We are very thrilled to welcome Jesse Neumann co-founder of Learnd for the first ever AMA with the ICPMN. Let's start this amazing AMA !

• Before starting the interview, could you please introduce yourself Jesse ?

Absolutely! First of all, thank you so much for this opportunity to talk about Learnd. My name is Jesse Neumann and I’m one of the two co-founders of Learnd.

• What is the best way to describe to the IC community what Learnd is about?

The best way to describe Learnd would be to say that it's first and foremost about the democratization of education. Learnd provides a way to empower its users with the ability to earn, govern, contribute, curate, moderate, and as a result balance the entire educational system.

• What problem does Learnd solve? And why is it important to solve this problem?

Yeah, so there are many different problems that Learnd is solving. The article I wrote to introduce Learnd talks a lot about the issues with education and the disconnect between employers and students. I will go ahead and focus on another aspect this time.

Learnd also solves the current problem of unequal opportunities. “Equality of chances” was one of the original inspirations that Max had when he originally envisioned Learnd, and I believe that’s especially true in our current global society. Quality and level of education contributes largely to our everyday lives, from our social interactions to our workplace dynamic, and even extending into our home life.

Giving everyone an opportunity to learn is such a basic concept that it’s actually incredibly frustrating to consider that quality education is a commodity, and not a basic right. Learnd solves this issue in many different ways, from being available globally (thanks to the globally distributed nature of the underlying Internet Computer), to having NO monetary requirement to participate.

Additionally, as the very core of Learnd is created by the community of users, Learnd provides the additional benefit of removing biased and centralized controllers who are either knowingly or unknowingly preventing target demographics from participating in and receiving a high quality education. Education cannot have physical boundaries, and as the culmination of our entire race's knowledge and experiences, is a birthright that belongs to anyone born into this society.

• Where did the idea come from? And How did you you get started building Learnd?

So, the idea was originally proposed to me by Learnds other co-founder Max.

We’ve since taken the idea to a whole new level with plans to completely leverage the tools offered by the Internet Computer, such as the integrated governance system that Dfinity is working on currently (Service Nervous System), as well as the benefits of the blockchain like NFT’s and crypto integrations.

As a result, we’ve gone from a simple learning platform to a full blown globally available community-owned educational system that utilizes the liquid democracy in a way that transforms education into something that any member of society can access and benefit from.

As far as how I got started building Learnd, I got started on Learnd a couple months ago right after the Genesis launch event. I was working on a project using all AWS Serverless technologies. I realized immediately the potential of the Internet Computer, and was blown away when I could throw up a web app with a UI and backend in a fraction of the time it would have taken to spin up the cloud resources required for a comparable app.

I hopped on the Internet Computer developer Discord channel and met Raymond from WeAct. He was putting together a team to work on the Internet Computer version of WeAct. A little later he introduced me to Max and told me he was looking for a developer to work with. Me and Max hit it off, and I’ve been working on it pretty much non-stop since then.

• What’s your favorite metaphor for describing Learnd?

Learnd is a Gigantic Library where anyone can teach and learn.

Take a book, sit a while, answer the test, go to the entrance and show your test, and the librarian will give money and you’re out with a couple of bucks in your pocket.

• How would you highlight Learnd competitive advantages? What makes it stand out of the crowd?

Wow. There are so many advantages that it's difficult to decide where to start.

I guess the most obvious place to start is the fact that instead of paying to learn, you are the one being paid.

Most learning platforms landing pages look like a furniture warehouse going out of business: “Usually $199.99, July only pay $9.99”, or a chart of what you get when you choose the free version vs what you get when you buy the $349.00 version (yeah basically you don’t get much unless you’re paying).

Another advantage is the community aspect and the entire content creation mechanism. Not only are you rewarded for creating high quality content, but you are also a voting member of the community. The more you contribute to the community the more you will be rewarded, and will accumulate reputation within the community and subject matter, and your expertise becomes valuable to the system.

This community provides an entirely new level of interaction that is only recently becoming possible thanks to the Internet Computer and it’s solution for decentralization.

