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Quizlet raises $20M to build out its AI capabilities

The online tutoring company will also be expanding its footprint to Europe and Asia

Financial trends and news by Steven Loeb
February 6, 2018
Short URL: http://vator.tv/n/4af1

While seemingly every company nowadays wants to tout its artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities, the truth is that both of those things require data. Lots and lots of data. A company just starting out isn't going to have the ability to really do much with that technology. Instead, it's going to be the legacy companies that will be able to really thrive. Those companies that have been around for a while and have are sitting on a treasure trove of data that is begging to be analyzed.  

In the EdTech space, one of those companies is Quizlet, a user-generated consumer learning platform that has been around since 2005. The company recently released its first AI product, and is getting ready to ramp things up and it has just raised $20 million in Series B funding to make that happen.

The round was led by Icon Ventures, with Union Square Ventures, Costanoa Ventures, Owl Ventures and Altos Ventures participating in follow-on investments. This brings Quizlet’s funding total to $32 million.

Founded by Andrew Sutherland, then a student in high school student who needed to study for a French exam, Quizlet acts as a digital study group, allowing its users to create their own courses in any topic or subject, which can then be viewed by other users for free. Originally started as an online flashcard app, the platform has expanded to offer a number of different study activities, study games, learning tools, to help people learn.

"The problem we are trying to solve is how do we help people practice and master whatever they're trying to learn in the most effective and efficient way possible," Matthew Glotzbach, CEO at Quizlet, told me in an interview. 

"If somebody is taking an online course for a certification or taking a college course for credit, and they have their textbook, or their curriculum, but they need something help them study, learn, to help them actually learn the information, we provide that learning platform that you can use to help you study for your college course or for whatever it is you're learning. We see a lot of students use us in conjunction with online learning platforms like Coursera or Udemy."

The fact that all content is user-generated is what really sets Quizlet apart from others in the space, he said, because it means that content can be anything that users want to study, from academic subjects to vocational learning to foreign language classes. 

Quizlet says it is the largest online consumer learning platform in the U.S., with over 30 million monthly active users, and over over 200 million study sets worth of content, which translates to 8 billion pieces of information. It's used by one in two high school students in the United States and one in three U.S. college students.

All of that usage and data is what is what is allowing the company to go all in on artificial intelligence.

"Our vision is that Quizlet can be that AI powered tutor that can really help anyone learn anything. If you think about what an ideal human tutor does, they're there to encourage you, to push you and nudge you, to help you when you get stuck, to point you in the right direction. They ask a lot of questions and help lead you to the answers. We believe that technology can play a really meaningful role in being that AI powered tutor that can really help anyone learn across any subject. That's our vision, that we're building towards," said Glotzbach. 

Last year, Quizlet launched two features, Quizlet Learn and Quizlet Diagrams, both of which use the company;s machine-learning powered Learning Assistant Platform to process data from billions of anonymous study sessions.

"We take a student, and they say, 'Here's what I'm trying to learn.' They create, or find that study set, then the equivalent Learning Assistant Platform creates a personalized study plan. It actually varies the types of information they see, the frequency with which they see it, and the difficulty of questions as they're mastering the content to help them master that information as effectively and efficiently as possible," Glotzbach told me.

That kind of data is unique to Quizlet, he said, as other companies in the space don't have the volume of usage and data that the company has. 

"We're just starting to scratch the surface, but when you think about what you would need to build an AI powered tutor, you'd need lots and lots of users using the system. We've got over 30 million users who do over a billion learning transactions per week. That means we ask someone a question, they give us the answer, and we give them feedback on that answer. We're asking and answering over one billion questions a week, and we have over 200 million sets of content, so we have all the ingredients to leverage the latest advancements in machine learning and artificial intelligence to build this AI powered tutoring system. That's really where we're headed over the next few years."

In addition to building out its AI capabilities, Quizlet will also use the funding to grow its data science team, adding 50 new employees to its 70 person headcount by the end of 2018, and doubling the number in the next two years. 

The company also plans to use the funding to grow internationally, particularly in Europe and Asia. The Quizlet app is already in 19 languages, which makes it accessible to 90 percent of the world, but the next step is for the company to have people on the ground locally to understand the specific nuances of different education systems, and the way people learn, to better take the product to market.

"Things like supplementary spend on education is very different outside of the U.S. In the U.S. we ten to think of school through the lens of the public school system and the public institutions, so our tax dollars cover the cost of education. That dynamic is very different when you get outside of the U.S." Glotzbach explained. 

"You see a lot more emphasis on English language learning across the globe, and especially in China and in other Asian markets. And you see a big focus on extra curricular educational institutions. Things like private tutoring and tutoring centers, and it's not uncommon for a high school student in South Korea to go to school but then leave school and go to an after school tutoring program and spend the next four to five hours there. There's just those types of structural and cultural differences that we feel it's important to understand so we can built the product and build the go to market presence to really adapt to those market needs."

Ultimately, his vision for Quizlet is to be the company that democratizes education, and he wants his company to use AI to get there. 

"Education and learning is really a powerful force that can be the great equalizer to help people rise up in their social life, in their career, in their pursuits of greater wealth, of prosperity.  We really look forward to a time where high quality education, both information as well as the tools that succeed, are universally available," said Glotzbach.

"We're building a platform that really harnesses the power of the world, of the knowledge that people can contribute to the platform, and then sharing that and making it available to everyone for free or for very low cost. When we see the world three to five years from now, we see Quizlet as a large scale global and dominant brand for learning that people think, 'I'm going to learn something, I can go use Quizlet. It's accessible, it's affordable, or free, to be able to do that.' And we're harnessing the power of technology, and AI in particular, to provide that tutor that helps anyone learn anything."


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