School in your pocket: Japanese startup launches iPhone app for live lecture...

School in your pocket: Japanese startup launches iPhone app for live lecture participation

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Schoo is a Japan-based startup that operates an online learning platform called schoo WEB-campus. The startup recently launched a handy iOS app with which users can view live broadcasted lectures on their smartphones. It’s called ‘Schoo Namahoso’, meaning ‘Schoo Live’.

The app aims to provide mobile users with the same experience they can get on the website. With the app, user can check the course schedule and participate anytime and from anywhere.

Upon the release of this new app, we spoke to Kenshiro Mori, the representative director of Schoo, as well as their designer Yusuke Yagi.

左:森氏 右:八木氏

The growing market for mobile video

According to Mori, there are three main reasons why they decided to release the app at this time. The first reason and perhaps most obvious one is that more and more people watch videos on the smartphones these days.

The market for both smartphones and videos are fast-growing areas, as you can see with Hulu, Youtube, or Niconico, video consumption on smartphones isincreasing. Schoo, as a online school service that uses video, needs to catch up with that trend.

Until the app was released, the website was the only way to watch live broadcasts. But when the team looked at feedback from users, they found out some commuters even went so far as to get off the train on their way back home so that they could open their laptops and watch live broadcasts. There were also comments on social media where from people who had missed the live broadcasts because they couldn’t make it in time.

So Mori thought making Schoo more easily accessible even during these small pockets of time would make a big difference.

Schoo’s vision is to build a society where people can always keep learning. The app is essential to achieving that vision, Mori says.

We’d like to build a society where learning is something people always do easily, able to attend school anytime. Make ’school’ portable is an important step in this process.

Releasing this app was an idea we had talked about for a long time. And now that the market is mature, we thought it was the right time for this app.

Driving participation on mobile

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One of the main features of Schoo is that the users can actively participate in courses and actively interact with lecturers.

Even before the app was released, access from mobile browsers was possible. But the user experience was not as same as that on the website. Designer Yagi explains:

There was traffic from mobile browsers. But the rate of user participation was low. Users could watch content from browsers, but it was difficult to participate in the course. The app tries to resolve this problem.

Yagi says that because they’re working with video content, it was critical to ensure good sound quality. He had to make sure that sound never gets interrupted. There were a few challenges to overcome such as dealing with line speed and image resolution to achieve a more comfortable user experience.

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I thought perhaps it would be a bigger challenge for Schoo to keep users’ attention on mobile compared to on the website. But Mori had some thoughts on that:

We thought, if we want to keep users’ attention on a video for a long time, we need to drive interaction. And we put in much efforts to realize that on smartphones. Users are more likely to feel reluctant to participate in the chat from an iPhone. So instead, we implemented things like an “I got it!” button and “I am seated” button, things that are very easy to use.

In addition to the features mentioned above, other interesting additions to the app include:

  • "I want to attend this” button, with which users can register and manage courses they have an interest in.
  • Push notification to notify users before the course starts.
  • Notifications for users of newly added courses (more than 40 courses are added every month)

As for an Android version, they will consider having their engineers work on that. Also, Mori thinks that video content is especially compatible with tablet devices, and so he is planning to build a team to work on serving tablet users, adding that he’d like to develop “a special user experience on tablets, something different from smartphones.

Schoo will continue its challenge through experiments and improvements in 2014, with the aim of achieving membership of one million by the end of this year.

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