Educational technology (edtech) is a huge global market with new apps, games and services launching daily. But for teachers and parents looking for engaging and effective learning tools, it can feel like entering a Wild West of choice. Up until now, there has been no quick way to separate the gems from the rocks.
Kokoa Agency* believes it has a solution. The digital education startup has created a quality verification service for exactly this market based on Finnish educational expertise.
“All of we four founders have worked in education and two of us are former teachers,” explains Marika Kukkasniemi, founder and CEO of Kokoa. “We know how difficult it is to find the products that effectively support learning. What we have developed is a methodology for evaluating the pedagogical quality of digital learning products.”
How the service works is straightforward. A company submits their learning app for evaluation and it is compared against a long list of learning science principles. The assessment covers learning goals and outcomes, engagement and pedagogical approach. In the end the company receives detailed feedback on the product and, if successful, is awarded the ‘Kokoa Education Standard’ certificate.
Hatched from Angry Birds
The idea for Kokoa was sparked by a single email. In early 2015, Kukkasniemi had just left Angry Birds’ creator Rovio (where she was part of its educational team) when she was contacted by a Saudi-Arabian gaming studio. The company needed help with content development for its educational games.
Kukkasniemi partnered with two other ex-Rovio colleagues for the project and realised there were plenty of other edtech companies in need of similar assistance. Kokoa was born.
“We started as a design company, but a lot of companies wanted to know how their products should work to make learning more effective,” Kukkasniemi recalls. “And also, what Finns see as a good learning app. Finnish teaching is valued very highly internationally. We started to develop the verification service and now it is our main focus.”
The service appeals to multiple types of edtech companies. Some see an independent certification as a marketing tool, while others want Kokoa’s feedback during their product development so they can make adjustments early.
“A lot of our customers target schools or parents, but our methodology can be used for any kinds of learning products,” Kukkasniemi says. “For example, we are currently assessing a learning tool for B2B sales. The criteria whether a product supports efficient learning is very similar no matter if the target group is children or adult learners.”
The criteria may be the same for everybody, but the bar for passing Kokoa’s assessment is set high. Only about half of submitted products receive a certificate. This strict process is bearing fruit as Kokoa’s standard is increasingly recognised.
“It has been great to witness our reputation grow,” Kukkasniemi enthuses. “Over half of our new customers come from abroad, in particular Hong Kong, the UK and US.”
Kokoa already has its first sales partner in Hong Kong, but the next big thing for the seven-person strong company is to publish its own online marketplace. This will enable customers to find and compare all Kokoa certified products in one place and will be unveiled at the Slush startup conference in Helsinki in November.
“We hope it will become the go to place for educators and parents looking to find the best digital learning products,” Kukkasniemi says. “We want people to see our stamp on a product and know they can trust it is high quality.”
*Known as Education Alliance Finland since 2019