I know I mentioned it above already, but another competitive advantage is Learnds design to be a global platform. The best part is this will happen naturally as people around the world discover and flock to Learnd, since they will be contributing content in their native language and in their own unique ways.

• Culture is a very important component of an organization especially for an online education platform. What kind of culture would you like to establish within Learnd?

That's a great point, especially in relation to education. It’s difficult for a lot of people to be open and honest in a learning environment, since nobody wants to be the only one who isn’t understanding the content.

We want a very open culture, where it’s ok not to know the answer (that’s why we’re here in the first place right?). We want community members to know that it’s more important to be honest about your level of understanding, and that asking for help is always preferred over giving up.

We also want community members to realize it’s impossible to know everything about everything, and that it’s way more important for everyone to feel comfortable opening up and sharing what they’re really thinking.

• You've already shared how you met Max. Is there anything more you can tell us about Learnd team? Are you working full time?

Yeah. So right now the Learnd team is very small, only consisting of three people. We have Max, who was the great mind behind the original idea, and is doing graphic design for our app (wait til you see it, it’s amazing!). Then we have Bob, who needs no introduction. Bob provides us with a stream of amazing ideas and insights regarding all aspects of learning, from ed psych, to ed tech, and even startup advice. And then me of course. I’m not sure what qualifies as full time, but I think so.

• What does your typical workday look like?

My typical day (I usually work every day so its a typical day) starts with waking up around 8am. I walk to the store and get an energy drink and think about the problems I’m working on for the day. By the time I get home I’m super stoked to work because I’m hopped up on caffeine and just spent the last 30 minutes thinking about the self-healing double-linked BTree that I’ve been designing for the Community Content Creation System (CCC’s) (or whatever the latest task happens to be).

I sit down and check all my social media stuff and then start working. Working usually consists of either research, designing architecture, writing articles, or writing code. This usually lasts for 4-5 hours. Then I take a break and go for a bike ride or walk or sometimes I just lay down. After an hour or two of that I hop back on the computer and do another 4-5 hours of the same thing (research, design, or implementation).

After that I eat dinner and then hop back on the computer and turn on a movie and code for another 3-4 hours. Then I play a little bit of violin to switch gears and unwind, followed by some more coding until my brain stops working. Then I go to sleep. I love it.

• What is the current progress in development?

Currently Learnd is a beautifully designed web app that has the basic functionality of a learning platform. You can log in, view courses, and select course content. Course content is currently in article format, but you can read through it and look at the images, and then complete a very short formative assessment.

After that once you feel ready, you can take the Course Mastery test and attempt to achieve mastery of the Learning Objectives that were covered in the course. If you succeed at the Mastery test you receive points. Well more advanced that we thought, well done.

• Do you develop it in the Motoko language? If yes how do you experience it?

I do develop with Motoko and I love it to be honest. The worst part about it to me is packing and unpacking your non-stable variables for canister upgrades. Other than that it’s amazing. You have classes and OOP with typesafe nulls, strict typing, a solid base library with data structures, and documentation.

• When can we expect the MVP release and what will it consist of?

We are hoping to release the MVP before the end of this year, and it will consist of the learning half of the platform.

You’ll be able to work through a course all about Learnd, which will introduce you to all of the different systems. It will talk about the point system and the assessment system, and answer questions like “how often can you retry assessments?”.

The goal is to have all the learner facing systems in place and tested before we start releasing the community content creation system.

• When can we expect the full featured platform release? What is the future roadmap?

We haven’t finalized any dates on the roadmap yet, but we have a rough idea of the order. We’ll have several large patches to introduce the required systems needed for the platform to reach full functionality. First  you can expect to see the beginning of our “Community Content Creation System”. This is the most important aspect of the platform's success and will be one of the areas we concentrate most of our effort.

With the initial launch of the CCCS you can expect to have basic functionality for voting using the SNS. You will be able to create content and interact with proposals to get content onto the platform. At this point we’ll limit what you can create to what we call the “Knowledge Lake”. That means you can create Learning Objectives, Content to teach the Learning Objective (text or video), and Assessment Questions. Once these pieces have been created and passed voting, the Learning Objective will become active and users can complete it for points.

