The co-founder of a leading online learning platform shares his winning approach.
INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero
Andrew Grauer co-founded Course Hero in 2006 while attending Cornell University. For nearly 14 years, he has led Course Hero’s vision, mission, strategy, values, and culture. In his spare time, Andrew enjoys tennis, cycling, hiking, and squash. And most importantly, he thrives on making memories with his family and friends through food, activities, travel, music, and experiences. Andrew holds a BA in Spanish from Cornell University. His favorite book is The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, as you might understand from the picture below. Fresh off a win from The EdTech Awards 2019 and hosting a successful and inspirational Education Summit (“We are building what we wish we’d had when we were teaching”), Andrew talks about core values, company culture, room for improvement, and what education is really all about.
First off, a very big congratulations to Course Hero on winning the Cool Tool Award for “Best Product or Service of 2019” as part of The EdTech Awards from EdTech Digest! And congratulations to you on earning an EdTech Leadership Award in the Founder/CEO category—and in the company of some of edtech’s best and brightest leaders. What do these awards mean to you and your team?
Two of our core values are to be customer-focused and to always be learning. Our recent recognition from EdTech Digest is a testament to the team’s commitment to living those values daily. It is only by understanding the needs of our students and our educators that we can achieve recognition like this one. We focus on the things we to better serve our community in the ever-changing landscape of education.
As for the leadership award: any leader is only as good as their team. I am awed and humbled by mine every single day.
I think the assumption is that Course Hero is for students, but your investment in the Summit and your Woodrow Wilson fellowship certainly tell a different story. Can you tell me more about how you support educators?
Students and educators are two sides of the same coin. Yes, the platform began in service of students. But we realized that we couldn’t truly be a learning destination without the cooperation and input of educators. We see them as our partners and have been increasingly investing in this audience in recent years.
Our educator platform helps educators locate teaching materials–like syllabi, find assessments and gain recognition. They can access millions of Course Hero resources contributed by students and other educators around the globe, free of charge. We are encouraging and facilitating virtual collaboration to boost productivity among academics, in a way that I don’t believe is being done elsewhere.
What feedback have you taken into account from students and educators to better the platform?
We take student feedback very seriously and are dedicated to improving our platform based on that input. We have heard that students don’t just want an answer; they want to understand how so that they are prepared when they get to an exam. It’s why we are focusing on working with educators to develop in-depth explanations for students’ toughest questions.
Noting your recent Best Workplace win, how is your organization providing a positive company culture?
At Course Hero, we take action daily to ensure that our staff is engaged. We value our people and their potential, and the Best Workplace win is a recognition of this dedication. We also provide a strong company culture for our employees through team-building activities, training, and by honoring diversity. We recently partnered with Silicon Valley Recruiters Association and hosted a panel event at our offices on talent diversity in the Bay Area, which was greatly appreciated by our teams internally. It’s something about which they and I feel very strongly.
What’s one thing about your company that you wish educators understood?
We are a learning destination. Course Hero believes in the infinite potential of every individual when they are empowered by knowledge. Our goal is to help students graduate, confident and prepared. We’re not a platform that allows students to find the easy way out of their coursework. This is a common misconception among some educators, which we hope to correct as we grow and invest more in our educator program, in years to come.
It appears we may be facing a ‘graduation epidemic’ with more students than ever failing to complete their degrees. Why is this and how does your company help?
Bringing educators and students together with a common purpose, to reach a common goal, is the core of what we do, and is how we’re helping to fight the graduation epidemic. We are identifying, recognizing, amplifying and celebrating great educators and great learning by providing teaching resources, to help bring the best lessons to every student, no matter where they are, to help boost graduation rates. When we support educators in their efforts to engage students, we are helping students be successful.
What are your thoughts on the state of education today, more generally?
Understanding different learning styles is key to finding success in all levels of education today. At Course Hero, we know that today’s students have different needs than students from previous generations. That’s why our product is available 24/7, 365 days a year. We’re here when the learning center isn’t open, when students can’t meet for a study group, and when they’re terrified to go to a professor’s office.
Through using technology innovation we can enable active learning. Whether it’s by flipping the classroom or developing a multimedia presentation for an accounting class, technology can make learning much more interesting. Technology also makes critical course support material available to more students. Finally, it allows us to bring great teachers and their best lessons to more students–and educators–than ever before.
Back to the Summit now, what was the biggest takeaway from the 2019 Summit for those not in attendance?
Whether you teach accounting, biology, or anthropology, a commitment to active learning requires you work really to keep your material fresh and find new ways to engage with students. This can be a challenge, which is why educators can—and should—lean on each other to find novel teaching techniques and ways to help students be active participants in their education. We are here to provide a platform for this kind of collaboration.
How has the Summit grown over the last few years?
Our Summit has evolved from a half-day meeting to a two-day collaborative invitation-only conference, with keynotes from education industry leaders such as Michio Kaku and Cathy N. Davidson. My personal hope is that it continues to grow and evolve, to embrace more educators, and facilitate discussions about the issues that are most important to them.
Why did you select the theme of futurism?
Simply because education is all about the future, and we have to be forward-looking if we are to improve the learning—and teaching—experience not just for next year’s graduates, but for those graduating in five or ten years’ time.
Looking forward, anything on the horizon you’d like to share?
We’ve conducted some really interesting research into students’ study habits and will be releasing the findings in the fall. We can’t share much more than that yet, but you and your readers should be on the lookout for it.
Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: [email protected]