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Why the Confidence?

Created by a world-class team of learning specialists, interactive designers, writers, artists, video producers and programmers committed to integrating state-of-the-art learning with the highest production value, Learning Friends will offer a more engaging, higher quality product of greater depth than any other currently available-a new category of software-powerful learning and powerful play.

Learning Friends has a network of potential strategic partners and affiliates. The Company's proprietary intellectual property includes a dynamic assessment engine for tracking progress, a research database, content maps and award-winning teaching and learning materials.

Executive Team

Ann McCormick, Chief Executive Officer, founded the Learning Company, a children's educational software company. She served as Chairman of the Board and Lead Designer, shaping the design of the company's first 16 products, including Reader Rabbit and Rocky’s Boots. Under her leadership, TLC launched a new category of software and a leading national brand. Ann has served as an advisor to education and technology leaders in 15 nations and consulted with Apple Computer, IBM, Northern Telecom, and many other technology, publishing, research and telecommunications companies. She served as Vice President of VPL, a virtual reality company and gave invited lectures at Stanford, Harvard and the University of California. Ann wrote textbook chapters and articles on childhood and computing, and appeared on television shows such as the Donahue Show. She has won many awards, including the Parent's Choice Award, Best Software of the Year from Learning Magazine and Entrepreneur of the Decade from Junior Achievement. Ann earned a doctorate in Education at the University of California at Berkeley, where she was invited to deliver the 100th Anniversary Commencement Address.

Karen McCown, Co-Founder, Chairman of the Board, has inspired and guided Learning Friends since it’s inception, inspiring the core mission and supporting the teams doing each project. Karen founded the Nueva School in Hillsborough, CA. In planning the school she met with educators, political & business leaders and Nobel Laureates to consider the educational needs of our society. She saw that the central foundation of a school should be not simply giving students knowledge, but giving them the opportunity to develop wisdom. Nueva in turn inspired the forming of a company to bring this method of education to children around the world using technology.

Karen created Self Science, a program for children learning how to relate to themselves and others, facilitating classes for nearly 3 decades. Karen wrote Self-Science, the Subject is You, and a chapter of Instructional Design Theory and Practice, Volume II (Reigeluth, 1999) to help others implement the program. Karen has worked extensively with educators from around the country and around the world. She also co-founded 6 Seconds, a non-profit organization that offers resources for learning Self Science.

Honored as Educator of the Year by the California Association of the Gifted, Karen has presented at thousands of symposia & conferences. She has served on a broad range of trustee and advisory boards for social, emotional & mental health.

Research and Development

Design: Learning, Interface, Story

Mary Laycock, Mathematics Specialist, has written over 100 books for mathematics teachers and won many awards, including California Mathematics Teacher of the Year and the Milken Award. Mary served as a mathematics teacher specialist for over 60 years, including 30 years at the Nueva School. Her work served as inspiration for the Standards of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Mary taught professional development workshops in all 50 states.

Brian Narelle, Creative Consultant, has brought humor and brilliant clarity in the form of storyboards to every project Learning Friends has undertaken—from lighting design to kids’ math. Co-star and writer for Bingo and Molly, Brian was seen throughout North and South America on The Learning Channel. He brings his creative talents to bear in creating characters and writing for young children. A former writer/director and animator for Sesame Street he has also created over thirty educational films that have won numerous awards, including seven CINE Gold Eagles, with such popular characters as Sooper Puppy and the Wizard of No. Hubert’s Brain, a film he recently wrote, won the World Animation Celebration, as well as taking home the Annie Award from the International Animation Association for Best Short in 2001.

Ann Lasko-Harvill, Interface Designer,is an artist who has found a fusion between art and psychology in engineering. She was an early pioneer of virtual reality. During the late 1980’s and early 1990’s she created many groundbreaking products at VPL Research, including the DataSuit™ and many of the worlds first two-person virtual environments. Ann has designed a wide range of visual interfaces from surgical simulations and products for people with disabilities, to educational games and video documentaries. Her artwork is in public and private collections and she is a co-inventor on many patents. She has a Master degree in product design from Stanford.

