*That is, if you complete a “Learning Path” on entrepreneurship and pitch a winning idea. In partnership with Course Hero investor SV Angel, the company announced a quarterly award of $5,000 and the opportunity to pitch their business to SV Angel to one student entrepreneur.
But let’s put that into context. Course Hero is among the recent class of startups angling to disrupt education. Its take on the trend is through guided online courses, created from existing online sources. It might remind you a little of Boundless, only instead of replacing textbooks, Course Hero replaces the entire course.
CEO Andrew Grauer wouldn’t want me to say Course Hero’s aim is to kill colleges. Until the company launched its official course product last month, the site was just a study supplement and tutor matching service. Not to diminish that, the five-year-old company has been profitable for over a year.
The company’s real goal is far less inflammatory: Course Hero wants to make online learning free and awesome.
Grauer told me Course Hero was like Wikipedia for online courses, but I’d prefer to think, based mostly on the name, that it’s more like Guitar Hero for learning.
And like Guitar Hero, where masters of virtual rocking earn rewards in the form of better venues and bigger audiences, Course Hero also believes in rewarding its students. Here’s the first version of that: Each quarter, graduates from the company’s entrepreneurship learning path can submit business plans to a contest. Each quarter, Course Hero and SV Angel will award one winner with a $5,000 prize. What’s more, the winning entrepreneur-in-training will get to pitch their idea to SV Angel. Whether SV Angel actually invests is another thing entirely, but why not try? The deadline for the first contest is June 30.
This is a logical and, Course Hero hopes, desirable, reward for its students of its entrepreneurship path. Right now, Course Hero’s 22 courses are focused on business, entrepreneurship, and Web programming. The company will roll out another 20 courses in the coming months, expanding beyond its existing Silicon Valley themes into arts and sciences courses. It’ll be interesting to see how non-techie “normals” respond to the idea of free, open, online learning.
Thus far the tech crowd has responded enthusiastically. The site has had more than 100,000 visits a day totaling around 2.6 million visitors since launching last month, and around 5 percent of those convert into students.
Course Hero isn’t disruptive to education in a way that makes schools uncomfortable, Grauer says. On the contrary: “The openness from institutions to really buy into it has been huge,” he says. “The bottom half of education on the quality sale and the people who only have access to that will see their quality of education go way up,” he adds.
The idea is similar to the way Boundless uses existing material that’s freely available on the Web, but the execution is different. Course Hero uses humans to curate and edit its syllabi in the style of Wikipedia. Boundless uses robots mostly, because it’s focused on texts. (The company has study guides as well.)
And unlike Boundless, which basically replaces textbooks, Course Hero isn’t trying to replace colleges. It’s more designed for instances where you didn’t have a great teacher on a certain subject, or you want to see a different way to learn something, or you didn’t get to take a certain course in school or you want to invest some time into professional development beyond college. “Eventually we’ll partner with Fortune 500 companies to offer premium versions of these courses,” he says. Then, Course Hero will look at free online courses for grades K-12.
On the Web development front, Course Hero has lots of competition. Startups like Hacker School, Codeacademy, Code Academy, Bloc, Processing, etc. all offer their own flavors of computer geekery courses. And the college disruption thing isn’t uncharted territory, either. Online schools like The Minerva Project are attempting to redefine the shady factor online learning has earned thanks to schools like University of Phoenix. It’s crowded, but Course Hero has it’s own (and very importantly, free) spin on the rising tide.
Course Hero has raised $2.38 million from SV Angel, as well as Jeff Fluhr, Maveron, Steve Chen, Fred Grauer, and Nils Johnson.