As classrooms move online, publishers are finding new ways to reach students and teachers. Matthew Sandblom is co-creator and Chairman of Mathletics – a hugely popular Australian maths website used by over 3,000 schools worldwide. He discusses the key features that make this educational website a success.

The format

Back in the early days of the internet, Sandblom began working with Australian teacher Shane Hill to develop maths activities on CD-ROMs. An emerging internet soon convinced them to change direction. “Five years ago we realised that the future was heading online,” explains Sandblom.“So we decided to put all of our efforts into designing an interesting website for kids.” launched a year later in 2005. It now offers over 750 online learning activities through a paid subscription service and attracts an impressive 800,000 hits each day worldwide.

Customer first

The old idiom ‘know thy customer’ still applies. Sandblom says Mathletics has two customers at its core – students and teachers.

“If you do it right, there are lots of things you can do online that tech-savvy students find more appealing than print-based material. We have an interactive game where kids can play and compete in a live environment solving maths problems.”

“There’s also a lot of functionality there for the teachers – making it easy for them to organise homework tasks and set up courses for students at different levels. You don’t always get that flexibility with a printed product.”

Content worth paying for

The creators of Mathletics have chosen to protect their content and generate revenue with a paid subscription service. Sign up for an annual subscription fee of $99, agree to the terms of use (no copying or republishing) and you get full access to the site’s content. Sandblom believes that a subscription-based revenue model works only if you create valuable content.

“Obviously there is an awful lot of free stuff online. That’s the bar you’ve got to jump over if you’re going to get people to pay for a subscription product – so you have to do something substantially better than what is available for free.

“It’s one thing to put some math-based activities online, but if you don’t keep improving and offering something significantly better than what you can get for free, then you don’t have a business model.”

Room to grow

Taking the same principles that have made Mathletics a success, Sandblom and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) also run the ABC Reading Eggs program, an online program that helps kids master the basics of reading.

Like Mathletics, Reading Eggs is subscription-based, however it also offers a significant print component, where users can purchase activity books and CD-ROMs to complement the online lessons. Sandblom says this combined print/online model has a lot of potential.

“It’s not new in itself to have some online component linked to print products. But with us it’s a bit of the other way around – where the website has the most value and then the print product backs up the site. We’ve found that the print products and the website subscriptions have sold very well and they’re mutually reinforcing. That’s the model that we’re certainly looking at doing more of.”

3P Learning, the producers of Mathletics, became a Copyright Agency member in 2005 after surveys picked up the copying of Mathletics content in schools.

Do you have a website?
If your online materials are copied in Australia and you would like to receive payment for the use of your work, CAL suggests you include explicit terms of use on your website to ensure that you’re eligible for payment from the Copyright Agency.