Monday, 2 September 2013

Meet the edtech entrepreneurs - An interview with Alison Johnston Rue

What do you do you’re alone in front of your computer, struggling with the concepts of a difficult MOOC? Wade through the forums? A company believes it has a better solution (albeit at a cost).
The Good MOOC interviews InstaEDU CEO and cofounder +Alison Johnston Rue.

  • Can you introduce yourself?

I grew up in Portland, OR and both my parents were teachers, so education was always a primary focus. I moved down to Silicon Valley to study at Stanford, and quickly got involved in the startup scene. After working at a handful of startups (Box, Aardvak, Nextdoor), as well as Google, I felt ready to start my own company. My brother Dan and I initially started an in-home tutoring company as a side project, and while that was successful, we realized how much more could be done in the tutoring space by leveraging technology. At the end of 2011, we started working on InstaEDU.

InstaEDU makes it super simple for any student to get great academic support at any time. We have over 3,000 experienced tutors who students can connect with at a moment's notice -- 24/7. Our online learning space (complete with video chat and lots of collaboration tools) makes working together online as efficient and effective as learning in person.

  • Who is using InstaEDU and for what purpose?

We see a wide variety of use cases on InstaEDU. We have a strong base of high school and college students, as well as adult learners, including MOOC students. InstaEDU is actually a really naturally complement to MOOCs -- they're making great academic content easily accessible, and we're making great academic conversations easily accessible. If MOOCs are the lectures, InstaEDU is the TA and study group.

  • Can you be more specific as to what kind of help people taking MOOCs required from your tutors?

When you're taking a MOOC, one of the biggest things that's lacking is the ability to stop and ask questions. In a live lecture, you can raise your hand or talk with at classmate after class. We see students coming to InstaEDU from MOOCs because they're struggling with a certain part of the material and want to talk through it.

  • Can you explain your business model?

Students pay an hourly rate to work with InstaEDU tutors (prorated by the minute). Prices range from $24-45/hour, depending on how much tutoring the student is interested in. Tutors all make $20/hour.

  • How do you see higher education going in the future?

I don't see MOOCs replacing traditional higher education any time soon, but I think they will start to replace alternative forms of education. For example, I think for-profit universities really need to step up their game, or they'll lose their customers.
While I'm very optimistic about the potential, even MOOCs have a long ways to go. The lecture is just one part of the academic experience. In order to be successful, MOOCs will need to develop the tools to promote accountability, structure and student support systems.

  • Have you taken MOOCs yourself?

I have not yet taken a structured MOOC, but I plan to soon. My go-to learning strategy as of late has been to read up on things I'd like to know, then connect with a tutor on InstaEDU to clarify any questions.

  • What's your opinion on the recent initiative from Google (Helpouts)?

We're very excited about it. Online video chat is finally reaching a point where it can effectively parallel in-person interactions in a lot of ways -- especially when paired with other collaboration tools. GoogleHelpouts aren't directly competitive to us and will only help further show how effective these platforms can be.

  • What's your plan with your series A funding?

Scale, scale, scale. We used our seed round to learn from our early customers, build out our core feature set, and establish product/market fit. Now we're excited to use this funding to scale to new platforms (e.g. mobile), scale to new markets, scale our customer acquisition, and scale our team to support those initiatives. We also have some great features coming up to make the experience on InstaEDU even more magical. Stay tuned...

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