LearnZillion, Lemann Foundation Partner on Curriculum in Brazil

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LearnZillion, an American content developer, is partnering with a foundation and a Brazilian educational platform on a project aimed at providing curriculum aligned to the standards of South America’s most populous country.

The goal of the project is to create curriculum resources linked to Brazil’s national learning standards. LearnZillion is partnering with the Lemann Foundation, a nonprofit established by Brazilian billionaire Jorge Paulo Lemann, reportedly the richest individual in the country.

The project will deliver academic content through LearnZillion’s curriculum platform, which the company describes as “curriculum-as-a-service,” a cloud-based system that allows educators to obtain, reorder, and alter lessons. That platform, which combines proprietary and openly licensed content, is already being sold to American school districts, according to LearnZillion.

Another partner in the effort is Nova Escola, which describes itself as the largest platform providing content and services to teachers and school administrators in Brazil. Nova Escola is supported by the Lemann Foundation.

Google.org is also a player in the project. It is providing a grant to Nova Escola to pay for the creation of new curricular resources and the “localization” of LearnZillion’s technology, the partners said in announcing the deal.

The digital curriculum will be launched in Brazil in early 2018, and fully available to teachers across Brazil by the next year, the partners said in their statement.

LearnZillion has branded its platform “curriculum-as-a-service,” a play on software-as-a-service, generally defined as a process through which customers such as K-12 systems buy a subscription to software that is housed in the cloud and download what they need, rather than buying the software and installing it on their devices.

LearnZillion officials tout their platform as allowing teachers to use and adapt an array of academic resources, including videos and interactive content, and edit lessons as they see fit. The process LearnZillion follows for creating the curriculum–with content getting reviewed and chosen by “dream teams” of teachers around the country–means it is carefully vetted, and saves districts and teachers from the laborious work of trying to find resources on their own, said Eric Westendorf, the company’s CEO, in an interview.

The curricular materials will be created on LearnZillion’s platform by educators who will be organized and led by Nova Escola, LearnZillion officials told Marketplace K-12. Nova Escola will be the source and owner of this curriculum; LearnZillion will provide the platform and share its experience doing similar projects in the United States, the company said. Nova Escola is a “trusted source for teachers” in Brazil, and the organization will work with educators and schools to design materials catered to their needs, said Alix Guerrier, the president and co-founder of LearnZillion, in an e-mail.

K-12 districts are increasingly demanding the ability to assemble their own content, rather than simply accepting the packages offered by traditional publishers without customization, said Westendorf. He likened that process  to customers cutting the cable TV cord in favor of streaming services that allow the picking-and-choosing of TV shows, movies, and other content.

“That shift is inevitable as it comes to curriculum, as well,” he predicted.

As the change plays out in the K-12 market, it ought to result in a smoother, more seamless process for schools selecting curriculum, Westendorf said. Yet too often, districts and educators that want to assemble their own curricula end up slogging through a laborious process that Westendorf likened to trying to build academic-resource libraries, “from scratch, with Legos.”

LearnZillion’s goals with its curriculum platform fits an overall trend that’s been playing out over the past few years, in which districts have wanted the right to select their own content and use it alongside proprietary content, and publishers and other organizations have tried to accommodate them, said Lisa Petrides, the founder and CEO of the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education. More recently, publishers and other organization have added openly licensed content–free material that can be modified and repurposed–to the mix, responding to district demands, she said.

The nonprofit institute has its own repository of materials, OER Commons, which allows educators and others to download, remix, and share materials. It also creates and sells customized versions of OER Commons to districts, states, education organization, with professional development and other supports, through packages delivered as software-as-a-service, she said.

“Curriculum used to be something that was really the proprietary [domain] of curriculum publishers,” Petrides said. Now, “the materials, or resources industry has become much more distributed.”

Brazil is the most populous nation in Latin America with more than 200 million citizens. At various points over the past decade, foreign education companies have become keen on selling their products there, attracted by government investment in K-12 schools and the increasing wealth and spending power of families.

The Lemann Foundation has financially supported a wide variety of educational programs in Brazil. The philanthropy views the curriculum platform as a way to give all students, particularly those from poor backgrounds, access to high-quality resources, Denis Mizne, the CEO of the philanthropy, said in a statement.

“We need a unified set of standards so that students know what they have the right to learn, and teachers and parents know what is expected of them each year,” Mizne said. The goal is produce lessons that are “easy to use” and can “increase equity across Brazil.”

Correction: The original version of this post misspelled the name of LearnZillion co-founder Alix Guerrier.

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