Why the term “black swan”?

The Black Swan story began with language learning. Most people’s experience with language learning is this: they spend four years in high school learning French, and they still can’t speak French. Years ago, when we discovered a language teacher who claimed to induce language proficiency in three days, we were intrigued. When we learned of a math teacher who could make kids proficient in high school math — in five days, using similar methods — we started investigating deeply.

The European discovery of black swans (the birds!) in Australia in the 18th Century transformed people’s understanding of swans. Until then, swans were white — no questions asked. So much was the color white built into the concept of swan, a collective noun for swans was a “whiteness of swans” (now it’s a “bevy of swans”). The Black Swan terminology has subsequently been popularized by Nassim Taleb to describe events that no one expected, and yet they happened. Improbably powerful methods of instruction — Black Swans of Learning — will transform people’s views of learning. For many, drudgery, memorization, and poor outcomes are baked into the concept of learning. We will help change that conception.

In our XPRIZE work, we used black swan learning methods as the basis for software prototypes to teach beginning reading, math, and systems thinking. We were excited with the initial results, and are now building our Black Swan portfolio of methods and software so we can make improbably powerful learning available to the world.