Isabelle Hau
Investment Partner

Why We Invested: Khan Academy

August 25, 2016

Quality early childhood learning opportunities are critical to children’s future success. From childcare to enrichment activities, these opportunities build the foundational skills and mindset to learn and thrive in life and career. However, access to these opportunities is a pervasive problem. While 4 million children enter kindergarten each year in the United States, only 48 percent of children from low-income families and 75 percent of children from high-income families are prepared. When students start their formal schooling behind others, chances are they will stay behind, unable to reach their full potential.

A solution may lie in one of today’s most promising tech trends: the steady increase in mobile penetration. Improvements in functionality and decreases in cost mean that more people than ever are able to afford relatively sophisticated mobile phones and tablets. For education, this trend is inspiring new ways to support children’s learning and development through quality digital learning that can complement other offerings.

This is why Omidyar Network recently invested in an exciting new initiative of Khan Academy, one of the leading global digital learning platforms with the mission to provide a free world-class education for anyone, anywhere. Khan Academy has acquired Duck Duck Moose, an early childhood app company beloved by children, parents, and teachers. Duck Duck Moose’s suite of 21 early learning apps has been downloaded more than 10 million times — and will now be free, like all Khan Academy offerings.

This is a bold expansion by Khan Academy to build on its existing strong offering in K-12 and higher-ed and expand into early learning through a mobile-first high quality preschool offering. Omidyar Network is providing Khan Academy an initial $3 million grant to launch this important initiative.

The partnership between Khan Academy and Duck Duck Moose is a natural one. Both education organizations are built around the idea of personalized learning and addressing students’ unique needs. For Duck Duck Moose, a company founded by three parents, even technical aspects such as UX design were built around the specific needs of young children to ensure that the apps were both engaging and educational. As WIRED once wrote about the company, “They have what I’d call the ‘Sesame Street Sensibility’ — a real respect and understanding of what will work for young children.”

Take its app Moose Math. Through a series of leveled, playful activities, the app helps children learn about numbers, counting, addition, subtraction, geometry, and measurement — lessons that were created in consultation with an early learning and core curriculum specialist from Stanford University. The app also recognizes young children’s desire to know and be a part of the world around them, so activities are built with real-life situations in mind: Visit The Moose Juice and you can create smoothies while practicing counting, or play the Lost & Found activity to practice sorting shapes and colors.

Another app — The Wizard School app — inspires curiosity and creative thinking. Children can explore fascinating topics — science, design, languages, animals, geography, sports, and more. They can create with stickers, videos, photos, and drawing tools, such as designing a treehouse, writing in hieroglyphics, making a talking president, or designing a gratitude card for a teacher or beloved one.

It is this combination of form, function, and fun that has led to Duck Duck Moose’s 21 Parents’ Choice Awards and 18 Editor’s Choice Awards, among other accolades and top ratings. Additionally, in a pilot research study, Duck Duck Moose’s apps have shown to have a positive impact on math, phonology, and pre-literacy outcomes and some positive influence on parental engagement.

To be sure, free apps are but one way to help solve the challenges too many young children and their families face — the lack of access to quality early childhood learning opportunities. There are many factors at play when we look at trying to better prepare students for kindergarten and beyond. However, we are confident that Khan Academy, in partnership with Duck Duck Moose, is uniquely positioned to help serve millions of children and their families with a free world-class quality early learning offering.

Please join us in spreading the word about this free offering. To download Duck Duck Moose apps, visit the App Store or Google Play Store.

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