Annie Fox, Character and Story Creator, wrote character profiles and dialog for Learning Friends' Hewlett Foundation and Microsoft Projects. Before that, Annie co-founded the Marin Computer Center, then wrote a best selling book, Armchair BASIC (1983, Osborn/McGraw-Hill). She is an award-winning writer/designer of children's CD ROMs. (Putt-Putt; Madeline; Get Ready for School, Charlie Brown; and Mr. Potato Head are just a few of her titles). Annie created The InSite, a place "for teens and young adults to turn their world around.” Her book, Can You Relate? Real World Advice For Teens About Guys, Girls, Growing Up And Getting Along (2000, Free Spirit Publishing) is based on hundreds of emails from teens and Annie’s responses to them. Her new book, Too Stressed to Think?: A Teen Guide to Staying Sane When Life Makes You CRAZY is coming out in September, 2005.


David Fox, Lead Producer, two key projects for Learning Friends: the Hewlett Foundation Pulse Math Project, and the Microsoft Project. He brings a wealth of experience, taste and presence to each venture, bringing high production value standards, humor and entertainment to each project. David moved from co-founding the Marin Computer Center to becoming employee #2 at LucasArts Entertainment where for 10 years he designed and produced computer games such as Rescue on Fractalus!, Labyrinth, Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, scripted Maniac Mansion, and designed the experiences for Mirage a multi-player, networked location-based entertainment system intended for theme parks. While at LiveWorld Productions/Talk City, an online community provider, he was the Director of New Content where he produced The InSite, a Web site for teens who want to make a difference in their lives. At Xulu Entertainment, he produced their immersive and online gaming projects. David is also the coauthor of Pascal Primer, Computer Animation Primer, and Armchair BASIC.

Young Harvill, Technology Advisor, is co-founder of Pulse3D, responsible for the company's technology vision. He holds an MFA from Stanford University, where he explored the intersection of art and technologies, and received a research grant for work in computer-controlled holography. A fascination with light, vision and illusion compelled Harvill to join VPL Research in 1985 and to work on the first generation of Virtual Reality systems. He wrote Swivel, one of the first 3D modeling and animation packages for the desktop and, with Chuck Blanchard and Jaron Lanier, pioneered the first VR authoring environment (RB2). Harvill is also co-inventor of the Data Glove, and was principal investigator for several patents. At Paracomp, as VP of R&D, Young built one of the first multimedia companies in San Francisco. After Paracomp merged with Macromind to form Macromedia, Young integrated core technologies as a research fellow. Projects included architectural design of multimedia players, and the design of next generation multimedia systems.

Jeff Levinsky, Chief Technology Officer, lead development of Learning Friends' National Dimming Initiative and the ARAS Project for the C.G. Jung Institute. In addition, he has advised the company on software architecture and educational value for many years. Jeff is an experienced computer scientist specializing in computers in education. As co-director of Stanford University's Institute on Microcomputers in Education, he led efforts to improve significantly the utilization of computers in schools and homes. He has also served as manager and designer of many successful consumer software development efforts for Learning Friends, Mattel, Broderbund, Hewlett-Packard's Computer Research Laboratory,, and other technology companies. A recent invention of his is an advanced Internet-based recommender system that targets specific products to millions of consumers based upon their needs and preferences, and constructs personalized marketing information to motivate purchases. Mr. Levinsky co-authored two children's books on learning to program, holds patents on intelligent medical instrumentation, and graduated summa cum laude from the University of California at Berkeley in computer science. Jeff now heads the Friends of the Palo Alto Library and directs his own nonprofit organization serving Native American communities.

Randall Eike, Head of Engineering, was the lead programmer for Learning Friends' Advance Transformer National Dimming Initiative Project and created budgets and company technology plans for investors. Randall is an experienced consultant specializing in the architecture, design, and management of consumer oriented software applications and web sites. Over the past four years, Randall served as technology expert for senior management as well as development team manager during engagements at The Learning Company,, Pocket Express, Merrin Gallery, and others. Randall developed the high-level design and application interface for The Learning Company's A.D.A.P.T learning assessment engine technology. Before starting his own consulting firm, Eike Consulting, Randall spent five years as an Engineer and Development Manager at Banner Blue Software developing Family Tree Maker, a Windows based software title with over one million copies sold. Randall has a BS in General Engineering from the University of Illinois (U/C) and an MS in Computer Science from Stanford University

Sioux Atkinson, Database Programmer and Graphics Artist, is Programmer and Graphic Designer for, the web site for Bill Atkinson’s photography. Sioux was also a programmer of HyperCard at Apple Computer, Inc. For Learning Friends, Sioux created the graphical design and programmed the Database “Under the Hood” that links research to design for the Hewlett Foundation math project.

