., like seed investor ASU, who are licensing Knack to modernize their student support services and increase access to supplemental help for students.

“Although most universities already have on-campus tutoring centers,” explains company co-founder and CEO Samyr Qureshi, “Knack partners with institutions as a technology-enabled supplemental solution, filling in the gaps by increasing course and topical coverage for nuanced courses that campus learning centers may not be able to cover due to budgetary and resource constraints,” he says.

 

In addition, Knack is also now working with corporate employer sponsors like PwC and ConnectWise who want to engage with high potential students from Knack’s  campus networks.

“We’re focusing on the full life cycle of learning from: ‘I need some help on Knack’ to ‘I can offer help through Knack’ to ‘my skills built and showcased through Knack helped me land a job,'” notes Qureshi.

The CEO says he was inspired to work in the edtech space because, as a first-generation immigrant, education has been at the forefront of his life. His mother brought Qureshi and his sister over to the U.S. to allow them to pursue college degrees.

During his own time in school, Qureshi both sought tutoring and tutored himself, which led him to believe that one of the best ways to learn was from a peer.

In 2016, the startup applied to the University of Florida’s Business Plan Competition and took home the first place, winning a $25,000 cash prize. That opened the door to venture capital, and its first pre-seed round of funding.

While institutions and businesses are the focus in terms of monetization, Knack still caters directly to students today. Those who need help with their coursework can use Knack to book tutoring, and those who want to offer their skills can create a tutoring profile with basic info like their bio, courses, rates and availability.

The platform then handles all the logistics, including searching, matching, scheduling, tracking, billing and rating and reviewing.

Knack takes a 20 percent service fee on this tier of its service. University partners are on SaaS-based annual platform, and Employer partners are charged a sponsorship amount depending on their targeting criteria.

The team of eight is based in Tampa, Florida and plans to use the seed funding for sales and marketing, as well as making some key engineering hires, the CEO says.

Why we lie to ourselves, every day

Human action requires motivation, but what exactly are those motivations? Donating money to a charity might be motivated by altruism, and yet, only 1% of donations are anonymous. Donors don’t just want to be altruistic, they also want credit for that altruism plus badges to signal to others about their altruistic ways.

Worse, we aren’t even aware of our true motivations — in fact, we often strategically deceive ourselves to make our behavior appear more pure than it really is. It’s a pattern that manifests itself across all kinds of arenas, including consumption, politics, education, medicine, religion and more.

In their book Elephant in the Brain, Kevin Simler, formerly a long-time engineer at Palantir, and Robin Hanson, an associate professor of economics at George Mason University, take the most dismal parts of the dismal science of economics and weave them together into a story of humans acting badly (but believing they are great!) As the authors write in their intro, “The line between cynicism and misanthropy — between thinking ill of human motives and thinking ill of humans — is often blurry.” No kidding.

Elephant in the Brain by Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson. Oxford University Press, 2018

The eponymous elephant in the brain is essentially our self-deception and hidden motivations regarding the actions we take in everyday life. Like the proverbial elephant in the room, this elephant in the brain is visible to those who search for it, but we often avoid looking at it lest we get discouraged at our selfish behavior.

Humans care deeply about being perceived as prosocial, but we are also locked into constant competition, over status attainment, careers, and spouses. We want to signal our community spirit, but we also want to selfishly benefit from our work. We solve for this dichotomy by creating rationalizations and excuses to do both simultaneously. We give to charity for the status as well as the altruism, much as we get a college degree to learn, but also to earn a degree which signals to employers that we will be hard workers.

The key is that we self-deceive: we don’t realize we are taking advantage of the duality of our actions. We truly believe we are being altruistic, just as much as we truly believe we are in college to learn and explore the arts and humanities. That self-deception is critical, since it lowers the cost of demonstrating our prosocial bona fides: we would be heavily cognitively taxed if we had to constantly pretend as if we cared about the environment when what we really care about is being perceived as an ethical consumer.

Elephant in the Brain is a bold yet synthetic thesis. Simler and Hanson build upon a number of research advances, such as Jonathan Haidt’s work on the righteous mind and Robert Trivers work on evolutionary psychology to undergird their thesis in the first few chapters, and then they apply that thesis to a series of other fields (ten, in fact) in relatively brief and facile chapters to describe how the elephant in the brain affects us in every sphere of human activity.

Refreshingly, far from being polemicists, the authors are quite curious and investigatory about this pattern of human behavior, and they realize they are pushing at least some of their readers into uncomfortable territory. They even begin the book by stating that “we expect the typical reader to accept roughly two-thirds of our claims about human motives and institutions.”