The second major patch will expand the ability of the CCC’s to include the Curriculum level. The curriculum level is the organizational structure that groups the Learning Objectives into hierarchical units. For example, you will be able to propose a Course that contains several different Learning Objectives, or you can propose to create a Module that contains several different Courses on the same subject. At this time we’ll also be working on the voting mechanism and the SNS system

Our goal is to create a voting system that rewards subject knowledge over the raw number of votes. We’re planning on using a weighted system where your vote counts more if you have more expertise. Say for example you have completed 10 Learning Objectives, and half of them were science related. You now have a voting neuron that has 10 points. One from each Learning Objective. Now say that someone proposes this idea that there’s really no such thing as germs. It’s all a big lie. This person proposes a series of Learning Objectives that are going to make up a Course that explains that germs are a myth, and that since you’ve never seen one, how can it be there.

Somehow they get ten other people to vote yes on the proposal. Unsurprisingly though it turns out that none of them have points that are related to science topics. That puts the vote count at 10 (5 science) vs 10 (0 science). If we were going off the amount of points locked in the neuron then we would have a tie. However, we scale the value of the points that are in the same subject. Since you are voting on a science proposal, and you have 5 science points, those are each worth more (we’ll just say 2 for now). That puts the final vote count at 15 vs 10. The final patch will see all systems implemented. You will be able to contribute instructional content, create curriculum, design specialized courses, create new learning objectives, vote to allow new content in, tip and follow your favorite content creators, and earn points and NFT’s.

In ICPMN you’ve already shared how NFTs will be implemented and used in a very modular and re usable way. Can you explain further how NFTs will be a major component of Learnd and how you envision them being used?

Yeah the NFT’s are an exciting benefit that the blockchain provides. I envision them being used in several different ways. First and foremost given their immutability and ability to be verified, NFT’s make the perfect replacement for the pdf certificates that most learning platforms reward students with. Now instead of a pdf file, the user has a permanent NFT representation of their certificate. It contains all the details of the course, as well as a beautifully designed badge (created by community members and voted through the proposal process and now artists are rewarded royalty each time one is minted). The cool thing is that thanks to being immutable, verifiable, and on the blockchain, other apps can now check the ledger at any time to confirm that a user actually does possess the NFT. This means that distrikt could pull in your NFT’s, and display your collection of certificates (all beautifully designed badges curated by the community) in the experience section of your profile.

Additionally, it would be simple to build a recruiting app where a job seeker signs up to be placed in a job. The job placement software can then query the NFT ledger for a list of the job seekers certificates, which can then be matched to potential employers or gigs. Currently that’s how we plan on using NFT’s, though I have a feeling since they are native to the blockchain, we will end up using them all over the place. One way that just popped into my head would be to have a Course that handed out NFT’s instead of points. Something like a ‘Cronic Owner’ course that teaches you all the different games and platforms where you can use your Cronic. As a reward for completing all the material you would receive your very own Cronic.

• What sort of extra curriculars are being developed? i.e. students usually find extra curriculars to assist in cementing learned content through group study and group activities with educational content peers. Asked another way, what sort of social features will Learnd have for learners to commune?

Social features are a really important aspect of learning for a majority of learners. I know for a fact that I retain information better when I have someone to discuss it with. Our plan to address this is to add a sort of “virtual classroom” element to the app. What this really means is that there will be a sidebar that will show other learners who are working on the same material.

You will be able to chat with students working on the same Learning Objective, but you’ll also be able to chat with students who are working on the same NFT certificate. You’ll also be able to have custom rooms (of course) where you can invite people you want to keep in contact with. If you find a good group of people who are studying similar things and you keep popping up in the same courses, you can add them to your group and stay in contact.

In addition there will also be a whole deeper underlying social aspect, such as user profiles that lists the content you’ve created, the amount of points you’ve earned in each subject, NFT badges for certificates you completed and an avatar.

• What kind of content is Learnd focusing on most? static videos, interactive puzzles, live conferencing/mentorship, etc?