Graphics: Illustration, Animation

Kimmo Turtiainen, produced the Hood, an African American illiterate teen reading program working with Learning Friends team members. Kimmo is a multimedia designer and graphics artist well known in Finland, where he teaches at Pori Business College, and is Managing Director of Adwise. His original designs have shaped Learning Friends graphical approach for years. He is a Certified Apple and MacroMind Developer.

Taija Dilfer, Web designer, Illustrator, has worked with members of the Learning Friends Team since she was four years old, creating graphics for early Learning Company products. More recently she supported the Hewlett Foundation project, and creating the look and feel for many Learning Friends presentations over the years.

Iain McCaig, Graphical Illustration, has guided and supported Learning Friends for many years. He was principal artist for Star Wars: Episode One -- the Phantom Menace, and Star Wars: Episode Two. Iain designed characters, creatures and costumes under the direction of George Lucas.

Iain's design credits include Francis Ford Coppola's Pinocchio, Steven Spielberg's Hook, and ILM's first all-digital feature film Frankenstein. Iain has also worked on Bram Stoker's Dracula, Interview With a Vampire, Terminator II, Star Trek VI, Dinotopia and on children's programs from Sesame Street to The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. He has directed, designed and created animation for interactive games, and is currently creating a screenplay for a film based on Ursula K. Le Guin's "Wizard of Earthsea."

Frank Cirocco, Illustrator, founder and creative director of Lightsource Studios with Gary Winnick. Frank has worked extensively in the entertainment software and commercial art markets as an artist, production designer, art directors, game designer, writer and executive producer. At Learning Friends, Frank created the wonderful characters, Miranda Dragon, Zak and Rosie Raccoon and Humphrey T. Hummingbird for the Hewlett Foundation Project. He has worked for high-profile companies such as Lucasfilm Ltd., Atari, Spectrum-Holobyte, Rocket Science Games and Marvel Comics. Frank delivers exceptional results the first time.

Zsoka Barkacs, Lead Animator, has advised Learning Friends artistically since before incorporation. She created art for Half Moon Bay Farm, a National Science Foundation prototype, and advised the Hewlett Project. Zsoka has worked as a technical director and animator at PDI/DreamWorks and at major Hollywood production houses, such as Robert Abel & Associates, California Video Center (Subsidiary of Lorimar Studios, later of Time-Warner Inc.). Her credits include feature film (Shrek), various broadcast commercials, and television intros.

Early work experience engaged her mechanical engineering skills as a designer and a research scientist in Budapest, Hungary. She also was on the faculty at The Science University of Oran, Algeria, for two years.

Multimedia Production

Gordon Brown Director, Cinematographer, Adventure Filmmaker, created 6 National Emmy Award-winning shows, including travel time-lapse and adventure films for IMAX, including Journeys into Amazing Caves. Gordon shoots the perspective of breathtaking thrill rides, like being a tiny helicopter flying at high speeds through rooms and across landscapes. He has produced shows for the Disney Channel, Discovery Channel, Fox, ABC, CBS, NBC, National Geographic, Discovery, ESPn and the Outdoor Life Network. He won Best of Festival at Prague, Best White Water at Banff Film Festival, 2 Cine Gold Eagle Awards and many other awards.

Khris Brown, Voice Director, advised every step in selecting voice talent for characters and directed recording voices for Learning Friends' Pulse Math Project. Khris is a producer, casting director and director for DreamWorks, Sony, Fox, Lucasfilm, Warner Brothers, THQ, GT Interactive, and MTV in the last 3 years. Her accolades include the Motion Picture Sound Editors Award for the 20th Century Fox animated feature, “Titan A.E.” Khris did casting, directing and editing voice for Steven Spielberg’s “The Dig” and produced voice for every LucasArts game. Her film work includes Star Wars I and II, A.I. from DreamWorks, and many others.