Yet, the book is essentially making one claim, just applied in a myriad of ways. It’s unclear to me who the reader would be who accepts only parts of the book’s premise. Either you have come around to the cynical view of humans (pre or post book), or you haven’t — there doesn’t seem to me to be a middle point between those two perspectives.

Worse, even after reading the book, I am left completely unaware of what exactly to do with the thesis now that I have read it. There is something of a lukewarm conclusion in which the authors push for us to have greater situational awareness, and a short albeit excellent section on designing better institutions to account for hidden motivations. The book’s observations ultimately don’t lead to any greater project, no path toward a more enlightened society. That’s fine, but disappointing.

Indeed, for a book that arguably strives to be optimistic, I fear its results will be nothing more than cynical fodder for Silicon Valley product designers. Don’t design products for what humans say they want, but design them to punch the buttons of their hidden motivations. Viewed in this light, Elephant in the Brain is perhaps a more academic version of the Facebook product manual.

The dismal science is dismal precisely because of this cynicism: because as a project, as a set of values, it leads pretty much nowhere. Everyone is secretly selfish and obsessed with status, and they don’t even know it. As the authors conclude in their final line, “We may be competitive social animals, self-interested and self-deceived, but we cooperated our way to the god-damned moon.” Yes we did, and it is precisely that surprise from such a dreary species that we should take solace in. There is indeed an elephant in our brain, but its influence can wax and wane — and ultimately humans hold their agency in their own hands.

We’re addressing gender disparity in engineering way too late

STEM innovations, especially those in engineering, are an essential part of our modern-day lives. These innovations impact us all, and cut across social, economic and geographical boundaries. Yet, at a time when engineers must meet the needs of a vast population of users with diverse opinions and backgrounds, the engineering workforce continues to suffer from gender disparity.

The U.S. Department of Commerce reported that women accounted for 47 percent of all U.S. jobs in 2015. However, women only account for 24 percent of STEM jobs. And the percentage of women in STEM fields continues to be the lowest in engineering, with women representing just 15 percent of the workforce (NSF, 2018).

These are startling numbers — made even more striking given the range of STEM advocacy groups that making concerted efforts to increase female representation in engineering through programs that encourage women to enroll in engineering courses in high school, major in engineering in college and then go into the profession.

The problem, it seems, is that girls self-select out of engineering before these efforts even have a chance to be effective.

At a young age, girls internalize long-lasting stereotypes that tell them that boys are better at engineering and computer science, and that girls simply aren’t engineers. And during these formative years, they never have an opportunity to imagine themselves as engineers.

By the time we try to get young women involved in high school, their minds are already made up that engineering is not for them. Young women do not enroll in engineering-related secondary school courses at the same rates as young men, according to the 2018 National Science Foundation Science and Engineering Indicators Report: About two and a half times (21 percent) as many male students earned engineering and technology credits in high school as compared to female (eight percent). This gender disparity is also apparent in AP courses. In computer science, 77 percent of exam-takers are male.

Then, when women go on to college, they do not select STEM majors at the rate of men: 44 percent of men elect a STEM major compared to 24 percent of women, and only 19.3 percent of engineering degrees are awarded to women.

If we are going to bring more women into engineering, we must start to reach out to them when they’re still young girls.

We know from our work in creating the Museum of Science’s Engineering Is Elementary curriculum, which has been used by more than 15 million elementary students and 190,000 educators across the country, that when given the opportunity and when exposed to engineering concepts, girls are just as successful as boys at understanding the engineering design process. Additionally, a five-year of study of those curricula funded by the National Science Foundation found that girls perform just as well as boys on engineering outcome measures. (Exploring the Efficacy of Engineering is Elementary (E4) NSF No. 1220305)

This data is reinforced by what we see everyday within the halls of the Museum of Science: Girls like engineering if they get a chance to learn it.

More than one million kids have participated in Engineering Design Challenges at the Museum. Our research has shown that when girls immerse themselves in our exhibits, they demonstrate confidence and sustained interest in solving engineering problems and express an interest in future engineering activities (Auster & Lindgren-Streicher, 2013).

If young girls have the aptitude for and interest in engineering when they are able to experience it, and yet they are still not pursuing it as they get into high school and beyond, it means we are simply missing them.