We have all of those in the works (other than interactive puzzles, which is a fun idea). However for the MVP we will only have text/image type articles. We realize how important it is to offer multiple ways to learn and contribute. We’ll try to roll out static videos ASAP, I think that will end up being the most common form of content creation. Mentorship will be after that, and will open the possibility of providing one-on-one help in exchange for points and a tip.

• What sort of incentives have been thought about to provide learners motivation to use Learnd over Khan Academy or self-curated YouTube content?

Yes, I love answering these types of questions. Learners will choose to use Learnd primarily because of the content and the community. The amount of content and the different ways it presents the information will be amazing for people who need to hear things described in more than one way. If you are like me, then you like to read when you’re learning, and Learnd offers that. If you are like a lot of other people though, you learn better by watching a video. Learnd also offers that. Maybe you learn better when the content is in your  native language instead of English. Learnd has that as well!

Not to mention even when you’re not actively pursuing a NFT certificate, you are still completing the learning objectives that make up all the curriculum on Learnd (It's possible to accidentally complete a NFT certificate by completing all the material it uses). Oh yeah and you get paid to learn.

• What are the initial certifications Learnd is releasing?

We plan on releasing material that instructs users on how to use the platform. Since the content is created by the community, our hope is that once the community knows how to use it, they will start creating everything. I want it to be similar to how Dfinity released all the source code and documentation, but ultimately it has been up to the developers to pick up the tools and realize their visions.

• It's there a particular duration/length of time being targeted for certifications? Or are they all fully self-paced?

Courses are fully self-paced. Learners can work on them anytime and in any order. They don’t even have to do full courses. They can just do the individual Learning Objectives if they like, though eventually they will start completing courses accidentally.

• How and who will be responsible for creation of the instructor certificates? As these will lay the ground work for instructor qualifications across your platform

There are no instructor certificates per say. Anyone can be an instructor, as long as they can produce content that meets the community's standards. For example if someone wants to contribute, they choose a Learning Objective that they are drawn to.

For example, say there is a musician who wants to contribute, so he chooses the Learning Objective: “Given an image of a D Major chord, the learner will rearrange the chord into its first inversion with no errors”. He loves guitar and videos, so he sits down and creates a very awesome video where he explains the steps for changing the chord into its first inversion.

He submits a proposal to have his video added to the list of content for the Learning Objective: “Given an image of a D Major chord, the learner will rearrange the chord into its first inversion with no errors”. 5 people vote no, 3 people vote yes, and a music theory lover with all the music theory badges votes yes, and now the proposed video is part of the platform.

• Who will own content created by instructors? Learnd or the content creator?

Content creators will be able to use the content in other places, and on Learnd they will retain full ownership. The content will be linked to them, and they will receive points when it’s used/liked etc. If you visit their profile, you will see it on their list of content. You can follow them if you like their content and the way they explain things, and tip them or chat and ask them to make a specific content video for you, etc.

• Do you have any vision of expanding beyond resume building material. For instance, if I wanted new employees at my company to use Learnd for onboarding could I build a course specifically for them to refine necessary skills?

I'm glad you asked that, that's an areas we're very excited about. The plan is to have companies sponsor the creation of NFT certificates. In exchange for funding the NFT certificate, the company is ensured it will receive a course that is on par with the high standards set by the Learnd platform, and that employees who completed the course can be verified.

The idea is to have the cost of sponsoring a NFT certificate to be about equal to what it would cost to set up the educational platform that would otherwise be used. This money would then be used to create “bounties” for required content, providing incentive to ensure the NFT certificate is completed in a timely manner.

• How will they guarantee the quality of the courses offered? Will they work with an international accreditation organisation or will Learnd create their own system of course grading?

The awesome part of Learnd is that the quality control of the courses will occur by design of the platform. Content of all types must pass a proposal before it’s even allowed onto the platform. Additionally, the most powerful voters have elected to re-invest their rewards into their neuron. This means that just like the Internet Computer, we have neuron holders who are heavily invested in the platform, and will vote with the success of Learnd (and themselves) in mind.

• What is your biggest challenge currently?

At the moment there are not many big challenges, though it’s still really in the process! I foresee the biggest challenge being fine-tuning the voting and reward systems. However once we pull it off we will have a full blown self-sustaining economy that can provide something for all members of the community, learners, creators, artists, moderators, etc.

