London-headquartered educational media company MarcoPolo Learning has launched MarcoPolo World School, a subscription- and STEAM-based digital preschool service offering customized learning paths for children.
Available on the Apple App Store worldwide and accessible online, the US$5.99 service combines TV grade short-form mixed media lessons with contextualized learning activities in a sandbox-style environment.
The app currently provides approximately 100 one-minute lessons, but will grow to feature more than 1,000 lessons and 10,000 learning activities as more content is added weekly. A version for UK English will also launch at the end of the month, and more languages thereafter. MarcoPolo’s Chief Curriculum Officer Dr. Nermeen Dashoush, who holds a Ph.D. from Columbia University in early childhood education focused on STEM, led the creation and design of World School‘s curriculum.
Along with STEM subjects, the platform includes lessons in math, literacy, social studies including music and arts, as well as social-emotional learning.
Popular anthropomorphic characters from MarcoPolo’s first original animated series, The Polos, and the developer’s suite of apps serve as kids’ co-pilots throughout the learning experience. In addition, the app features a unique blend of live-action HD nature footage with high-quality 3D and 2D animation. Plus, MarcoPolo enlisted a former Toca Boca art director to oversee World School‘s design elements.
One of the app’s unique functions is a “Let’s Talk” communication feature for parents that helps drive healthy interactions, since it’s linked to a lesson share feature for children.
“When kids click a heart icon in the top right corner of the screen, parents get an email notification that a video lesson has been shared. By activating the in-app Let’s Talk feature, discussion points around two questions and one fact related to the shared lesson are overlaid to help a parent communicate with their child,” says Justin Hsu, CEO at MarcoPolo Learning. “Parents also get weekly reports and analytics within the product’s parent section that provide an understanding of what a child is learning and how he or she is progressing.”
Prior to its global release, World School soft launched in Canada on January 11 and delivered MarcoPolo’s highest engagement numbers for any of the company’s apps to date. World School also earned a front-page feature and headline banner on the App Store in the US and Canada this week.
When asked about potential school partnerships, Hsu says World School is made strictly for home use. “With our previous app titles, schools have purchased them on their own, but we don’t market to them. As a business, however, we’re trying to distribute the product in various key regions worldwide,” he says. “One potential partner we’re talking with is one of the largest private school networks overseas. They may bundle our product as home curriculum for kids.”
Hsu adds that partnership discussions are underway with a number of major media companies in emerging markets where there isn’t great access to early childhood education. He says the biggest challenge is ensuring the high quality of content . “Making the content is the hard part. We’re marrying 2D, 3D and HD footage using TV-grade writers. Quality matters, but it takes time,” he says.
To help counter time constraints, MarcoPolo designed the product so new content can be easily added on the fly. “We developed a production pipeline that’s constantly making more lessons that are attached to more contextualized games so we don’t need to rebuild. The game engines re-skin depending on which episode you watch,” says Hsu.
The launch comes amid a period of growth for MarcoPolo, which secured US$8.5 million last April in a funding round led by Toronto, Canada-based Boat Rocker Media along with Horizons Ventures (Asia), Seedcamp (Europe) and the managing partners of DST Global.
“Boat Rocker took an equity stake in MarcoPolo because they see us as the next generation kids developer,” says Hsu. “A big part of why they invested was because of World School.”
Boat Rocker’s deal with MarcoPolo is also an exclusive global video partnership that will see the companies collaborate on new original animated television and digital series for preschoolers including The Polos, which is currently in production with full episodes available to screen at Kidscreen Summit next week in Miami.