It’s already been a busy 2012 for Andrew Grauer (pictured, right). His company, Course Hero, kicked off the year with a relaunch of their Flashcards app, featuring a bold new redesign and the addition of Optimal Learn proprietary technology to help a student master any flashcard set by a given deadline. Just last month, they announced the launch of 22 free full-length courses, the latest addition to the Course Hero suite of educational resources. Have a look at a previous interview we did with Andrew if you haven’t already, and catch up with him here on how his company is moving out of a one-dimensional moving-courses-to-the-web approach and on to a greater mission of disrupting traditional learning to offer dynamic new ways to understand the world around us.
Victor: There are already a lot of institutions, companies and even individuals providing online courses: MIT OpenCourseware, Udacity, Coursera, Khan Academy to name a few. Why did Course Hero see an opportunity to make Courses now?
Andrew: There is a tremendous amount of quality educational resources out there and everyday companies, individuals and institutions are making amazing strides in developing better, more dynamic content. MIT and Khan Academy are doing great work, but we saw an opportunity to develop a more scalable solution to meet the growing demand for quality, open education.
Because many of these companies create their own unique content, one of the biggest challenges that they will face is scalability. Course Hero set out to find a more efficient way to deliver high quality courseware, and we saw a tremendous opportunity in curation, gamification and crowdsourcing.
Victor: What exactly are Course Hero Courses? How are they different from other online courses?
Andrew: For the initial launch, the Course Hero team created 22 full-length courses in Entrepreneurship, Business and Web Programming. Unlike traditional online courses which typically take the classroom experience and put it online, Course Hero recognized that there is a wealth of high quality educational content already available online, but the Internet’s lack of structure makes it difficult for a self-motivated individual to learn that material efficiently. Course Hero basically built an infrastructure that allowed us to take the best pieces of free content and arrange them into a format that allowed users to not only review the content, but assess their understanding and then be rewarded for their accomplishments.
Victor: How did Course Hero build its courses?
Andrew: To build our first round of Courses, each Course Hero team member was charged with creating a course. Each curator began by immersing themselves in the subject, really looking at the content from the perspective of a do-it-yourself learner. They reviewed hours of free content from a range of experts and moved from concept to concept determining the best learning path to construct. They then selected the best pieces of free content—the most inspiring lectures, clearest articles, or expert papers, whittled them down into manageable concepts, assembled the concepts into chapters, and chapters into full-length courses. To keep users engaged, we integrated assessments at every concept and chapter level to test how well learners understood the material, and each course culminates in a final exam. We also layered in our social badging framework to reward students at key milestones and encourage them to continue progressing through the course.
To ensure that its Courses feature the best, most relevant content, we also invite users to suggest improvements to current Courses at the concept, chapter and assessment level or request new Courses for future development. This crowdsourced approach allows us to easily uphold the quality of our Courses while always building courses that match exactly what our users want to learn.
Victor: How did Course Hero select which subjects to focus on? Why are these particular three paths significant?
Andrew: For our first round of Courses, we wanted to focus on subjects that would help our current students give themselves an edge. With Entrepreneurship, Business and Web Programming courses, we’re providing opportunities for students to attain tangible skills that they can add to their resume or directly apply in a job setting.
We also wanted to take it a step further and offer our top students real world rewards for completing each learning path. Course Hero will be offering these top students the opportunity to enter a business plan competition for a pitch meeting with SV Angel and a $5,000 prize or the chance to land a job at Course Hero.
Getting an education is about more than just getting a piece of paper that says you completed a bunch of requirements. At Course Hero, we want to provide interested learners with not only the chance to gain the valuable skills they need to succeed beyond the classroom, but also the chance to apply them and prove their mastery. We believe that this model affords significant opportunities for success in the long run.
Victor: What does adding Courses mean for Course Hero as a company?
Andrew: Courses are an awesome milestone for Course Hero. Initially, we focused on providing tools that helped make the current learning system more efficient: whether by providing access to study documents, expert tutors or a digital flashcards app, Course Hero’s resources improved the current study process for students who were already enrolled at an institution. Courses, however, are Course Hero’s first foray into providing a new kind of learning experience, opening up the opportunity to learn to anyone who wants to participate, regardless of whether they’re a current student or just a passionate life long learner.
We now see Course Hero as a place where people go to learn something from A to Z—not just get supplemental help with what they are currently learning in school. As we add more Courses and continue to expand our product offering, I think we’ll see Course Hero evolve into a really dynamic learning ecosystem, and we’re really excited about that.
Victor: Why are Course Hero Courses disruptive? What are the implications for education technology and online courseware moving forward?
Andrew: Traditional courses were amazingly disruptive, opening up the classroom to anyone with an Internet connection. But they were still just the classroom experience via your computer—one professor giving a lecture to a group of students. With Courses, however, we’ve taken the next step and instead of improving the current learning process that is centered around the classroom model, we have created a new way to learn.
With curated, crowd-sourced courses, we’ve acknowledged two key points: 1) that great educational content is already freely available and 2) that subject matter experts take all forms (not just professors). The classroom is great and there is no substitute for 1:1 interaction, but the classroom model isn’t necessarily right—or available—to everyone. Course Hero is opening up another way to learn that is dynamic, scalable and engaging, making quality education accessible to anyone who wants it.
Victor: Got any interesting anecdotes?
Andrew: I think one of the greatest things about Courses has been the feedback we’re received. We initially integrated the option for users to give feedback as a way for us to get a sense of what wasn’t working and what we could improve. One of the most surprising things, for me at least, is that people have used this feedback channel to tell us how excited they are about taking our courses. One user wrote in to clarify a few points about how he could include his course accomplishments on his CV as he was considering “leaving his current time-killing job” and starting to intensively go through the courses. We knew we had delivered a great product, but we just never anticipated how enthusiastic the community would be about it.
Victor: Why are you optimistic about the future of education?
Andrew: Like we’ve talked about before, technology will be a driving force in transforming the future of education for the better. Not only is technology enabling more people to be students by making great educational content readily accessible online, we’re seeing customized learning experiences that enable any kind of learner succeed at mastering material.
I’m also excited about how technology is providing alternative, more affordable ways to learn and demonstrate your knowledge instead of getting a degree or certificate. College is wildly expensive, and while it is an incredibly valuable educational experience, it is not the answer for everyone nor does it prepare you with everything you need to know in life.
Education technology—especially the online courses—can be molded to fit the needs of any kind of learner, from supplementing the college students’ current course load to providing an entire digital curriculum for the DIY learner. Digital assessments embedded within online courses can track how the student interacts with the material and give the student real-time feedback on their progress. This is incredibly powerful. As more courseware providers integrate these assessment tools and we see increased enrollment, inevitably we’ll see certificates from these providers becoming more widely accepted as education credentials. That’s really exciting.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org