By Andrew Grauer
A sustainable economy requires that both the supply and demand sides benefit from a transaction. In education, we see so many inefficiencies between those supplying the knowledge and those consuming it. Teachers feel like they’re being underpaid and students feel like they are overpaying for the education they are receiving. This system is broken, presenting an opportunity to recalibrate and bring better equilibrium to the market. We’ve already seen the collaborative consumption business model transform industries from hospitality (Airbnb) to transportation (Lyft), and we believe that education is ripe for a similar disruption.
I founded the online education company Course Hero when I was a student at Cornell. I was frustrated that so much knowledge was bottled up in private hard drives and individual brains without a convenient, accessible forum to share and distribute this knowledge. At the same time, the student lifestyle—balancing homework, jobs and extracurricular activities—wasn’t necessarily conducive to accessing professors, tutors or other help they may need during designated office hours. I saw an opportunity to connect this bottled up knowledge with the students who needed it and create a better learning experience—one that benefits both the expert and the learner.
Digital services are ready for a business model change, which is why Course Hero is working to build an online “knowledge marketplace” where experts can make money sharing their expertise, and learners can consume that content when and where they need it. By incentivizing experts of all forms to interact with Course Hero’s existing user base of learners, the knowledge marketplace is able to scale while providing consistent, quality content that meets the demands of learners. Like the retired miner who signed up with Lyft to earn extra cash shuttling city-dwellers around San Francisco, Course Hero is empowering a new class of microentrepreneurs who are financially rewarded for sharing their knowledge on their own time in the form of courseware, documents and tutoring advice.
A knowledge marketplace can provide a powerful supplement to the traditional learning experience. For example, since professors, TAs and tutors have limited availability, we developed Course Hero’s online tutoring platform that invites students to ask questions, and experts to get paid for answering as many or as few student questions as they want. Office hours can be impossible to make, however an open tutoring platform ensures that an expert will be able to assist a student even at 2:00 am the night before a final — often when the student needs it most.
Unlike traditional tutoring sessions characterized by strict session schedules and high hourly rates, students and tutors also negotiate pricing for each interaction within the tutoring marketplace. This ensures that tutors feel adequately compensated for their services and students only pay what they are willing to pay. Lyft rides are donation based, with riders opting to pay the driver based on ride length and level of service. Similarly, our expert tutors are compensated based on student feedback and responsiveness.
This disrupts the formerly rigid 1:1 tutoring system, offering students an advantage by giving them access to a pool of tutors (instead of just relying on one) with the ability to ask questions whenever and wherever they need to. It also gives tutors ownership of the process including flexibility to answer as many or as few questions as they like at prices they are willing to accept.
Applying the sharing model to tutoring is just one step in our larger goal to make educational resources more affordable and readily available. We also recognize that our Course Hero platform can become another powerful distribution channel for people already selling their knowledge other places offline and/or online. With this in mind, we also opened up our courseware platform to allow experts to monetize courses delivered through its engaging, gamified Courses platform.
Learning is, of course, important from an altruistic point of view but with the knowledge marketplace, we’ll also be able to create the financial incentive to make learning sustainable. We look forward to providing experts with more opportunities and students with access to resources to help them learn more effectively.
ROBERT STEELE: I have been fully engaged as a substitute teacher recently, teaching everything from kindergarten to the twelfth grade, Spanish, English as a second language, and learning disabled (code for lazy or disinterested, not really special needs). I have not done special needs, and I have asked to be put into the prisons and alternative education programs (halfway houses, etcetera). My general impression about several weeks of full time substituting (not the same as long-term teaching which is vastly more demanding) are that Fairfax County is the absolute best at implementing the old system — the industrial era system optimized to specify exactly what will be taught every minute of every day in every grade while shuffling a mix of specialty teachers and training assistants in and out, some staying, some pulling selected kids out for 20 minutes of remediation or advanced whatever — but a major distraction. Innovation and improvisation are strictly forbidden. I have learned that I am not allowed to rearrange the desks, even for an honors civics class (putting them in the traditional circle), that “Santa” is a forbidden term because it has religious connotations, and that too many of the teachers are beaten down, the life sucked out of them by a system that micro-manages to the lowest common denominator–and they fear what they do not understand. This is a system that graduates students who believe we have two parties in the USA, rather than eight. This is a system where principals tend to have little interest in what the students want or feel, but are instead obsessed with micro-managing the teachers once removed from the students. What Fairfax County is doing is IMPRESSIVE in the sense of micro-management from the top down — and it is terribly UNIMPRESSIVE in terms of migrating out of the rote memorization world past the project learning world, and into the design-centric collective intelligence world. The children are learning at least 50% of their new-found knowledge from sources other than the school system — and the school system is not — as best I can tell as a marginal player — teaching them how to learn on their own, how to leverage the wealth of digital resources available to them, and so on. I want to stress that the system for placing substitutes is AMAZING. 5,000 vetted (FBI checked) substitutes, with 1,500 placed every day, and a 98% fill rate — the 2% short-fall is a mix of the special education and lower-paid teaching assistant (high school graduates) areas. Now imagine if this superb system — I cannot say enough good things about it or the people that make it work — were able to match up smaller groups of struggling children with devoted substitutes working with them after school in person or via video conference. Imagine if that in turn were nested inside of a larger system that had a five minute video for every possible problem (Kahn Academy on steroids), and stopped teaching by generic grade, and instead taught by subject level mastery… I strongly recommend substitute teaching to every retired professional — the children in their innocence and energy are uplifting, even at the high school level where two thirds of them are just floating down the river. We now know that we are graduating young adults from college who know about as much as the best of our high school graduates fifty years ago. Education, like intelligence and research, is broken. There are some truly extraordinary opportunities in the INTEGRATED domains of education, intelligence, research, when combined with Open Source Everything (OSE) and Multinational, Multiagency, Multidisciplinary, Multidomain Information-Sharing and Sense-Making (M4IS2). Imagine a class in which US kids help kids in Indonesia study the USA, and vice versa. We are at 10-15%, “at best” of our potential. The future is bright.