Evolving Something Big

A leading tutoring service greatly expands student and educator online tools.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

Chuck Cohn of VarsityTutorsCommitted to working closely with students and their families to provide customized, one-on-one tutoring instruction that helps students achieve their academic goals, Varsity Tutors has experienced directors who begin by assessing every student’s needs, selecting a tutor that is the best fit for each individual student, and monitoring students’ progress over time. Their elite group of tutors brings a wealth of experience in their individual fields of academic expertise to their students. They individualize students’ lessons and present materials and concepts in engaging, easy-to-understand ways that keep students motivated and on the road to success. With a comprehensive collection of assessment software and tens of thousands of free practice questions, another facet of Varsity Tutors is Varsity Learning Tools, which also includes digital flashcards, and questions-of-the-day for all academic subjects and standardized tests of all levels. Visitors to the site have free access to all of these practice questions in any of these various forms. Users also have the option of creating an account where they can save all of their score results in order to keep track of their progress. Creating an account also gives them the ability to create tests using both their own content or Varsity Tutors’ and share them with their students or classmates. “That last feature is particularly useful to teachers making Varsity Learning Tools a powerful classroom assessment tool,” says CEO Chuck Cohn (pictured). Teachers can create customized tests, invite their students to take them, and then monitor the students’ progress over time. All score results pages offer extensive data analysis as well, including percentile rankings, recorded time spent per question, answer explanations, and more. Here, Chuck discusses more about the purpose behind his company and future plans.

Victor: Let’s talk about the Learning Tools first – what made you want to create such a resource?

Chuck: We saw a great need for this type of resource – an easy-to-use system of endless practice material for students to use at absolutely no cost. In addition to providing excellent tutoring services, we believe that quick and convenient study methods, such as this, should be available to all students. Historically, you have had to purchase test prep books at great expense. Now you can get all the content for free from Varsity Learning Tools. It is an effective way to aid self-studying and ensure that students are able to review any and all areas of material in a variety of efficient ways. All other resources similar to ours are currently nowhere near as comprehensive and/or require students or teachers to pay for access. We saw an opportunity to make this kind of platform available for free.

Victor: How do you see this impacting the edtech industry?

Chuck: I think this is truly going to revolutionize the practice test field of edtech. Since it is so unlike anything that is currently out there, I expect it to be very “sticky” and receive high repeat usage rates. Many teachers are already incorporating our Question-of-the-Day feature into their classes’ morning routines and assigning sets of practice problems as homework. I see Varsity Learning Tools seeing widespread adoption in classes where teachers want students actively working on practice problems.

Victor: How does the resource benefit both teachers and students?

CREDIT Varsity TutorsChuck: Students benefit from the resource in that they can study for the test or subject of their choice in any fashion they desire, meaning they can sit and take several tests, peruse a few flashcards, or simply check on the Question of the Day each morning. Teachers benefit from the resource in that it allows them to assess their students’ learning in an incredibly more convenient way than ever before. The grading software is first-rate, the user-interface is best-in-class, and the free content makes it highly convenient and useful. It can be used on both desktop and mobile devices, making it possible for them to review and manage their classes’ assignments wherever they may be – at home or on the go. All the tools and content are completely free and thousands of new questions will be added every month. A year from now we’ll have at least 10x as much content.

Victor: What differentiates Varsity Learning Tools from its competitors?

Chuck: This is the only practice test tool out there that offers such a limitless number of questions, extremely detailed scoring analyses, and the opportunity to produce your own tests and monitor progress over time – all with a cutting-edge user interface. We think our tools and content are better than all the paid services. The existing free resources, while heavily utilized, are severely lacking in terms of both usability and content. We think this is a unique option being added to the field.

Victor: What kind of growth can we expect to see from Varsity Learning Tools?

Chuck: We are set to have approximately 5,000 new practice problems added every month. With the large team of professionals we have creating new questions every day, Varsity Learning Tools is experiencing and will continue to experience a high rate of adoption, particularly among educators seeking free high-quality content and powerful classroom assessment tools. It will very soon have the largest volume of professionally created practice material on the Internet.

Victor: What are your main goals in the launch and execution of Varsity Learning Tools?

CREDIT Varsity Tutors imageChuck: Our main goals are to be a prominent element of teachers’ lesson plans and students’ study strategies, and to offer the most material for all common tests and subjects of any online practice test resource out there.

Victor: What are your thoughts on education in general these days?

Chuck: I think it is clear that we are heading in a direction that is very technology-centric, and it would be a grave mistake to ignore that fact. Today’s students have technology integrated into every aspect of their lives, so it only makes sense to build technology that meets their needs and expectations.

Victor: What does the future look like in terms of growth in this sector from your view? What indicators make you say that?

Chuck: I believe that the vast majority of edtech companies will struggle and ultimately not generate the returns that investors suspect. We’re building tools and content that benefit our core business – our clients and tutors are welcome to use our platform but we’re opening it up to the entire world, too. Edtech companies that are directly reliant on the long sales cycles of K-12 school districts will often struggle. A few, though, will figure out the model and build huge companies. Regardless of whether or not many of these new edtech companies succeed financially, the technology will significantly enhance how students learn. Teachers will be more efficient and students will – eventually – be more engaged, thanks to the technology innovations that are happening.

Victor: Anything else you want to add or emphasize regarding this market?

Chuck: From our perspective, this platform will evolve and improve as we receive real-world feedback from educators. I hope that users of our site feel comfortable letting us know what they want us to improve. If they let us know, we’ll build it!

Victor Rivero is the Editor in Chief of EdTech Digest. Are you an edtech leader, trendsetter, or the creator of a cool edtech tool? The 2014 EdTech Digest Awards extended entry period runs until October 18, 2013. There is still time to enter. For full details, write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

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