• How do you plan to deal with the chicken egg problem every marketplace faces on launch to bring initial traction? Will you focus on demand or supply?

Great question. The system will have to be adjusted to find the correct balance between learner rewards and content creators. If there is not enough content we will look at adjusting the reward for creating content, and same with learning. If we find that people are not completing any of the courses, we can increase the reward until we see the engagement we’re looking for. Eventually we’ll want this to be baked into the SNS, just like the NNS and adjusting amounts of ICP to pay node providers.

• What are you most excited about at Learnd right now?

I’m most excited about the possibility of creating a fully decentralized system that grows and evolves in response to the community, almost like creating a living thing. I’ve never had the opportunity to create something like this before. I feel like this in the next level of software development, and that I’m somehow here at the perfect time.

• How would you like people to remember you and Learnd?

I would like to be remembered as the guy who democratized education and made it available to everyone in the world. I would like Learnd to be synonymous with education, and for it to be as common as hearing someone say Google or Amazon (without the bad feelings associated with mega corporations).

• Can you tell us something exciting about Learnd that you’ve never shared before?

There is one thing we are keeping secret, but I’m not allowed to say anything yet! I’ll let you know as soon as I can, it’s going to blow some minds.

• What is the best way for the IC community to support Learnd?

Keep on giving us their love, their enthusiasm, their concerns about the education system. I love the community interaction on DSCVR,  distrikt, and especially here with ICPMN!!!!

• Are there any questions that have not been asked yet that you think the IC community would benefit from hearing the answers?

Nope. Just want to make sure and mention that you can follow us on Twitter for all the most recent updates: @learndteam

Oh just one I wanna ask to the IC community: Are you ready to flip this world with us?

Q&A live session with ICPMN members

• Can we count on an invitation for early platform testing?

Absolutely. ICPMN has been amazing, and we'll definitely be using their tester resources.

• Jesse My wife and her family come from generations of teachers. Two of our four kids are becoming teachers as well. Needless to say we are passionate about teaching and learning. How will compensating teachers and learners be done? Is it the companies looking for certified resources that will fund both?

So the idea is to use donations in part to fuel the token economy. We will be setup as an educational non-profit, which automatically makes us eligible for enormous donations. The fact that we can offer educational courses in exchange for these already allocated donations means that we can pour that money into the platform.

The goal is to have Learnd be its own economy. This would mean you could trade your Learnd tokens for ICP, or BTC, or cash.

• From what ages are you focussed on for education

I don't see that there will be age limits with how the system is designed. If there is a demand for educational content for young learners, the community will step in and provide the supply.

• I have young kids not going to school yet but I come from the Netherlands and classes are getting bigger and bigger it’s getting to become a problem, start at the base I would highly recommend.

There is a huge market for content for young learners, and already there are creators on other platforms that create really great content. I see them bringing their skills and experience to Learnd as soon as they realize the potential.

• It is also very important to guarantee a career after education and paving the path for student to make it easier to decide which way is best for them. We have lot’s of educated people but jobs are becoming rare in higher education levels

Yes, that's one of our main motivations. It doesn't make sense to go and pay $45k to get a degree only to find out that you can't find a job in that field.

Learnd aims to provide transparency into the supply and demand of skills, and make it simple to find employees who have the desired skills.

• Will you have an ambassador program or incentives for Learnd community members?

We're exploring a few ideas like that. Maybe offering incentives to community members who create curriculum proposals and show companies the value proposition. It would be simple to go to a job posting board and turn the requirements into a NFT certificate outline. Then you show the company and tell them for X amount of donation they will have created this training course that fulfills their hiring requirements.

The ICP Maximalist
The ICP Maximalist

Building the ICP Maximalist Network (ICPMN), ICC media hub, and a new initiative coming soon to build IC projects and get more involved with early stage IC projects. Always feel free to contact me for any inquiry.

Follow @ICPmaximalist on Twitter

Connect with @ICPmaximalist on Distrikt

Connect with @ICPmaximalist on DSCVR

Join our ICPMN telegram channel to discuss all things related to the IC and connect with amazing people.