Like I’m sure is true for most people the past couple of weeks, midterm season has hit me hard. My days are filled with long nights in the library, lots of outlines, and multiple new Quizlet sets.
However, on Saturday, October 21st, I took some time out to attend Harvard’s 8th Annual Igniting Innovation Summit on Social Entrepreneurship. It is the largest undergraduate-run conference on social innovation in the country featuring leading innovators, educators, and entrepreneurs discussing how business can have a positive impact and how technology is enabling them to do so.
To my surprise, one of the keynote speakers was Matthew Glotzbach, the current CEO of Quizlet, a program with which I am becoming all too familiar! Before working for Quizlet, Glotzbach was the Vice President of product management at YouTube responsible mainly for Youtube’s Subscription and Music business. He also previously led the Apps and Enterprise product divisions within Google, launching Google Apps in 2007. Glotzbach has had a hand in many revolutionary technology companies and Quizlet is the latest. It was so cool to be in the same room as this influential man in tech!
The Story of Quizlet
For those of you that may not know, Quizlet is an online learning tool originally developed in 2005 by Andrew Sutherland to help him study for a high school French vocabulary quiz. The original model was a version of digital flashcards to help reinforce material and help students memorize terms and definitions. Since its founding, Quizlet has improved and expanded, with a mission to “help people practice and master whatever they are trying to learn.”
The Unbundled Era
Glotzbach talked about how the education industry has entered what he called “The Unbundled Era” because of technology. This has the following impacts on how consumers learn best and what kind of information and services they demand from companies like Quizlet:
- Content– consumers now want all information in bite-sized, atomic pieces
- Institution– traditional hierarchical institutions are being replaced with direct-to-user options
- Time– while users crave quick convenience there is also the expectation of ongoing and continuous contact/exposure
- Credential– mastery of specific skills (micro-credentials)
This last part was particularly interesting to me. Glotzbach talks about how 4 years of college now prepares us for the next 2 years or so of life. That’s how fast technology and the world is changing. It’s like Prof. Kane said at the beginning of the semester- by the time we learn about the current platforms for social media and newest innovations, they will already have changed. It’s the skills of analyzing, strategizing, and looking to the future that will most benefit us as we move into the business world.
Quizlet as a Form of Social Media
Quizlet is the 23rd largest website in the United States. In fact, it has 20 million monthly learners from 130 countries participating in over 2 billion study sessions. This platform can be seen as a form of social media with an educational focus. These users come together in a collaborative environment where they produce content (150 million study sets), share ideas, and collaborate. Quizlet stands by the idea that creative leaders don’t have all the great ideas, but they create an encouraging environment for them (a lesson valuable for all future managers to learn). Quizlet has built their business around fostering communal learning.
Much like Facebook, Quizlet takes a “buyer beware” attitude towards the content on its website. Because it is currently all user-generated, as a platform Quizlet does not guarantee accuracy or claim responsibility for the tsunami of information it displays. I know I have run into my fair share of inaccurate information on Quizlet. There are some natural precautions put into play to help users connect with the precise and accurate information they really need. For example, Quizlet’s algorithm will downgrade questionable sets, ones that many people may have started but never finished, to have them come up low on the results page. They also promote more reputably-sourced sets, such as sets created by teachers on the platform. Glotzbach did readily admit, however, that this was definitely an area in which Quizlet wishes to grow in order to build trust for its name and brand.
Quizlet also has a very similar pricing structure to many social media platforms and digital businesses. It has adopted the ad revenue and subscription model in order to facilitate growth and be sustainable. Quizlet Plus, for $19.99 per year, allows users to access a wide range of enhanced functions as well as avoid ads. If the latter is your problem, Quizlet Go is an option that for $1.99 per year users can access ad-free content.
Oh Man, The Future!
Gone are the days when Quizlet was just a form of electronic flashcards. Now it is a social media where millions collaborate and help each other learn. And like most digital businesses, Quizlet is looking to the future of AI to expand and improve their services. The future of “edtech” as Glotzbach says, is in machine learning. Quizlet wants to be able to push users from memorizing facts to learning and applying information. That’s why they recently rolled out Quizlet Learn, powered by the Learning Assistant Platform, which processes data from millions of anonymous study sessions, and then combines that data with proven techniques from cognitive science to provide tailored study assistance to users. Essentially Quizlet is building an AI-powered tutor to observe and learn from all the learning transactions that take place on its platform. Eventually, Glotzbach believes that AI can develop a new model to revolutionize how we teach and learn. In order to fully flesh-out (not actually, because I think robo-teachers would be scary) such a model, the AI need lots of content and lots of data- two things to which Quizlet happens to have access. This puts the company in prime position to change the education industry.
Quizlet is not only a great learning tool that benefits students but also a unique and lasting digital business poised for further growth. While I could go on more about how interesting I think Quizlet is and how great of a speaker Matthew Glotzbach was, I think I’ll sign off here and go use my account to study for my Chemistry exam.