It’s incumbent upon all of us to introduce girls to engineering, in both informal and formal educational settings, during the very earliest years of schooling. We can’t wait until high school and hope to sway them. Rather, it is time we expand engineering education to all children, starting as early as preschool — and then support educators in doing so — so we can build a learning environment in which engineering is part of girls’ daily conversations. When we start young, we never allow the stereotypes to take root in girls. They learn that all students are natural problem solvers and that all students are engineers — especially girls.

Quizlet hits 50M monthly users

Most students in the U.S. have used or at least heard of Quizlet, the website for creating digital flashcards.

The company leverages machine learning to predict in which areas its users need the most help and provides 300 million user-generated study decks, maps, charts and other tools for learning.

Roughly eight months after closing a $20 million financing, Quizlet chief executive officer Matthew Glotzbach has disclosed some notable feats for the emerging edtech: it’s reached 50 million monthly active users, up from 30 million one year ago, and though it’s not profitable yet, its revenue is growing 100 percent YoY.

As a result of its recent growth, the company is opening its first office outside of Silicon Valley, in Denver.

“We by no means feel like our work is done; 50 million is a very small fraction of the 1.4 billion students on the planet,” Glotzbach told TechCrunch. “Our focus is growing the platform. If we continue to be successful in that mission, we will be the largest study and learning brand.”

The company has been around for a while. Founded in 2005 by then 15-year-old Andrew Sutherland, Quizlet was fully bootstrapped until 2015.

Its growth really began when Glotzbach, a seasoned executive most recently at YouTube, took the reigns in 2016. The $20 million round earlier this year, its largest yet, has allowed the company to blossom, too. Led by Icon Ventures, with participation from Union Square Ventures, Costanoa Ventures and others, it brought Quizlet’s total raised to just over $30 million.

Part of its growth, according to Glotzbach, has to do with its recent focus on its international users. The site has always been accessible around the world, but not until late 2016 did Quizlet begin offering the tool in other languages. Today, it’s available in more than 15 languages, a number the company is actively working to expand.

Newly added capabilities have also contributed to recent spikes in MAUs. Students can now access diagram-based content, which is helpful for STEM subjects, an area the company has historically been less helpful with.

Quizlet operates a freemium model but has three subscription products for power users. At $12 per year, Quizlet Go has no ads and provides an offline studying option on mobile. Quizlet Plus, at $20 per year, also provides an ad-free study experience, as well as image uploading and voice recording capabilities. Finally, Quizlet for Teachers offers educators a $35 per year option that lets them create their own decks for students and access to additional data, analytics and reporting.

Vishal Makhijani steps down as chief executive of Udacity

Vishal Makhijani, the long time chief executive of online education company Udacity, is stepping down as its chief executive officer, TechCrunch has learned.

Makhijani first joined the company in 2013 as chief operating officer under Sebastian Thrun, the company’s founder and chief executive at the time.

In 2016, Thrun, the original architect of Alphabet’s self-driving car initiatives and a storied entrepreneur and engineer in Silicon Valley, handed the reins of his online education startup over to Makhijani, who assumed the mantle of CEO while Thrun became chairman and president of the company.

In an interview, Makhijani declined to disclose his next steps, but Thrun praised the executive for taking Udacity to new heights and hailed him as a key contributor to the company’s continuing growth.

As Thrun wrote in a blog post praising Makhijani for his tireless efforts.

Over the last five years, Vish worked with hundreds of tech companies to build curriculum focused on opening up new career opportunities for our students. Under Vish’s leadership, we launched more than thirty Nanodegree programs in areas such as Artificial Intelligence, Data Science, Self-Driving Cars, and Digital Marketing. We expanded our operations into China, India, Brazil, the Middle East, and Europe, and we started a fast-growing new enterprise division.

Udacity now employs a team of 500 across the globe and its enterprise division, offering continuing education to workers through partners like PriceWaterhouseCoopers and other Fortune 1000 customers has become a new engine of revenue and growth for the company.

It also has more than 10 million students across its paid and free classes, with over 50,000 enrolled in its nanodegree programs.

The financials are also looking better for Udacity. The company saw revenue rise 100% in 2017 to $70 million and is on track for continued revenue growth this year.

A spokesperson for the company said that there were no complaints brought against Makhijani that would have pushed him to step down.

With the executive’s departure, the Udacity board is instituting a new search for chief executive led by director and Andreessen Horowitz general partner, Peter Levine .

“In the interim, as Udacity’s founder and now executive chairman, I will work closely with Udacity’s leadership team to run the business and collaborate on a search for our new CEO,” Thrun wrote in a blog post.