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Netflix Founder Bets on Online Learning

Fun fact: Did you know that in the early-1980s Reed Hastings, the founder of the online movie rental company Netflix, taught high school math in Swaziland as a member of the Peace Corps? His background helps demystify his most recent business move: Yesterday, Hastings announced that he bought DreamBox Learning, an online startup that develops educational games for kids in kindergarten through second grade.

DreamBox's software has the advantage of adapting to the skill level of the kids playing it, ratcheting up difficulty levels as the youngsters begin to grasp concepts. As noted in a New York Times blog post early last year, DreamBox may be a kindred technological spirit with Netflix, which last summer awarded the $1 million prize in its long-running contest to see who could improve its movie recommendation algorithm: "DreamBox created a technology called GuideRight, modeled after the technology that shows users which items they might like based on past searches and purchases."

Hastings told VentureBeat
he was moving early in the online education space, as he had in online entertainment:
It’s very early in the market. I tend to look for things too early. Like with Netflix, it was too early to stream video. We started with DVDs and moved to streaming. At some point, every child will have a netbook or an iPad. The early phase of that is targeting computer labs at schools and that is what we are doing.
Perhaps the next Netflix-style prize that Hastings starts might benefit the next generation of kids.

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