Learning Re-Imagined For The Web, with Ryan Delk

In this episode, we discuss Ryan's ambitious plans for the future of Primer, how parents are equally important to kids in the learning equation, why observing the "user-experience" is so important, why not stratifying by age creates some sort of magic and much more.

"Rather than replicating the classroom experience, what would actually be the ideal learning experience for kids if you started from the idea of having everything at the Internet's at our disposal?" - Ryan Delk

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  • Our guest today is Ryan Delk, the co-founder and CEO at Primer. Ryan spent the last decade building tech companies at Square, Gumroad and Omni. He has now co-founded Primer to free the next generation of kids to be more ambitious, more creative, and to think for themselves, starting with homeschool.
  • In this episode, we discuss Ryan's ambitious plans for the future of Primer, how parents are equally important to kids in the learning equation, why observing the "user-experience" is so important, why not stratifying by age creates some sort of magic and much more.
  • Listen and take note of how Primer creates ambitious, global communities of learners based first and foremost on children's interests.

In our discussion, we cover:

We focus on kids a lot. Everyone has a hot take on what serves them best. But Primer makes sure to focus on parents too, without them you can't really enable an amazing learning experience.

6:43 - The problem that we're obsessed with is the whole family experience. We're not just focused on kids or just focused on parents and that'll be true for a really long time. Ultimately you can build amazing experiences for kids, but then if you leave parents behind you end up in a position where you're not actually helping the whole family achieve the goals that they have.

Ryan talks to parents every single week and watches user sessions obsessively. "A lot of what we built comes out of those relationships." Cliche in startup-land but not in K12. Observe and solve for the user-experience!

8:25 - I actually host a call every single Friday for new families, parents, and kids who were joining primary that week , and personally walk them through the product and welcome them to the experience. We are very close with our families and we try to really understand how they homeschool, what their goals are, what's working well, what's not working well. A lot of what we built comes out of those relationships.

Here's why Primer does not believe in stratifying learners by age too much:

9:56 - We found early on that there was actually some magic in specifically putting kids in community with other kids who are also sharing their interests and also extremely ambitious. And specifically not stratifying by age too much. On Primer, all age groups are together in these clubs. So there's 7-year olds interacting with 14-year olds. And what's been really amazing is that I think most parents sort of assume like, "Oh, I want my kid to be only around kids that are his age or her age, because that's how the traditional school system works."
And they were like," where's the 13 year old club for Primer?" "that doesn't exist". On, on the face of it, you might say: "that might not be as good or there's reasons why that doesn't work" or whatever. But actually we found that by doing this, we actually create really meaningful relationships between kids.

The UI tools we've seen Primer unveil so far are nothing. The big plans are coming...unique live experiences imagined from first principles for the internet. No more popping kids in front of Zoom for an hour?

11:53 - The live experiences that we're working on definitely are one of the most exciting things to me. The current status quo is basically taking a traditional classroom experience and porting it on to zoom.
That's what everyone else has done. You take exactly the format and the experience in the classroom and you pop kids in front of a computer and have them in front of their webcams and they do the same thing over zoom, which is fine. But if you thought about it from first principles and said, okay, we have all the power of the internet, how would we unleash code to solve these problems instead of humans?
And rather than say, okay, we're just going to replicate the classroom experience, what would actually be the ideal learning experience for kids if you started from the idea of we have everything at the Internet's at our disposal. And so that's a lot of the posture that we're taking with respect to experiences, and I'm really excited about it because I think that when you start from that vantage point, you would never say, "Oh, the best thing we should do is just pop kids in front of zoom and talk for an hour on video." There's all sorts of really interesting things you can do and it almost feels more like playing a game than being on a zoom chat.
And so that's a lot of where we're focused right now and I think that's the kind of stuff that gets me really, really excited because that's where we can deliver something that's totally new and fresh to families and the market that doesn't exist anywhere else. And then we can also attract the best content and the best teachers to want to be a part of that to help us create those experiences for kids.

A global community based on interests: This observation seems to be foundational for what Ryan started: most online creators started on a random IRC chat. How do you connect with others who are intensely excited about the stuff you are passionate about if they don't live in your neigboorhood?

15:02 - One of the things that if you talk to a lot of people that were prolific online, early in their lives , you often will talk to them and they'll say, "Oh yeah, I got on this IRC chat. Or I found this web forum with other people that were really excited about the same random thing that I was excited about, whether it was computer programming or history or whatever the thing was , and that was really transformative for me because I got to meet all these other people, even though there was no one else in my city who was a 14 year old, who was really excited about this, I got to meet all the other people in the world that were excited about that." and you see this happen with like things like Olympiads, where kids are competing in physics or math early on in their lives.
And they're being a part of this really ambitious community that shares interests. A lot of my hope for Primer is how do you help every kid discover something like that?

Online socialisation?

15:45 - One of the common questions on homeschooling: is "how are kids going to get socialization?"
Implicit in that question is that the current schooling model of socialization is great. And I totally reject that premise. The idea that the 30 random kids that happen to live in my zip code or happened to go to the same private school as me, or happened to be zoned for the same public schools or whatever is the ideal socialization for my kid is totally crazy.
Ideally your kid would be engaging with other kids who come from extremely diverse backgrounds, who share their interests, who are really ambitious and creative, who can push them to explore new things and push them to work harder. And they can build really meaningful relationships with those kids.

Where to learn more about Primer:

Where to learn more about Enrollhand:

Website: www.enrollhand.com

Our webinar: https://webinar-replay.enrollhand.com

Our free Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/schoolgrowth/