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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Yoga Instructors, Tile Layers, Others Get New Outlet for Web Lessons

Online education is a sprawling category that encompasses everything from open online courses on physics, history and other college subjects to intensive, multiday workshops on photography on sites like CreativeLive.

Then there’s the wild teaching scene on sites like YouTube, where it sometimes is difficult to find a life skill for which there is not a short how-to video made by somebody, somewhere. I realized this once when, flushed with frustration, I searched for a video on YouTube on how to convert an uncooperative Transformer action figure into vehicle mode. A capable young instructor made me, and my child, very happy that day.

A new start-up, Curious, believes it has created a better way for the little guys on YouTube and other video sites to teach. While YouTube is for video of all stripes, Curious, founded by a former Intuit executive, Justin Kitch, gives people a set of Web tools specially tailored for developing video lessons and making money from them.

Let’s say you have a killer technique for building a dresser. The site, which opens to the public on Wednesday, lets you divide your lesson into chapters, with quizzes that students have to take before advancing to the next stage. Curious gives you a way to suggest a set of tools that might be handy for making the dresser, like a dovetail jig and router, along with a method for embedding links where people can buy the tools on the Web.

The first couple of chapters of each lesson are free for viewers, but they have to formally enroll in the course, paying a small fee if the teacher has decided to charge for the lesson. Curious will allow teachers to charge between $1 and $5 a lesson. During a private testing phase for the site, Mr. Kitch said music, fitness and foreign language lessons have shown signs of generating the most viewer interest.

Mr. Kitch believes the enrollment requirement will help elevate the quality of comments that form around lessons on Curious by weeding out the troublemakers who often leave inflammatory comments on YouTube videos. “It’s not that you can’t accomplish some of this on YouTube, but trying to get interaction on YouTube is a bear,” Mr. Kitch said. “Comments are so horrific and gross. YouTube wasn’t made for teaching. It was just for showing random videos.”

Curious has raised $7.5 million from Redpoint Ventures and individual investors like Bill Campbell, the chairman of Intuit and a veteran adviser to Silicon Valley leaders.

In a phone interview, Mr. Campbell said that it would take Curious a while before it had a large library of high-quality lessons, but that he expected it would attract good teachers with its tools for organizing lessons. “I don’t think this is like Khan Academy,” he said. “I view these as upbeat fun things to do in your spare time.”

When asked what lessons he has taken on the site, Mr. Campbell said he enjoyed one on beer making. “I thought the salsa dancing one was really funny,” he said. “When am I going to do that?”