Youschool learning app Fredrik Jansson founder tells us about this platform, which he created well before schools closed and learning apps became a thing.
Q. Tell us about your journey into creating Youschool, from your own time at school, to when you decided you needed to invent it. What pain points did you want to address?
Frederik: For me growing up, I never really liked school, even though I was good at school. I got fairly good grades. But I had lots of stress and anxiety. This stemmed from a very high ambition, which in turn comes from my family background.
I mainly felt like school was very challenging for me. It came at a high cost. So, throughout school I had to cope with stress and anxiety. The hard thing about it is, it doesn’t show. Everybody feels stress. For some people it’s on a scale of 0-100, for some its ten or twenty. For some its 80. For me it was like a thousand.
So, I skipped school sometimes and I didn’t want to sit exams etc. I was so tense, that when I was 19, I lost almost all my hair. 80% of my hair from my head fell off in 6 months. It was awful. No one knew what it was, but it turned out it was alopecia which is a symptom of stress.
I went to university during two years I had depression and had to see a psychiatrist. At the age of 35, I was diagnosed with ADHD. It explained a lot of things for me. I realised the best way for people with concentration disorders is to learn with others. That worked particularly well with Maths. And I will explain shortly how this led me to Youschool.
I couldn’t learn when I was sitting in a classroom. I felt better trying to and try to learn in a group. That’s what inspired me when I was thinking about Youschool. The way I felt comfortable with learning was by talking and discussing. It took me two years into University until I found out that if I studied with friends, I felt much better. I went from barely making the exam to much better grades. I wondered why are classrooms mostly about reading and listening?
As it turns out people don’t listen very well. But, school’s always been done that way, since 200 years. I thought to myself: why don’t we change that? Why do we go to a lecture to just listen and not even remember? Why don’t we record it? You can’t listen to a lecture of something for more than twenty minutes. It’s hard. You can go to the movies for an hour and a half and that’s almost a limit. But when you have interaction… if you look at gaming, for instance… or if you look at talking on the phone… as soon as you add interaction, especially interaction with other people, the engagement goes through the roof.
So that was it. It was an emotional process for me. Because even though on the surface, I would probably look like a very A-grade student, who went to a good university. But, on the inside it was absolutely disastrous. I didn’t have very high grades.
I made presentations in Sweden and in the UK, in front of some 5000 students. It was like a motivational talk. When I asked them questions, something like 60% of the students had stress levels which actually affected their eating and sleeping. And it’s very common, especially in Sweden, where I am from.
The peer-to-peer thing was key for me. I also needed to find a way where I could use pen and paper. I decided work on that. So that’s when I went to my old school and saw that they had these document cameras, which is like a digital overhead projector. This was in 2008 and I thought… brilliant! Everyone should have one of these at home and on their desks. To me, that would allow students to communicate exactly like when studying in a group session.
Coming to the point, for me it was to create a solution where you’re sitting with other people. It was to implement an emotional dimension in pedagogical learning. These, for me, are the two pillars.
I’ve established that it’s difficult to study if you don’t feel good. I’ve established how we can feel good when learning. It’s by having someone encouraging you and giving you flow. But how does this happen when you’re home alone, away from your peers? Video was an obvious choice to achieve that.
This is how Youschool came about. What I am trying to address is the feel-good factor in education. I think those two are very interconnected. And it’s so clear when you look at people who are not succeeding. Ask any student anywhere in the world who is not succeeding: how do you feel about school? They’ll rarely say, “Oh I love school! It’s the best place, you know?”
What’s more relationships in learning is important. In creating Youschool, I came up with a personality-type adaptive learning to be part of the solution. I found correlations between different personality types, be it student to student or teacher to student.
The interest here is what we can can use data in order to find a good match for students and teachers. Combining the emotional to the learning aspect is as simple as that, for me. It’s using data and enabling learning with pen and paper. Even recent studies endorsed by Microsoft, for instance, demonstrate clearly that’s the best way to learn.
Basically, Youschool is an online version of a classroom where there’s a teacher walking around to help students. They can interact online, click on the keyboard, demonstrate with their pen and paper and ask questions. The best way to learn, in my opinion, is by teaching others. So that’s what we are focusing on with the Youschool solution.
Youschool can be used for any subject, but right now my focus in on Maths. It’s a huge problem for many all over the world: they are just poor at Maths. I bet that one of the key reasons is that people feel awful when they do not succeed. What I am aiming for is to make students feel good even where they’re failing constantly, so that they don’t quit.
Q. You came up with Youschool in 2008. But back then, there was no Covid and schools weren’t closed all over the world. Can you tell me how the idea was relevant then, since it is almost by default now?
Frederik: I have always felt that I could foresee things. I mean I had this idea since 2004. At that time, iPhones were not even around. The technology wasn’t even in place. So it took a few years before I could even build anything because the video quality, back in 2010, wasn’t good enough to see handwriting. So we had to wait until 2011.
When you think of a school, of walking to school, you probably picture a building… but you also see yourself with friends. You are messing with them, engaging with them. And that’s exactly what I wanted Youschool to be. A virtual version of that setup. Even with AI, I can’t see that aspect change in the foreseeable future. I mean human interaction is extremely powerful and at Youschool, we focus on that.
There are so many learning apps nowadays. So, while I was doing this project, I had to go build the website myself and source the cameras, because there were none like the Youcam. All cams are built into the devices, phones and laptops. I was asked a million times: why do you need this type of camera? The key is that it’s about adapting technology to people and not the other way round.
[end of part 1]