Industry News


Knowable Wants to Bring Online Learning to the Podcast Format

By Henry Kronk
October 01, 2019

The field of online education has long been dominated by a mix of media. Whether synchronous or flexible, long or short, paid or free, most courses deliver their content via audio, visual, and digital print formats. But these courses also involve heavy screen time, and might not be ideal for certain types of learning. A new startup, Knowable, believes there’s an appetite for high-quality audio-only courses. The company announced their launch on October 1 with three courses that fall somewhere between the podcast and audiobook format. The launch has been supported by a seed funding round of $3.75 million led by Andreesen Horowitz and joined by Upfront Ventures, First Round Capital, and Initialized Capital.

The classes are something like a MasterClass offering in podcast format. The titles include “Launch a Startup,” “Start a Podcast,” and “Sleep Better Tonight.” Courses will stretch between four and eight hours and be available via iOS, Android, and web app.

Knowable Provides ‘Prismatic’ Course Design in Podcast Format

But instead of one celebrity instructor, each course draws from the expertise of various individuals and professionals from a given field. Instructors for the startup how-to include Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian (who also happened to co-found of Knowable’s investment partner, Initialized Capital).

Knowable’s “Start a Podcast” course includes instruction from comedian and How Did this Get Made host Paul Scheer and Jack Shapiro, the founder of RadioPublic and PRX.

“We started working on Knowable because we love podcasts and audiobooks,” said co-founder Alex Benzer over the phone. “We also love learning new things. So we wanted to see if we could have the podcast make more sense for education.”

The founders describe their approach to their courses as “prismatic.” Once they settle on a topic, they enlist help from experts in the field, journalists, and freelance writers. Benzer, who has founded numerous startups, including Vidme, wrote the outline of the course on startups himself. Knowable staff have experience working at NPR, The Washington Post, MasterClass, and Vice.

“When developing the course topic, we consider whether there’s a clear sense of a personal return on investment,” Benzer said. “Is the student really going to feel like they’re able to do something new, or accomplish a goal that they have after listening to the course? And we’re also focusing on topics where there are clear signs of demand, high search volume on other platforms, and other external signals like that.

“Thirdly, we’re focused on topics that we think are interesting, and things that we can easily imagine other people getting excited about. On a personal level, we’re excited about supporting entrepreneurial endeavors and helping people be more creative.”

The Company Hopes to Expand Learning with Other Features

Beyond course design, Knowable has plans to develop additional features that will bring their offerings beyond what is currently available in the medium. The founders discussed plans to explore using microphone enabled ear buds for learners to take notes, and to build out social features so learners can interact with one another.

For now, Knowable courses are available for sale individually, but as their catalogue expands, the company has plans to include subscription options as well.

With this venture, the company is heading into somewhat uncharted waters, and they expect to adapt accordingly as they move forward.

“This is an audio product,” said Knowable’s Head of Business Development Ryan Duffy. “It’s not really a podcast company, nor is it an audiobook product. We’re somewhere in between, or maybe one step deeper. We’re trying to create a relatively new format. There’s not anything else quite like Knowable on the market today. And while we’re building off of the growth and the interest in audio, audiobooks, and podcasting, we’re trying to create a more immersive and closed-ended experiences. There’s a lot of great free content in the podcast space that is educational and informative. But it’s sometimes hard to find, and it’s often open-ended. We’re trying to create programming that’s more approachable and easier to access.

“That also comes with additional material to create a more robust learning experience for students. With a podcast, you’re not going to get a downloadable textbook. You’re not going to get discounts on related services, you’re not going to get access for a friend to learn along with you. We’re trying to create bespoke and personalized experiences that make education through audio more fun and more accessible to people.”

Media courtesy of Knowable.