Tutoring 2.0: 5 startups bringing one-on-one instruction to the web

The humble business of tutoring is getting an upgrade for the digital age. In the last year, much attention has been given to startups bringing instruction to mass audiences — and for good reason: massive open online courses (MOOCs) have the potential to remake what it means to get a college education. But several startups are starting to find success with the opposite approach — using the web to teach one student at a time.
And it’s not an insignificant market. Market research firm Global Industry Analysts, Inc. projects that the global private tutoring market will surpass $102.8 billion by 2018. No wonder online tutoring sites, which use video chats, web-based messaging, online whiteboards and other services, are attracting the interest of investors like Sequoia Capital and SV Angel and Internet companies like IAC.
As more educational instruction and content moves online, and the lifelong learning movement picks up, it’s only natural that the web will increasingly become a vehicle for finding and/or receiving one-on-one instruction. And the rise of mass online classes that provide little individual support could help drive the need for individual instruction. While most tutoring startups serve students at traditional high schools and universities, Alison Johnston, co-founder of InstaEDU, an on-demand tutoring service backed by the Social+Capital Partnership, said 10 to 15 percent of their online lessons are for “non-traditional” students.
“There’s a great opportunity for online tutoring to step in and provide virtual [teaching assistants] for the web,” she said.
Some startups offer tutoring sessions exclusively offline, while others provide on-demand services online only and still others take hybrid and non-traditional approaches to one-on-one instruction.  Here are 5 companies worth following:


With almost 2,000 screened tutors from the country’s top colleges, InstaEDU provides 24/7 on-demand tutoring sessions that can last as little as 10 minutes or as long as 4 hours. This week, the startup launched a searchable marketplace for its tutors, so students can find tutors by interest, location or gender. While most other online tutoring services automatically match tutors with students, Johnston said InstaEDU wanted to give users the opportunity to select their tutor because they believe students learn better from teachers they like. Pricing is subscription-based, with the cost is determined by how much time students want to spend on the site. The startup, which has raised $1.1 million from The Social+Capital Partnership, said it’s talking with MOOC providers about partnering to provide teaching assistants for online classes.


StudyEdge may provide extra study help, but they don’t use the T-word around their students. “Every student we’ve spoken to thinks there’s a stigma attached to the word ‘tutor’ – [that] it’s only for the rich or the dumb,” said cofounder Ethan Fieldman. “We think of them as personal trainers.” The Y Combinator graduate, based in Gainesville, Fla., takes a very different approach to tutoring. Instead of matching tutors anywhere with students anywhere, it targets students at specific schools with supplemental online videos, as well as online and live support, tailored to courses at that school. Students at the University of Florida, for example, can purchase a membership (which starts at $25/month) to access offline review sessions, exam review and concept explanation videos on Facebook (s FB) and mobile apps, online and offline individual help and online peer support.  All of the content, Fieldman said, is created specifically to match the courses delivered at that school. Before StudyEdge, Fieldman said, he built a successful offline tutoring business based on tutoring strategies used to help star athletes at the University of Florida.


Another Y Combinator-backed startup, Tutorspree doesn’t conduct tutoring online but lets students pair up with one of its 7,000 nationwide tutors on the web. Launched in 2011, the company provides a marketplace of pre-screened tutors searchable by location and subject area expertise and then lets students book appointments and pay online. Prices depend on location, subject and the length of the session but the company says its top tutors make $1,000 to $2,000 a month. The company has raised $2.8 million from investors including SV Angel, Sequoia Capital and Lerer Ventures.

Course Hero

Since launching in 2008, Course Hero has focused on building a hub of digital study guides, lecture notes and practice problems for college students. Last month, the company expanded into an online tutoring with a Q&A platform that lets students pay for on-demand answers to homework and study questions. In an almost TaskRabbit-like way, students submit their questions, as well as a suggested price, and then tutors can choose to answer them. Unlike other tutoring platforms, Course Hero supports less direct interaction between tutors and students and could make it a little easier for students to cheat – they could just pay for answers to homework questions without really learning the underlying concept. But for students stuck with a last-minute question, it provides a lightweight option for help.


I’m cheating here a little bit because Tutor.com isn’t a startup at all — the company was launched way back in the late 1990s. But earlier this year, it was purchased by Internet giant IAC (s IACI), which could make it an interesting site to watch. The company provides a network of about 2,500 online tutors through consumer subscriptions and partnerships with libraries, school districts, the military and colleges. Given its background with sites like Match.com and CollegeHumor, it will be interesting to see how IAC uses its internet chops to upgrade the product and enhance distribution.