The Spaniard Edpuzzle learning platform takes off in the United States. It is used regularly by at least one teacher in 80% of schools, while in Spain 11,000 schools actively use the program. In total, it has spread to 150 different countries. Edpuzzle allows teachers to edit instructional videos that present students with questions they must answer either in writing or by answering aloud. In 2017, Forbes magazine included its four founders – Quim Sabrià, Jordi González, Santi Herrero and Xavi Vergés – in its 30 under 30 list of the best young entrepreneurs in Europe.
The idea for Edpuzzle came from an unexpected need. In 2012, Sabrià was doing an internship to become a high school teacher at a school in Badalona, in the northeastern region of Catalonia. The school had a problem with absenteeism and teenagers were losing interest in classes. “Giving lessons was very rewarding, but very, very difficult,” Sabrià recalled via video call from California. However, “things fell into place by fate,” he says. Luckily, three of his childhood friends, Jordi González, Santi Herrero and Xavi Vergés – whom he met when he was just three years old – had become telecommunications engineers. He would tell them about his “classroom battles with the students” and wonder what he could do to keep his students interested. They all agreed on the answer: audiovisual equipment.
“When a student doesn’t understand something, they go to YouTube, not to a library. Videos are the best way to communicate with your students,” says Sabrià. His three engineering friends wanted to translate what they knew about building web pages into a teaching platform for him. “It’s very hard to say no if someone offers to make a tool for your class,” he adds.
But Sabrià wanted to do more than just share YouTube videos, which he says encourage “passive behavior”. “With Edpuzzle, by incorporating questions, the student must think, answer,” he explains. The teacher can edit other people’s videos or create their own, which other teachers can then use.
Rosa Liarte, a history teacher at an institute in Fuengirola, in the southern Spanish province of Málaga, says she was a “fan from the start” of Edpuzzle. She says she disagrees with the argument that technology is dehumanizing education. “On the contrary, it brings me closer to my students,” she explains. “What I would explain in 20 minutes, they can see in a seven minute video and I can use the class to do other projects.” Liarte estimates that about 20 teachers, out of a faculty of 37, use Edpuzzle in his school.
In 2013, the founders of Edpuzzle decided to take the plunge and settle in the United States in search of funding. “We didn’t think twice,” says Sabriá. “The difference [between the US and Spain] was very significant. Earlier they gave you $100,000 [€92,000] – now it’s half a million – and in return you gave them 6% of the company. And in Spain it was €25,000 [$27,000] and they kept a very high percentage. That year, the four moved to Mountain View, south of San Francisco, near Google headquarters, with support from startup accelerator Y Combinator – which previously backed Dropbox and Airbnb. In separate funding rounds, Edpuzzle has raised up to $4 million (€3.4 million) to get started.
“We decided to treat the first 10 users better than our mothers. I’m a friend, I’ve been to their birthdays, to their homes,” Sabrià says laughing. “I went to visit them with coffee and cookies every Friday to find out how the week had gone, how the students had reacted.” Edpuzzle is free, but to store many videos there is a monthly fee of $12.50 (€11.50) per teacher or between $1,080 (€1,000) and $1,620 (€1,500) per year and per school (depending on size).
That same year, the three engineers returned to Barcelona and opened a second office in the city. Of the quartet, only Sabrià remained in California. Before the coronavirus pandemic, there were 40 workers at headquarters in Spain and the United States. Now only the California office has 62 employees. During the health crisis, which saw millions of students switch to distance learning, demand for Edpuzzle exploded: the number of teachers using the platform increased elevenfold.
The first effects of the pandemic were detected during the confinement of Hong Kong in mid-February 2020. “Overnight, we went from zero to 100 schools”, explains Sabrià. “On Monday they had to teach and the teachers were desperate.”
Edpuzzle is now looking to expand its presence in Argentina, Brazil, Spain, France, Hong Kong and Australia. The platform, which they intend to translate into at least 15 languages, was free at the worst time of the pandemic and its founders continue to support social causes. In response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, they have developed content in Ukrainian to help teach children who are refugees or studying remotely. “We already have math and science videos,” says Sabrià. But those aren’t the only topics you can find on Edpuzzle, he adds, explaining that nutrition and physical education videos are also available.
Additionally, while most of the videos are geared toward senior elementary and high school students, there is also college-level material, such as a video on astrophysics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). And they’re building a global community of teachers so teachers can build on the work of their colleagues.