Clint Bajakian, Composer, Sound Designer, composed the theme music, sound effects and recorded voice at his studio for Learning Friends' Miranda's Math. Clint’s experience at LucasArts Entertainment included composing and sound design supervision. He co-founded The Sound Department, offering state-of-the-art audio production services. Fluent in many musical genres including jazz, rock, world and electronica, Clint’s specialty is dramatic orchestral composition as heard in Outlaws, Indiana Jones, and Star Wars: TIE Fighter. Clint was the national recipient of the Academy of Arts and Sciences film music internship.

Field Testing

Tonia Wanacek, CSJP, Lead Field Testing, has been a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace for forty years. Her career has encompassed ministry in the field of Education for twenty-six of those years. During that time she has been a teacher, indo-Chinese tutor, reading specialist and Elementary school principal. Her career in education has been spent in urban, suburban and rural Washington State. Most of her religious life has been spent working with low income and multi-ethnic children. Sister also spent a number of years working in the inner city as finance director of a low-income residence for women in transition; in fund development for religious communities and low income housing. Currently she is Principal of St. Paul Cathedral School in Yakima, Washington. Her school was chosen as one of seven in the Diocese of Yakima to receive the first Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Grant to private schools.

Merle Bush, Field Testing, conducted field-testing with children at the Harlem Y for Learning Friends' Hewlett Foundation math project. Merle has composed high-quality typesetting for over 30 years. In 2000, she began educating youngsters from four years old through middle school in computer operations at the Harlem YMCA’s After School Program. Through her association with Tech Access educational/professional contacts were made, one of which led her to become the coach of The Y’s Wise Lego League Robotics Team—winners of the 2001 “Against All Odds” trophy. Merle Bush is currently working at the Vanderbilt YMCA’s Community Learning Center at Public School 183, where she serves to de-mystify computer terminology to promote cyber mastery.

Finance and Operations

Nancy Wolfberg, Organizational Development and Learning Design, conducted the developer workshop, designed the Child Model and contributed to research for Learning Friends' Hewlett Foundation Pulse Math Project, as well as advising the CEO about organizational development for many years. Nancy held key positions in marketing and sales at Sony and Wilson Learning Corp and at several startup companies. She helped launch the multimedia industry with Bob Metcalfe, building awareness for the Ethernet. Most recently she worked with entrepreneurs involved in start-ups and small businesses aspiring to the next level of growth.

Mike and Susan Blondell, Advisors on Company Vision, Mission and Goals, guided the progress of Learning Friends from its earliest days, checking in about key decisions, helping to clarify the goals, mission and vision, and troubleshooting before trouble came up. They listened well over the months and years, lending their expert experience and insight to the human dimension of the business, transforming the company at its core. Mike and Sue have been intimately involved with key managers while projects, funding options, moved the company forward, assuring that all in the company stayed true to the vision. We owe much of the company’s success to their expert guidance.

We are sorry to have lost Mike to an accident that took his life, but still cherish our time with Sue, though she is more involved now in other arts than business consulting. We offer our heartfelt thanks to both Mike and Sue for the role they played in launching Learning Friends.

Mark Sheppard, Financial Advisor, served as Chief Operating Officer, creating the original financial plans for the company and advising on venture capital investments. He has 21 years of strategic and tactical experience as a manager and consultant. He co-founded SilverPoint Partners, Ltd. after managing the information technology portfolio of a venture capital firm, Morningside Ventures. While at Morningside, Mark also served as Chief Operating Officer of the FamilyEducation Network (now a part of Learning Network). He received an M.B.A. in Information Systems and an A.M. in Public Policy Studies from the University of Chicago as well as a B.A. in American Studies from Yale University.


Susan Schilling, Education Marketing Advisor, is a Director at New Technology Foundation. Susan was formerly a General Manager at Lucas Learning Ltd. and a Senior Vice President of Development and Creative Director at MECC.


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