A firm foundation
Thorwald Esbensen was a noted teacher and educator, in Minnesota. He observed early in his career that slow readers were slow learners. He spent decades, analyzing the problem.
All the children spoke well. They just couldn’t recognize and interpret the letters fast enough to read. Ten letters per second, just to read at a second grade level, is tough.
Finally he identified the solution: teach students to recognize and decode the letters instantly. Of course, this was not easy!
He spent ten years, building and refining a system that allows students to develop this ability, while learning at their own speed.
1992 – 2002
His son Daniel had become a virtuoso programmer and software architect. He programmed these lessons for use on computers. The system was tested with three classes of first and second graders, with excellent results, in the mid-1990s. This is described in the section, “Thor’s Solution” on our website.
Daniel Esbensen contributed these copyrighted lessons to LearnOnMobile LLC, and became its CTO. Douglas Makepeace agreed to help build this company, as CEO. Each owns half of the equity. Daniel then oversaw the conversion of the system, to allow its use in a mobile application.
The mobile app was then tested, first on a small group of children in San Jose CA. Later, a group of Indian children at a Hyderabad orphanage tried the lessons.
With little instruction, the children enjoyed the interactive lessons in this “game” as one girl called it. Short videos were made. Links to these are at the bottom of “Thor’s Solution” on our website.
Ten children in East Palo Alto were given small tablets, and their progress is being tracked. Another 50 children at the same after-school program will be using Thor over the summer, starting July 3. A software system, built under Daniel’s supervision, will track the use by each student. Measurements of many kinds will help us evaluate the children’s progress, and make improvements.
By the end of 2017, we plan to have many more users, as the cost of providing the lessons through cloud services is small. We could allow a million people to use Thor for free, without increasing our budget for cloud services.
There are about 25 countries, each with over 25 million people who are illiterate in English. Notable are India, with over 500 million, and the US with 35 million. We are working hard on both already. Douglas spent almost two months in India in 2016.
We have people in mind to help us bring our English reading lessons to five other countries (English illiterates in parentheses): Turkey (40 million people), Iran (42 million), Russia (68 million), Brazil (100 million), and China (675 million).
We currently have two full-time employees, Douglas and his long-time research analyst, Tim Chan. Neither is paid by LEARN! To make more rapid progress, we need to hire some people, and use consultants more. We have three sources of support in mind.
First, we are looking for users. These could come through the Google PlayStore (starting in August 2017) and pay $1 per month or $10 per year. Those with student IDs could pay half that. At the other extreme, some multi-billion-dollar businesses are based on teaching English as a foreign language. A license for our software would be logical for them.
Second, we welcome buyers of Thor for groups of users. As an example, a foundation has paid for the translation of Khan Academy’s lessons into Portuguese, for use by the founder's fellow Brazilians. A Turkish investor might pay us $500,000 per year for one million users. Over five years, this would be .5% of his wealth.
Third, we welcome investors that we admire. Current plans are to offer a five-year balloon note, with 40% interest, subject to revenues allowing payment.
Really ideal are people like Bill and Melinda Gates, who are well-known for investing in ed tech, and donating to education, and paying for services that governments should supply but don't. We have a few others like this in mind.
Our long-term vision: a first-class basic education for anyone, anywhere, for less than $10 per year — possibly much less.
First we need to reach one million users of Thor, providing pre-tax income of $2 - $4 million per year. We can then expand the lessons from K-6, to K-12.
Fairly quickly we will create links to Khan Academy. Reading and math are the two toughest subjects. Khan Academy plans to provide free courses for the next 100 years!
Also, we will combine the best of the many free apps for writing, grammar, vocabulary, literature, etc, in a ‘wrapper’ with Thor. Then all can be used without exiting Thor.
We will then be able to offer a first-class basic education, of reading and writing and arithmetic, to anyone, anywhere, for less than ten dollars per year. We could easily have 100 million users in five years, with pre-tax income greater than $100 million.