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Wikipedia Co-Founder Larry Sanger’s Latest Startup: Reading Bear

by sirwiseowl via Flickr under CreativeCommons

Here is a name to follow in digital learning and education innovation: Larry Sanger.

Who is he?

He’s the co-founder of Wikipedia. He is to Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales what Steve Wozniak was to Apple’s Steve Jobs or Paul Allen to Microsoft’s Bill Gates.

What’s he doing now?

Well, several things. He’s involved with a Wikipedia-like project that categorizes free, educational products called A project called Citizendium that aims to be a more strictly-moderated version of Wikipedia. But the one that caught our eye is a project called, a free, online program designed to teach early readers vocabulary, phonetic patterns of written English. Here is a description of how the project works, from the site:

How does it work? In each presentation—playable either as a video or as an interactive slide show—we introduce one or a few related “phonics rules.” Presentations are available in seven different versions. In the fullest version, we sound out a word slowly and quickly, then blend it slowly, and finally (after an optional prompt) blend it quickly. As sounds are pronounced, the corresponding letters are highlighted. Then we display a picture illustrating the word, show a sentence (with the individual sounds again highlighted, karaoke style), and finally show a video illustrating the sentence. Presentations typically give this treatment to around 25 words, though some have more and some have less. The result is a thorough yet painless introduction to phonics principles, while at the same time teaching vocabulary.

Here is a video explaining and demonstrating the project:


An anonymous Memphis-area benefactor is funding several of the projects Sanger is involved with. Mr. Sanger is editor in chief of the project, designed the software and has assembled most of the content so far. Sanger has two sons, ages 5 and 1. He has grown interested in early childhood education because of his sons, which serve as a built-in laboratory for his projects. He also learned to teach his older son to read at a young age by using an early flash card version of Reading Bear. He has made these flash cards available free to the public as well.

 Here is what Larry told The Next Web Insider in a recent interview:

So how far is Larry wanting to take his interest in early education? “There really aren’t any multimedia encyclopedias for kids”, says Larry. “Not that I’m aware of at least. Not even for purchase, let alone free. I’ve created a load of videos, such asThe Moon for Kids. The idea is I can make a zillion of those kind of videos, and I like doing it and I have experience using them. They’re extremely effective learning tools, and everybody who uses them likes them. I think they would work even better on Reading Bear. So I could put together a multimedia encyclopedia for children, and this would require changing the software of Reading Bear, but most of the features needed are already there.”

Next Web writer Paul Sawers also asks Larry about his future plans:

“There’s one more thing I have a burning desire to do, if someone was to give me a large amount of funding for, and that’s Textop“, says Larry, referring to a previous academic project he started working on prior to Citizendium. “But there’s one part in particular of that which really excites me, and it’s what I call the Collation Project. Nobody else is doing anything like it, it’s the kind of thing I think nobody will work on until I do. But it has the potential to change education and research…especially in the humanities. It’s a way of creating an outline of knowledge, and attaching paragraph-sized texts to the outline. It makes it possible for people who are working on the same topic in different fields, to talk to each other. It’s actually really hard to describe quickly!”

For now, however, early education is where Larry’s passion lies. “I was amazed when my son learned the alphabet before he was 2-years-old”, he says. “Obviously, that’s one of the prerequisites for reading and I was amazed to find out that children can learn to read so young – this made a big impression on me, and I wondered why this wasn’t more widely known. The early education movement – and, to be honest, it isn’t much of a movement yet – could really change the world in a great way. It’s something I think more people should be working on.”

We wish Sanger well on his projects and look forward to watching his progress on all these fronts. We also hererby nominate him and his Reading Bear project for Best Free Web Tool in the Edublog Awards. Speaking of which, we at would love to be nominated as well. We cannot nominate ourselves. So please feel free to nominate us if you see fit by following the rules on the Edublog awards.

A link to Reading Bear:

A link to

A link to
A link to the full article in The Next Web on Sanger


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