iTutorGroup Brings the Sharing Economy Model to Education

In winter 2010 when I was in college, I remember snapping frozen hair off my head after rushing out of a shower into the subzero blustery tundra of Northwest Pennsylvania on my way to class at 6:00 a.m. in the dark.

Not too comfortable, but at least I could go to class.

Many people around the world can’t or won’t get an education because they don’t have the money to afford schooling, let alone access to talented teachers.

It’s expensive to uproot your life and transplant to another region or country to attend a new school. According to the College Board, the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2015–2016 school year was $32,405 at a private college, $9,410 for state residents at public colleges and $23,893 for out-of-state residents attending public universities. Those figures don’t include living expenses.

But even if you can afford to go to college, is the value there anymore?

Many times, you’re just a number at the nation’s largest state universities. Students walk into a class with an average of  just over 45 classmates at Virginia Tech, Washington State, Texas A&M and Iowa State.

Meanwhile, a percentage of tuition dollars goes to the football team’s four-star hotel rooms.

“What if almost everything you knew about learning and education was wrong?”

Those are the words of Jerry Huang, chief operating officer of iTutorGroup, a company seeking to disrupt the way we think about education.

jerry huang.itutor

Jerry Huang, COO of iTutorGroup | Photo: iTutorGroup

In 1998, two brothers in Shanghai, China, Ming Yang and Eric Yang, saw a need for people to learn English without disrupting their lives.

“Back then, there was some online education technology but it was just a replication of the existing offline education model — essentially just another distribution system,” Huang told an interviewer. The brothers Yang, he said, “wanted to make it so that it was completely student-centric. Why ask the student to change their behavior — they already want a lifestyle change to learn something new — why ask them to come on a certain day, to a certain place, on a fixed schedule?”

“We should change for the learner,” Huang said. “We should do everything we can do so that the learner can achieve their results.”

The brothers’ vision was to match “teaching consultants” and “learners” online for a one-on-one learning experience in real-time.

The company began with TutorABC, a platform focused on teaching English in Taiwan.

Over the years, iTutorGroup expanded into mainland China with vipabc, and began customizing it’s technology for a younger audience ages 6–18.

In 2012, iTutorGroup raised $15 million in a Series A funding and three years later in 2015, announced an additional $200 million in Series C, bringing its total funding to $315 million from investors that included QiMing Venture Partners, Alibaba Group, SBI Group, CyberAgent, GIC, the Russia-China Investment Fund (RCIF), Goldman Sachs, Silverlink Capital LP and Temasek.

iTutorGroup expanded into Santa Clara, California, where company leaders believe they have ample room to grow. Earlier this year, iTutorGroup released its biggest innovation, LiveH2H, a learning and communications platform similar to Skype and Google Hangouts but supported by live translations in multiple languages and tailored to education.

“We are all familiar with B2B and B2C,” said Huang. “Going forward, we believe live H2H (human-to-human) interactions are going to become the next business model and we are here to facilitate this transition.”

“We should change for the learner. We should do everything we can do so that the learner can achieve their results”

According to iTutorGroup’s website, the global on-demand learning company boasts noteworthy numbers: tens of millions of classes are offered annually with more than 10,000 teaching consultants and over 100,000 learners using the service in 80 countries.

iTutorGroup attributes its success to its patent-protected Dynamic Course Generation System (DCGS). According to the website, “Utilizing big data, DCGS allows us to match the right students, with the right teaching consultants, with the right content on-demand. The technology triangulates the students’ feedback, the teaching consultants’ feedback, and the course content to generate predictive analytics for future matching.”

Despite iTutorGroup’s notable growth, it’s important to understand that students don’t graduate with a degree, and its current curriculum is focused primarily on English and Mandarin-Chinese. Nevertheless, Huang says, iTutorGroup is offering its platform to all ages and backgrounds with subjects including math and science, CPA/CFA training, and medical training.

What’s Different About iTutorGroup’s Philosophy and Learning Model?

iTutorGroup is hyper-focused on the learner. For example, if a student calls in with a problem accessing his classes, Huang says the company will courier a free iPad to the student’s door. For teachers, Huang loves to tell the story of how a mother called in to cancel her iTutorGroup classes because she had to prepare a birthday dinner for her daughter. Instead of canceling her classes, iTutorGroup coordinated and catered the birthday dinner for her so she could still teach.

iTutorGroup’s philosophy is to protect the user’s desire to learn.

“We understand that it’s already difficult to learn something new,” Huang said. “So we have a ‘Customer Protection Team’ dedicated to removing the barriers and obstacles to learning.”

With the rise of user-centric sharing services such as Uber and Airbnb, an evolution in education sharing services was expected. Right now, more than a handful of schools are embracing iTutorgroup: the University of South Florida, University of South Carolina, Lewis University, and several others are endorsing iTutorGroup as an academic affiliate, especially for language training.

iTutorGroup is nascent in the United States, and the full impact of its disruption remains to be seen. But if I can receive a location-agnostic and individually personalized education without snapping frozen hair off of my head or paying for the football team’s travel, I may be interested in learning more.

Dave Schools is a contributor for Opportunity Lives. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveSchoools.