Adrian started Study.com in 2002. Read how the trends in online education have impacted the evolution of a very interesting business. Excellent story.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start by introducing our audience to Study.com. What do you do? Where is the company located?
Adrian Ridner: What we try to do is develop the simplest way to learn. We’ve created over 20,000 short, animated video lessons. We’ve organized them all in courses covering major subject areas, all the way from elementary school to college. We’re currently helping over 25 million students and teachers every month to improve their grades and even earn low-cost college credit. We’re located in Mountain View, California and have been bootstrapped since 2002.
Sramana Mitra: How does what you do fit into the context of all the other things that are happening in the online education segment, especially K-12 and college? For example, how does what you offer compare with Khan Academy?
Adrian Ridner: That’s a great question. I think there are a couple of trends that we line up with. One is in the area of personalized and adaptive learning. One of the things that we’re looking to do is provide students and teachers access to micro-learning. Our lessons are animated that are five to six minutes long. We get all of the data about each lesson and the student including what they watched, as well as their scores and exams. Looking at that data, we can develop algorithms that let us know what kind of questions they can skip and which ones they should go back to and reinforce.
From that perspective, we’re aligned with that trend. We focus on older demographics. Middle school, high school, and college is where we started. Khan Academy usually caters to a younger audience. It’s a similar idea from that perspective in the sense that they do video learning. One of the things that we’re looking at is taking advantage of instructors across the country. One of the ways we were able to scale is by finding the best instructors for any given subject area in the US and pairing them up with the best video animators and creating a library. We built that technology to allow for that collaboration.
We’re able to develop that in a distributed fashion, which was a big competitive advantage. A couple of other trends that I think we’re definitely very aligned with are competency-based education and trying to understand that in the current learning environment, demonstrating skill and mastery, instead of time spent in the classroom is a better metric, especially at the college level. The last one is really thinking about reimagining higher education and skills training. The average college student is no longer 18 years old and living on campus.
A lot of them are adults juggling school and family. For many adult students, the economic and logistical challenges of earning a degree is truly overwhelming. Being able to provide a different, yet traditional, college experience that is affordable and not intimidating is definitely a key trend that both companies and the government seem to be tapping into at this point.
Sramana Mitra: Did I hear it right that your pool of content is produced by a community of authors, teachers, and educators, or is it all produced in-house?
Adrian Ridner: We own and we pay for all of the courses and the lessons, but it is created in a distributed fashion by a community of instructors and educators. They are compensated for their hard work and are located across the United States.
Sramana Mitra: What is the compensation model? Do you actually commission courses that you pay them to develop or is there some sort of a royalty sharing type of model that you’re using?
Adrian Ridner: We commission. I know another trend on the other side includes educators contributing, then getting paid only if students sign up for their course. We take a different approach. We look at things that we believe makes sense to add to our platform that we want to generate. Then we commission those courses and those lessons. We pay for them in advance. We’re essentially taking the risk. If no one watches them or subscribes, that’s on us at that point.