I USED TO WORK in software engineering at Khan Academy. Khan Academy has this big mission of a free world class education for anyone, anywhere. It does that through an asynchronous format of videos and exercises at your own pace. We had always wondered whether we could provide that same free, high-quality, world-class education through a live synchronous format, something even higher touch; humans interacting with each other, such as mentoring and/or tutoring. We know tutoring is highly effective, but it’s often very costly and hard to scale.
A lot of people hear ‘personalized learning,’ and they think of learning in front of a computer with no humans there, but personalized done right should be personal.”
It wasn’t until a month or so into the pandemic that the need for this really became clear. Unfortunately, students were already grade levels behind pre-pandemic, but the pandemic put them even further behind because of all the lost learning. The pandemic really exposed the issues of the education system. It’s kind of like a tide went out and left all the issues that had previously been there on the shore.
But there was also this norm change in how students thought about things. Five years ago, it would’ve been weird for a group of high schoolers from around the world to get onto a Skype call and learn from one another. The pandemic changed that. Now we have people getting on Zoom calls together, learning from one another. So, we saw the potential for a free, peer-to-peer tutoring platform that could connect people from around the world.
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That’s why we created Schoolhouse. Right now, Schoolhouse is focused on high school math and test prep. We have folks from 160 countries offering different types of tutoring. Some tutoring is one-on-one, and some is in small groups. We also have one-off tutoring and other tutoring that’s more sustained, where people meet for months together in the same cohort. And it all happens in a Zoom room.
It’s kind of like a free marketplace where learners can come in and say, “I need help on this particular topic.” Then, they can see the different times and tutors that are available and pick from them. If they like a tutor, they can follow that tutor and attend future sessions of theirs.
There’s been an explosion of tutoring within the education system, but it’s still really hard to scale these things. Making something free is not enough to make it accessible. You have to make sure that folks from low-income families, folks who are struggling the most, know about these resources. A lot of people hear something is free and they worry about the quality of it. So, only half the battle is making something free, high-quality, and scalable. The other half is to make sure that those who can benefit the most from it hear about it, know how to use it, and can really leverage it.
I think a lot of people hear “personalized learning,” and they think of learning in front of a computer with no humans there, but personalized done right should be personal. To do this personal approach well means to have high touch human support in each person’s life. That’s why we’re so bullish on tutoring, because we think that having a human in each person’s life, helping them, supporting them both with the material but also emotionally, is super important. That is the ultimate way to get to personal and personalized learning.