Noodle is the first and only cradle-through-career education recommendation engine on the web, according to Joe Morgan, CEO of Noodle. From the founders of the Princeton Review, it’s a simple and trusted source for students and parents that helps the user discover the very “best-fit” educational opportunities for them. “We’ve created a dynamic recommendation engine that will deliver highly compatible and personalized search for ‘best-fit’ education solutions,” says Joe. “The user provides what is meaningful to them and Noodle recommends the best formal and informal educational opportunities—from pre-schools to grad schools, from local tutors to study abroad programs,” he says. John Katzman is Noodle’s founder and chairman; John started and ran The Princeton Review and went on to found and run 2tor.com. Mark Chernis, also on the board of Noodle, joined The Princeton Review in 1984 and was the COO and Secretary, and part of the company for 24 years; he’s also a member of the Board of Education for the Bedford Central School District in New York state. In this interview, Joe discusses best-fit searches and a word he hopes will eventually become a widely-used verb.
Victor: Why Noodle?
Joe: I suppose there are a couple of ways to respond. The first being, why does Noodle exist and the second is why we chose the name Noodle. To respond to the first—we recognized that decisions surrounding education and learning are some of the most important high stakes decisions a person can make, yet the search for education providers and learning opportunities is, at best mystifying, leaving too much to chance. How do you find the “best-fit” preschool, college, tutor, summer camp, graduate school, weekend learning opportunity or any of the other thousands of educational searches that a person will do in a lifetime? Traditional Boolean search, while useful for some types of search, is flat and incapable of developing highly compatible education recommendations. Noodle’s proprietary methodology solves this issue. In terms of the Noodle name—it’s meant to be a bit of a lighthearted look at learning and education. We know that making these decisions can be a source of anxiety and we want to help. Noodle is serious about our recommendations, but we also want to put some fun into education search. Noodle, by definition, means to play, experiment freely and explore. It also refers to your head or brain. And over time, we are confident that Noodle will become a very active verb; when it comes to education search and recommendations… “Just Noodle it.”
Victor: Who created Noodle?
Joe: John Katzman—who also founded the Princeton Review and 2tor, where he now serves as the Chairman—was the originator of the Noodle idea. Amongst many great talents and skills, John has an uncanny ability to identify gaps in the marketplace and articulate strategies to fill those gaps. Education search was flawed and inefficient. It left people frustrated. Noodle will empower the user as he or she is making important education decisions.
Victor: What attracted you to Noodle?
Joe: I suppose there were two things that attracted me to Noodle. I want to be a part of a business solving high stakes problems. With rare exception—maybe a person’s health, choosing a lifelong mate or personal finance—there is no decision more important than those surrounding education and learning. Noodle is tackling this big issue and empowering its users in the process. Walking around our offices, you’ll hear us speak often about building a world-class recommendation tool. Our rationale? Borrowing from an often-cited quote, we believe that “education is a match to be made and not a prize to be won.” Noodle is creating best-fit compatibility that will help users with these important decisions. Noodle also offers an exciting opportunity to take rigorous social science practices and large data to identify commonalities between students’ needs and the best fit education providers. We want to be the tip of the spear for these efforts that will really help students get the education they’re looking for.
Victor: What is Noodle’s secret sauce? How is it different from other education search sites?
Joe: At a fundamental level, the secret sauce, and what differentiates Noodle is how our strategic architecture really benefits our users. We take a three-pronged approach: 1) We aggregate information from a multitude of sources. Today, we have aggregated data and built profiles for more than 130,000 institutions of education and learning. That number grows daily. 2) We use social science best practices to develop questionnaires. As we begin to understand your needs, we deliver “best-fit for you” compatibility scores to our users. 3) We believe that the search for, and participation in, education is inherently social so we leverage the social graph of our users to enrich the experience.
Victor: How much does it cost?
Joe: Noodle is completely free to the user.
Victor: Can you give me some examples of Noodle in action?
Joe: I will give you two examples. We recently had a family use the site. They were moving to the east coast, to an unfamiliar city. They needed information on both a middle school and high school. The information that we provided proved helpful with both neighborhood decisions and school options. When their high school student needed SAT tutoring, the couple came back to our site. They had a need and they just noodled it! That was tremendously satisfying. We also had a college guidance counselor use our site. She wanted to provide meaningful personalized assistance to her students but recent budget cuts had rendered the ratio of guidance counselor to students at approximately 1 to 400. Because her goal was to help as many students as possible find schools that fit their needs and budgets, she began referring them to Noodle. This meant her students could get personalized recommendations to get started on their college search and she could jump in to help them with higher-level problems like their applications and financial aid.
Victor: Who is Noodle tailored to?
Joe: Noodle is meant to serve students of all ages and parents of students. It’s also a tool to help education providers connect with students who might not otherwise know about their services.
Victor: Great—very interesting, and thanks, Joe!
Joe: You’re welcome, Victor!
Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. He is the editor-in-chief of EdTech Digest, a magazine about education transformed through technology. He has written white papers, articles and features for schools, nonprofits and companies in the education marketplace. Write to: victor@VictorRivero.com