Grasple: Open education for everyone!
For Grasple, the closed nature of education is a big problem. Educational materials get trapped in traditional publishing systems where they can’t help students. So the vision of Grasple and its founder, Pim Bellinga, is nothing less than to create open and personalized learning for everyone. What has resulted is an innovative business model which allows the values of open education to co-exist with a balance sheet sufficient to allow a small company to develop and grow.
Grasple’s journey began at TU Delft. Despite being a self-confessed statistics nut, Pim noticed that his friends studying psychology weren’t similarly enthusiastic. He began to explore how best to explain statistics in a relevant and engaging way, and before long was asked to teach a course at the Erasmus University. However, he quickly noticed a frustration common to teachers – a vast variance in prior knowledge within the classroom. So Grasple began (although it was originally called I Hate Statistics).
By the way Grasple = grapple + grasp. And that’s as far as I go with equations.
What is it?
Grasple is a personalized learning platform for Statistics, Maths, Research Methods and Linear Algebra. Similar to other personalized platforms, it’s constructed around a building blocks approach to learning, with small learning objectives which are tested before a user can move on. Positive and negative feedback loops allow students to navigate through the concepts in a seemingly linear progression (although the subject map looks more like a network).
But the difference for Grasple is its truly open nature. You don’t even need to log in to be able to use the tool. The exercises created are openly licenced and easily shareable so that students can access them in coordination with their professors, or on their own.
This challenges a criticism commonly thrown at EdTech companies – that they are more focused on a profitable business model than doing a pedagogic service. That the encroaching privatisation of education is elitist and exclusionary. Grasple has found a way to open education to anyone interested without dissolving the need for their own existence.
How they do it
Grasple’s business model is better described as a social enterprise. Large organizations like universities and hogescholen which require support and more widespread provisions pay for the platform, which allows individuals to access the materials, free of charge.
Grasple has been working on the business model for several years, always with the central focus of making education more open. They appear to now have worked out an effective system which benefits everyone. Higher education institutions generally sign up for long term contracts which allows professors to trust that the platform won’t disappear, meaning they are willing to invest more time and effort in creating the open source exercises that the platform relies on. Use of the programme has been successful, particularly at Utrecht University where students felt personally supported by the platform and grades improved.
Why they do it…
The benefits aren’t only for the institutions. The platform is helpful for students for a number of reasons. Crucially, the platform allows students a second (or third or fourth) attempt at material that can be tough to understand the first time around. Statistical concepts are often taught in lecture format, meaning students have limited opportunities to understand something. Grasple supplements learning as well as allowing students to put concepts into practice, in a manner with a low barrier to entry.
The platform is self-reinforcing. Data generated from using the platform not only helps students, it is also plugged back into the system, giving insights into which materials are most effective, which concepts are difficult to crack and what type of feedback students prefer. The platform has already generated insights into how students learn statistics best, which has implications for wider learning.
Where is it now?
Grasple is fully functional in English and Dutch. It’s currently popular in the Netherlands but the plan is to focus on internationalization in the next few years. While the platform currently offers only 4 subjects, there’s potential to expand it for any hierarchically structured subject like accounting or even medicine.
Why it’s interesting
Grasple is a fascinating EdTech example because it demonstrates an organization which has managed to make itself financially viable without compromising its values. Open education made available through technological innovation is a concept that few EdTech companies consider seriously. Yet Grasple has managed to combine the concepts of a social enterprise with a business model, as well as teaching a topic that is often vilified.