The Sama Marketplace Sama puts the power of Virtual Reality, Artificial Intelligence and Education Science in the hands of instructors to unlock the learning potential inside every learner. We make it easy for experts in any subject to create, publish and monetize their VR-based course.
Sama has released our first course for university general chemistry and is working with content creators to expand the course library to include VR-based courses across the education, corporate and training markets. Our goal is to create a set of content creation tools, based on our proprietary learning framework and source VR courses from the best instructors.
Virtual reality learning tools have the potential to impact several markets including the $130B global upskill/reskill, $243B online learning and $340B global edtech markets but our initial goal is to impact the 75M US workers and 20M US college students whose livelihoods depend on establishing and maintaining competitive skills.
Problem or Opportunity
A seismic shift is happening within our existing workforce. The World Economic Forum predicts 75 million existing jobs will be displaced by 2022 and another 133 million new jobs will be created1. Some estimate this will result in 50% of our workforce requiring some form of retraining. We see this today with AT&T committing to reskill half of their 280,000 workforce and Amazon’s announcement of reskilling one third of their 3000,000 employees. 2, 3 The World Economic Forum further states, “Education is and will remain critical for promoting inclusive economic growth and providing a future of opportunity for all. But as the technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution create new pressures on labor markets, education reform, lifelong learning and reskilling initiatives will be key to ensuring both that individuals have access to economic opportunity by remaining competitive in the new world of work, and that businesses have access to the talent they need for the jobs of the future.”.1 Existing methods of retraining the workforce will not scale fast enough to meet this very real demand.
These challenges aren’t limited to our existing workforce. To meet current demand, U.S. colleges and universities will need to graduate one million more students with degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) over the next decade than they are on track to produce.1 For every 100 incoming college freshmen only six will graduate with a STEM major although twenty-eight will express desire for a STEM major. It has been estimated that 75% of this need could be met by increasing the current STEM retention rate from 40% to 50%.2 Efforts to improve retention should therefore be targeted at the students who are likely “leavers”, if we are to meet the existing workforce gap. While there is a great deal of research on ways to turn STEM “leavers” into “stayers”, implementation is fragmented and slow due to limitations of existing technologies and the significant effort required to integrate these solutions into existing curricula.
Existing technologies and methods of education and training are inadequate to meet these rapidly growing needs. We will require scalable education tools that improve learning outcomes and increase access to quality education and provide scalable, cost effective alternatives for high cost and high-risk training. There are numerous educational interventions which contribute to improved student learning outcomes, increased student confidence and increased student engagement that include: active learning practices, utilizing digital visualizations and simulations, use of virtual environments, and educational games.4–10 However, despite the potential of increasing student learning outcomes and increasing retention, these interventions have not been widely adopted.11,12 It is exceedingly difficult for instructors to incorporate these interventions, as the most effective interventions tend to be highly specific, resource intensive and lack comprehensive applicability across a curriculum.6
Technology driven innovations for the creation, validation and delivery of immersive education and training courses have the potential to significantly reduce this barrier to entry provided they are comprehensive, data driven, well designed, and can be easily implemented in the classroom.6,14 There is an immediate opportunity to leverage Virtual Reality to develop a centralized, comprehensive and data driven intervention to education and training.
Solution (product or service)
Virtual reality provides an immersive, three-dimensional environment ideal for providing the advanced visualization necessary for learning while also offering realistic environments enabling scalability for the development of specific skills. These environments are also ideal for implementing active learning methods which have been proven to increase learning outcomes. Finally, as a technology, VR provides a rich set of data that can be utilized through machine learning and artificial intelligence to shed light on the link between student interactions with learning environments and their learning outcomes.
Sama Learning is developing a marketplace for the creation, iteration and distribution of a centralized, data-driven VR-based courses. Our core competency is translating traditional curriculum into a new model designed specifically for immersive learning environments. The components of the Sama platform are: • A templatized set of content creation tools for developing lessons and sourcing material fr om the best instructors. These tools enable subject matter experts who may not possess the expertise in either VR development or curriculum design to build high quality, highly effective VR lessons. • A library of content created using the courses sourced fr om the content creation community and created using the content creation tools. • Insights engine that provides feedback to students, instructors and other systems on student performance, areas of additional focus/learning and areas wh ere content can be improved to further aid learning. • Marketplace wh ere content publishers can promote and monetize their courses to a broad audience. This marketplace provides commerce, licensing and feedback from the user community.
