TutorGroup, the online education service that drew headlines with its impressive growth, is about to launch an ‘Expert on Demand’ service that will revolutionize the delivery of knowledge, according to co-founder and CEO Eric Yang, who hopes to tap into the growing P2P learning market in China.
Last year, the company received a $100 million US round of Series B financing from Alibaba Group, Singapore based Temasek, Qiming Venture Partners and Japan based SBI Group. TutorGroup works cooperatively with Alibaba’s own education platform Taobao Classmate, but the specifics of the partnership have not been divulged.
TutorGroup now operates five language learning brands. Their English-learning services for youth are VIPABC Junior and TutorABC Junior (8-18 years old) while non-Chinese users can use TutorMing to learn Mandarin. VIPABC and TutorABC have user base that hosts mostly professional adults from 25-55 years old, who can boost their professional knowledge in English. Whether the user is a lawyer, banker or businessman, they can choose a teacher with a professional background that will be relevant and meaningful to the user. The teaching material covers a vast array of subject matters ranging from law to digital marketing. The company uses its patented algorithm which matches a student to a teacher based on the content that best fits the student.
According to Shanghai-based CEO Eric Yang these handful of experts are not a new concept for the company. “We have experts from the world from yoga gurus to chefs to bankers and attorneys teaching our customers English.” The company now wants to extend beyond and invite a whole new range of professionals to take part.
The ‘expert’ term is rather subjective. Unlike language where certificated test and oral interviews can determine the quality of the instructor, managing the level of cross-professional expertise will require different sets of standards. “We’ll bring experts from big brands. For example, as for business consultant, we can attract McKinsey-level consultants to the service,” Yang said.
How To Tap Into A Crowded Education Market
In a country like China, where the zeal for learning is high, the education market has many players vying for priority. “Education and medical services are probably the only industry categories that are recession-proof,” Yang laughs. “In fact, during the financial crisis, we had seen even more users added to our service.”
To combat poor quality teaching, the learning platform encourages students to give feedback after each class. “Unlike offline classes where teachers don’t have any motivation, we incentivize good teachers with more classes and a salary,” Yang noted. Teachers on the platform go through a rigorous interview process and 40-hours training before they can host their classes. The classes are usually $14-18 US for 45 minutes, with two or three students engaging with one teacher on average.
The BAT cluster is also trying hard to gain the market share in the segment by offering online classes in recorded video. Alibaba launched the Chinese MOOC platform with Peking University and Baidu founded education app platform 91UP’s video lecture service, while Duxuetang and New Oriental launched Koolearn.
Despite strong competition, Yang believes that scalability is key over content production. “MOOC and other video courses are based on the content delivery, but we’re focused on the result of learning: student’s actual improvement in language skills. We believe the only effective way to do this is through human to human interaction.”
In addition to the quality of teaching, Yang adds that having teachers from different parts of the world is critical to its 24-hour service as this compensates for the time zone differences. “From 7 a.m. to 8 a.m., lunch hours and late evening times are actually the time when we have most users, and we essentially created 50% more revenue by serving these hours,” says Yang. “Companies like Wall Street Institute offer the classes when their students are in fact working, which doesn’t match their free time. We have teachers from all over the world, so we can easily address demand during those time slots.”
TutorGroup is also working on incorporating new wearable technology such as Google Glass to its classes. “With our R&D team based in Santa Clara, we try to adapt to the innovations happening in the space,” says the company’s COO Jerry Yang. Since this January, the company started TutorGlass, where its teachers use Google Glasses to interact with their surroundings and improve the learning experience. “We have thousands of these all-immersing classes with very good feedback and we will continue to apply the latest technology to push the boundaries of education,” he said.
Image Credit: TutorGroup