Pop Quiz(let)

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.

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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 

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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:

  1. Content– consumers now want all information in bite-sized, atomic pieces
  2. Institution– traditional hierarchical institutions are being replaced with direct-to-user options
  3. Time– while users crave quick convenience there is also the expectation of ongoing and continuous contact/exposure
  4. 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 

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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.

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14 comments

  1. sherricheng5 · ·

    What a great post! I have definitely used Quizlet a lot throughout my years in school, and I definitely see the value of the website. It’s interesting that you presented Quizlet as a social media platform, though. I never thought of it as that because I mostly make the flashcards for my own uses. However, I think there is a lot of potential for Quizlet to be an interactive learning platform! The use of AI sounds really cool, and although I think robot teachers would be creepy, I think the future of learning will include automation. Especially with skills like memorizing definitions, I think there are definitely tips and tricks that AI can figure out to help us memorize quicker. There is a lot of potential for sure, and I am very excited to see where Quizlet goes over the next few years! I wonder, though, if Quizlet has thought about partnering with search engines like Google? I know that a lot of the times, I would search a question on Google and then be brought to a flash card deck on Quizlet. I wonder if there is potential for a mutually-beneficial partnership.

    1. Hi, Sherri! I know what you mean- though creating sets seems very personal, we are actually contributing to the wealth of knowledge shared by all of Quizlet’s users! And as far as Google goes, I’m not sure if there is an official partnership, but I do know that Quizlet is indexed to be in the topic three search results for many of the topics for which it has content.

  2. As an avid user of Quizlet myself I really enjoyed reading about the history of it! I also had no idea that it was one of the top 25 largest websites in the US. It is interesting to see how the rise of technology has really changed the way we learn and study. The idea of the “unbundled era” in the education industry really stuck out to me. It is interesting how the rise in technology has made consumers more demanding in terms of products like Quizlet–it makes sense though. Another thing that really stood out to me in your post was Glotzbach saying “4 years of college will prepare us for the next two years or so of life.” This statement was a bit unsettling to me. Its crazy to think that in the next few years, Prof. Kane’s class will probably be learning about completely different topics.

  3. kaitlinardiff · ·

    Quizlet is such a lifesaver! It’s interesting to think of how the future of Quizlet can evolve. Not only could they potentially create AI tutors, but I could also see them integrating with Glassdoor. Lots of people use Quizlet to create sets to prepare for certification exams (CPA, CFA, Salesforce Certifications, etc.). I’d be interested to see if Glassdoor could soon leverage Quizlet under its “Interview Questions” section in order to help candidates prepare. There’s a lot of potential for jobs that utilize a known-question base, and maybe it could even be used to help students prepare for AP exams, etc.

  4. Great post! I have only used Quizlet a handful of times during my underclassmen years at BC, mostly to study for exams that require the memorization of new terms and historical events. Having read your blog, I’m now realizing that I have been completely oblivious of how it has evolved over the years. First, it seems like it is increasingly becoming a reliable source of information – if it has already implemented algorithms to promote more reputably-sourced sets, I don’t think it will be long before the inaccurate sources are weeded out. What was particularly interesting was to learn about the use of AI to expand their services. I think that Quizlet Learn will definitely become the business’ most valuable asset in the coming years. Accurate data collection mixed with techniques from cognitive science to teach users? I’ll be sure to check out Quizlet for my next exam.

  5. rjacques62 · ·

    Cool Post! I was a really big user of Quizlet in high school – someone before us somewhere in the world had already created the flashcards for our US History, French, and Gov classes, so it made studying really easy. It’s cool to see that they are expanding beyond just flashcards. I wonder how popular their paid services are. Do you know how much added value the premium services give the customers?

    1. Hi, Bob! Some of the perks of Quizlet Plus that I found on their website include the ability to:
      – Upload your own images or choose from more options in the image gallery
      – Record custom audio
      – Study over time with Long-Term Learning (it tracks your progress and sends reminders to study)
      – Create unlimited classes
      – Study ad-free
      – Choose from 50 additional profile picture options

  6. m_thompson19 · ·

    Great post! I, too, was a big user of quizlet in high School, but haven’t really used it during my undergraduate experience. Part of what I have struggled with in regards to figuring out my study habits is the reality that I just don’t seem to retain information as much when I learn the information through digital means – whether its typing notes or flashcards, or reading online pdfs, I’m a big proponent in having hard copies and handwriting notes. While this isn’t the most environmentally friendly approach, the amount of info I retain by physically processing the material seems to be much more compared to online. Is there any chance quizlet has tried to tackle this issue? I might just be a dinosaur in this realm. Maybe we’ll start having Digital platforms that more accurately mimic the physical note taking/studying process.

    1. In high school, we had laptops that you could flip around the screen and handwrite notes. I felt like that was the best of both worlds because you could absorb the information by writing and then have it in a digital format that could be converted to text and easily accessible.

  7. I’ve never even heard of Quizlet – looks like I’m behind! It’s great to hear that there are study tools that are leveraging AI and machine learning. I have similar issues to Michaela though, I study much better on paper than looking at a phone. However, if it’s the difference between studying and not studying (somewhere like the train, where I’m not going to whip out a pad of paper) then I feel like it’s worthwhile. Plus, if they’re using AI, it’s probably more complex than what I can do on my own. I’m definitely going to look into it.

  8. juliabrodigan · ·

    Great post! I love Quizlet. I use it to study all the time. It is helpful because you learn the material while you make the quiz and then you practice it after. I bet twenty years ago people would never imagine that there would be a platform where you can make notecards/quizzes online, instead of just the traditional pen and paper method. I think that Quizlet has a lot of opportunity for growth and its new pop quiz feature will be successful. I also think that Quizlet should start working with more schools because I think the future of test taking/note taking is going to be all digital.

  9. Great post. I disagree with the sentiment that colleges only teach you for the next two years of life, though. If we teach you how to learn on your own (which is my goal, at least), then you get the skills to stay knowledgeable for your entire life! Apps help, though.

    1. I think he meant it mostly in terms of relevancy of content. I agree that the value of college is in developing our skills that we can use after our knowledge becomes outdated. This class definitely helps with that!

  10. ericiangesuale · ·

    Wow I am really impressed with how much Quizlet has expanded! I haven’t really used the website since high school but I think it was really amazing how by by maintaining the collaborative focus of the website, they were able to cultivate network effects that have kept them relevant. The more users create card sets that are public, the more it continues to grow and serve as a resource to the constant supply of new students. Seriously so impressed at those numbers– I didn’t realize how international their userbase is. I also like how they have an option of membership that’s ad-free and a version that’s all access.

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