VR enables a radical departure from traditional pedagogy in all the right ways. The ability for a student to manipulate 3D virtual constructs of otherwise abstract or hard to replicate core concepts (from electromagnetic fields to welding) is revolutionary. Our VR-based curriculum incorporates active learning, integrated assessment and visualization tools which are structured on top of a framework derived from Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy15.
Through research, we have validated the effectiveness of the use of virtual reality to improve learning outcomes. The limiting factor now is our ability to produce content at the scale necessary to impact our workforce challenges. In order to meet this need for scale, we must source content from a wide variety of content experts which will require a set of content creation tools enabling users without the technical ability to program or the expertise in curricula development to be create and publish effective virtual courses. This includes instructors currently developing education and training courses, existing content owners such as textbook companies and online learning platforms as well as students themselves who will likely bring a fresh perspective to immersive instruction. The efficacy-driven approach to the Sama Learning Platform will ensure that only courses that improve learning outcomes are distributed and that the refined best practices for effective development of virtual courses will be elevated and shared across the content creator community.
Our approach of utilizing VR-based lessons alongside existing practices significantly reduces overhead to the organization, instructors and students for implementation. Use of our platform will require customers to make an initial investment in VR hardware the cost of which has decreased dramatically over the past year with individual headsets now available between $200-400.
There is an abundance of products in the digital education space which can be broadly grouped into two subsets: online learning platforms for content delivery and digital tools: examples of the first are Coursera and Canvas. While these tools ease the integration of digital media into the classroom, they are fundamentally based on utilizing 2D imagery or simulations, which lack the immersive nature of VR as well as immersive student interactivity. Digital tools providers are highly varied in content and polish. Their offerings include simulations (PHET), augmented reality experiences (Happy Atoms) and educational games (Chemical Education Xchange) targeted at a computer or mobile phone-based user experience which lacks the inherent capabilities of VR. We see these providers as potential partners whereby Sama would apply our expertise in the development of virtual courses to their content libraries to speed their time-to-market for their inevitable support of virtual reality.
This has opened space for new companies attempting to leverage VR technology in the classroom such as Schell Games, Lifelique, and Nearpod. Generally, the competitors in this space are largely developing point solutions which address limited aspects of the curriculum and are difficult to integrate into the class experience, are selling to a different market (K-12), or lack utilization of best practices for teaching with VR. We also see these providers as potential partners who would benefit from Sama’s data-drive curriculum model.
Advantages or differentiators
While many educational technology companies are working to develop specific content, Sama’s competitive advantage is that we are building tools for the creation, validation and distribution of a broad set of content. This tools-based approach enables the rapid development and scaling of VR specifically designed for education while providing incentives, in the form of revenue sharing, for subject matter experts to develop this content. This makes it possible for the best instructors to easily create and share their courses without the need for technical competency, to validate the efficacy of their courses with our integrated tools and to monetize their creations with the ecommerce aspects of the platform. This centralized approach will help us to meet the demands of our workforce and to realize the benefits of virtual reality across education environments as quickly as possible.
Finally, our platform sits at the intersection of immersive technologies, education and the science of education. A systematic, research-based approach to the development of a new class of curriculum in immersive technologies and the platform to deploy those learnings makes Sama Learning uniquely suited to the lead the industry in the best practices for the development and implementation of immersive technologies in learning.
Sama has raised a total of $470K from a collection of friends and family, The Capital Region AR VR Accelerator and the National Science Foundation. We are seeking a seed round of $1.5M to further invest in engineering as well as begin to invest in sales and marketing.
Sama is a B2B software as a service business model where customers access training based on a per student, per subject basis. Our target subscription revenue is $25 which has been validated across our existing markets. We follow the common software revenue share model seen in mobile applications and gaming. This subscription model will create a strong recurring revenue model. Customers will subscribe to the platform based on the number of students in the subject areas. This model may be adjusted for new markets but will follow the same basic principles. This model will allow Sama Learning to reach a financial break-even point in year three.
Money will be spent on
Expansion of engineering and initial investment in sales and marketing.
Offer for investor
The investment vehicle we are using is a SAFE with a $5M cap and 20% discount.
Sama has already de-risked several aspects of our thesis. The most important being to validate that learning outcomes (a key indicator of persistence in an area of study), test financial model and to validate our ability to build and scale a content creator community fast enough to meet the market needs for VR-based courses. The latter continues as a priority and will be a fundamental aspect of this phase of funding.
Incubation/Acceleration programs accomplishment
Capital Region AR VR Accelerator - completion of 12-week program and winner of overall pitch.