While a student at Cornell, Andrew Grauer attended lectures from some of the top professors in country. Throughout his four years, Andrew realized that while they certainly made their subjects come alive, a key component of his college education happened outside the classroom, learning with his peers. Andrew founded Course Hero in January 2008 while still a student at Cornell University with the help of his brothers, David and Jared. Course Hero is an open educational environment that enables students and teachers of all ages to share and access high quality learning resources in a wide variety of subjects.
Andrew: Whether through official study groups or just casually catching up after class, my peers helped me achieve a multifaceted understanding of the lecture material that I couldn’t achieve on my own. By providing alternative perspectives, my peers consistently challenged me to approach and think about a topic differently. And it wasn’t just my peers at Cornell.
Victor: What do you mean—who else?
Andrew: Conversations with my friends from other schools who were studying the same subjects helped me to deepen my understanding of what I was learning in class. Even just hearing how their professor presented the same lesson in another way made a huge difference.
Victor: So universities are no longer as exclusive?
Andrew: Course Hero was born from the desire to make connecting with other students easier and expand that collaborative learning experience more broadly, across universities. We are a generation of students living and breathing on the Internet, so we developed a technology platform that would bring together students and teachers from any school to learn in an open global environment.
Victor: What does it do—could you describe some specific benefits?
Andrew: Course Hero is the digital analog of the long-standing tradition of students helping students to learn, and is a breakthrough in open access to knowledge. Course Hero hosts a vast collection of high quality learning resources, so whether you want to become an expert in macroeconomics or are interested in learning more about Abstract Expressionism, Course Hero can provide you with the materials you need to achieve your goals. Course Hero is about giving students an opportunity to achieve deep and powerful understanding of topics on hand.
Victor: What is your philosophy of learning?
Andrew: We recognize that learning is not about just getting answers, it’s about exploring various points of view and finding new ways to approach a topic. While we’re focused on delivering the most relevant, highest quality content for a particular student inquiry, we’ve built a system that also recommends other related pieces of content to engage the user and further the inquiry process. Course Hero allows learners to access educational content generated by students and educators both in their own school’s courses as well as any other school’s courses.
Victor: What makes Course Hero unique—aren’t there plenty of other companies out there in the same market?
Andrew: Course Hero is the only place students can come to learn from and with other students and educators across institutions. When using Course Hero, students have access to more than 6,500,000 learning resources that have been shared by students from hundreds of colleges and universities across the country. This comprehensive set of materials includes study guides, lecture notes, video lectures, practice exams and assignments as well as 24/7 access to tutors.
There are a lot of online study aids out there, but what really sets Course Hero apart is not only the breadth of our library of study resources (we have over 6.5 million learning materials), but also our focus on developing our recommendations engine to help our users go above and beyond just performance focused learning and achieve mastery of the material.
Victor: Why can’t someone studying for a test simply get their information somewhere else?
Andrew: Crammers can really use any site out there to get the information they need to pass a test, but we have built our site for users who really want to achieve deep, long-term understanding.
Victor: How much does it cost and what are some options?
Andrew: Course Hero has multiple membership options. Basic membership is 100% free. Premier membership is free to anyone who contributes a minimum number quality learning materials. Premier membership is also available to anyone for a paid subscription—our goal was to create a tool that would provide high quality learning resources to and offer it a price that was less than the cost of a single textbook.
Victor: What are some examples of it in action?
Andrew: We constantly receive positive feedback from students telling us how Course Hero’s library of learning materials proved to be invaluable in helping them do their best in their courses. I am probably most blown away by the number of older college graduates that I talk to who tell me how much they wish they had had something like Course Hero when they were in school.
Victor: What exactly are they saying?
Andrew: They offer simple reasons like, “I wish I had access to practice exams or study guides or notes.” Or “I didn’t know anyone in a lot of my courses, so I found it difficult to meet and study with classmates–Course Hero would have helped connect me with other students and helpful learning materials.”
Other reasons that also really stood out to me were, “I wish I had that extra support for the classes in which I couldn’t understand my professor or teacher assistant because of their pedagogical style or even lack or English language fluency.”
Victor: Who is it particularly tailored for? Who is it not for?
Andrew: Course Hero is currently optimized for post secondary education, university level specifically, although we hope to expand to K-12 and continuing education in the future
Victor: What are your thoughts on education these days?
Andrew: I think we’re entering into a really exciting time for education. It’s no secret that while technology has continually transformed and enhanced many industries, education has traditionally been an incredibly slow adopter of technology. However, the recent economic crisis has had a devastating impact on education budgets, which means that institutions will be looking for innovative technologies that will revolutionize the industry and enable the delivery of high quality education to a wide audience at a fraction of the cost.
Business to consumer to websites have started to gain significant traction and funding in the education space, where it’s always been B2B, enterprise sales focused companies before that were successful, like Blackboard. With the explosion of new, better, lower cost (many thanks to open source projects and communities) technology has lowered the cost of capital required to launch a consumer web company and enabled startups to also rev on sweet new ideas in the education space.
Victor: Your five-year outlook?
Andrew: I am hugely optimistic about the impact technology will have on education in the next five years.
Victor: How does Course Hero address some of your current concerns about education?
Andrew: One of my biggest concerns right now is our teacher situation here in the U.S.—teachers are grossly underpaid and underappreciated, so there’s no incentive for the smartest people to pursue careers in education. At Course Hero, we’re working on developing technology that will help top tier educators share their expertise with the world and gain the recognition they deserve. Stay tuned for that!
Victor: What is your outlook, more generally, on the future of education?
Andrew: Technology will be a driving force in transforming the future of education for the better. With the breadth of information available online, I see focus shifting away from standardized institutional education towards more customized learning experiences.
Victor: Any particularly influential model that has helped to shape your thoughts?
One of my favorite metaphors comes from Salman Khan, creator of the Khan Academy, who talks about the “Swiss Cheese Gaps” in student’s education. What the Khan Academy does with its bite-sized video lectures is give students tools to study and review content that they struggle with as many times as needed until they feel like they have filled those “gaps” and have a solid grasp on the concept. The future of education will revolve around students tailoring their learning experiences to meet their individual needs by compiling the highest quality content from a variety of sources, from both educators and students.
Victor: What else do you see in the near future?
Andrew: I think we’ll see both adaptive learning and modular learning really take off in addition to an explosion in educational games, especially at the K-12 levels. Like Khan, I think we’ll eventually see class lectures replaced by smaller, more digestible pieces of video content that are viewable and reviewable at the discretion of students. Class time would then be used for more collaborative exercises, discussions, etc. that leverage the convergence of students and teachers in one place.
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