Sometimes, an afterthought can turn into a big idea. Such is the case for Kris Chinosorn and Vince Leung, two Chicago-based entrepreneurs who were working together on a social networking project they called Big Groups. They added a button to that site called “Mentor Me.” It was a fateful moment. “Within a week and a half, we completely pivoted the company,” Chinosorn says. And thus was born MentorMob. MentorMob helps learners “hopscotch” past unnecessary information and presents the user with exactly what they need through learning playlists – step-by-step courses, free of charge, created by…well, you. Or anyone else who has a passion for a specific subject, whether it be math, how to use Twitter as a teacher, or dog training.
“I want MentorMob to refine the entire experience of learning online so that users feel like they’re browsing a well organized “how to” guide that easily facilitates step-by-step, detailed learning,” says Chinosorn. “And that’s a fundamental shift in how people generally learn online.”
Today, Chinosorn gives us his perspective on technology in school, the start-up culture in Chicago and the possibilities of the “flipped classroom.”
Can you describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education?
Innovation comes from investigating how learning actually happens. I don’t think of learning as something that’s limited to K-12 and college. I think of it as a non-stop, life-long process. MentorMob is advancing innovation in education in terms of access to top quality content – nearly everyone has Internet access and experience searching online, but there’s a huge glut of disorganized information on the web. Our mission is to get the good stuff to rise to the top.
What has changed as a result of your efforts?
Users are realizing how effective learning can be on the Internet. Right now it works like a dictionary or encyclopedia. You flip back and forth through a bunch of pages to find one particular thing you need. I want MentorMob to refine the entire experience of learning online so that users feel like they’re browsing a well organized “how to” guide that easily facilitates step-by-step, detailed learning. And that’s a fundamental shift in how people generally learn online.
How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?
Similar challenges for other innovative startups? The core innovative process is looking internally and collaborating in order to solve problems in education by leveraging the advantages of emerging technology. That, and a healthy dose of self-study. For example, the way I search and interact on the Internet is different from most. My own “user experience” of making the Internet work for me (instead of the other way around) is something I want to share.
How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?
I think we’ve taken advantage of technology in several ways. Using a cloud-based system keeps us flexible and lowers costs. Promoting widgets and embedding playlists gives teachers powerful tools and provides us with continual feedback for our development cycle. Plus the whole model is scalable, which is a must.
What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?
Building a team was been the biggest challenge, because it all boils down to the people who are working with you. How to attract the very best talent and user base takes constant work. We’re very pleased with the quality of our team and users right now, and the trick will be maintaining that edge as we grow.
What is your country/region doing right now to support education?
I have a past life in Silicon Valley, which I think is one of the most innovative places in
one of the most innovative countries in the world. But I’m so pleased to be in Chicago, where I feel like we’re at the ground floor on an innovation boom. The startup incubator we are members of, Catapult Chicago, is a peer-selected community that knows how to innovate and build products, and how working together accelerates and improves those products. It’s a small yet potent mix of people who are all producing high quality products at a high speed of implementation.
What conditions must change in your country/region to better support education?
Chicago’s ecosystem as a new innovation hub can only get stronger. The money and the
talent are integrating into the scene, and students graduating from top universities in the area are staying here instead of moving to one of the coasts. In other words, Chicago has what it needs—it just needs more of it!
What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?
Innovation through technology is going to be the foundation, but on top of that, there must be a strong community that understands how revolutionary using tech in an effective and simple way can be. There are alternative ways of learning that are not the norm, but are proven to be more effective than learning in a traditional classroom setting. We need to get after that.
What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?
Go to MentorMob.com and get involved with a community of users who are bright and committed and tech-friendly!
What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?
The notion of a Flipped Classroom is very promising, where students are introduced to new concepts on their own time, and then they complete the kind of tasks that are generally assigned as homework in the collaborative, supervised setting of the classroom.
If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?
I’d provide a cheap and durable tablet with Internet access. These kinds of devices will never replace true teachers and mentors, but I believe that pretty soon they will be the foundation and starting point of all learning. Hopefully a child’s first stop will eventually be MentorMob every time they turn it on to learn.
About Kris Chinosorn
Chief Executive Officer, MentorMob, Chicago, Illinois, USA
Birthplace: Skokie, Illinois
Current residence: Chicago, Illinois
Education: University of Illinois
Website I check every day: lifehacker.com – How to live your life cheaply and more efficiently
Person who inspires me most: My sister.
Favorite childhood memory: My first investment strategy: Every week saving up all my lunch money and riding my Schwinn through the cold Chicago snow to buy comic books every Wednesday. This didn’t turn out to be a good investment strategy at the time, but now I’ve got a copy of The Incredible Hulk Issue 181, which features the first full appearance of Wolverine.
Next travel destination (work or pleasure): San Francisco…bit of both.
When was the last time you laughed? Why? Salsa dancing with my dance team in full snowboarding gear…yes, there’s video proof!
Favorite book: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Favorite music: This month? The Magnetic Fields
Favorite quote: Professional rock climber Chris Sharma talks about how climbing channels his energy in such a way that he completely loses himself. I used to climb a lot,
but building MentorMob has been how I get to experience that same kind of laser focus.
Check out MentorMob’s blog: http://www.mentormob.com/blog/