Startup Spotlight: Quizlet

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Sophia, Quizlet’s user experience manager, shares ideas and laughter with the team

We’re kicking off an exploration of start-ups with a well-known favorite: Quizlet. Quizlet, offers innovative digital study tools that help students around the world do better in school – they grew out of a simple flashcard web app written by founder Andrew Sutherland when he was just a high schooler. Now, according to Quantcast, Quizlet ranks in the top 100 most visited sites in the U.S.! They’ve certainly come a long way, and some might question its claim to being a “startup,” but we’ve got the inside scoop on the passion, energy, and culture that makes this well-established edtech company very much a quintessential startup.

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Karoun and David battle it out at the Quizlet ping pong table.

For starters, Quizlet, despite having a successful web, iOS, and Android app with a combined 20 million unique visitors each month, is actually comprised of a very small, extremely hard-working team; in fact, they only have seven full-time developers making the learning awesome for all those students every day! General Manager Thompson Paine explains that Quizlet has a high bar for talent because on such a small team with so many users, each person must be able and willing to punch above their weight, and confidently own and drive on new problems and projects. But talent isn’t the only thing that matters: what makes Quizlet especially amazing is that everyone is committed to education and doing good.

Amalia shows off some impressive whiteboarding skills.

Amalia adds some holiday cheer, Quizlet-style.

To get a sense of how such a small group of people can reach millions (yes, millions!) of students on a daily basis, take a look at their week: it all starts on Sunday. Every team member is committed to thinking carefully about what he or she wants to accomplish that week, and they come together to discuss their plans during a Monday lunch. This helps them start the week focused with strong accountability. On Friday, they wrap the week with a discussion of their highs and lows of the week. Quizlet’s focus and enthusiasm for constantly improving an already amazing learning tool is really inspiring!

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Arun to talk more about his particular role as an Android developer.

 

Career Focus: Android Developer

We’re picking the brain of the man behind Quizlet’s Android app: Arun Saigal.

Accredible: What do you do as an Android developer at Quizlet?

Arun:  I hit buttons! No, but really, I do a lot of listening to users to figure out what they want, work with my team to design and build out different parts so there’s a seamless experience from web to mobile app. My job is to make sure that you can learn anything you want anywhere and everywhere you want—specifically on Android devices. Working in a startup, I get to be involved in all parts of the development phases.

Accredible: What’s your favorite part of your job?

Arun: I’ve heard people actually say, “I wouldn’t have made it through this course without Quizlet” – the fact that what I do can make that big of a difference for someone’s education is incredible. I love running into people while wearing the Quizlet shirt and hearing people call out “ I love Quizlet!” and really know people are using your product!

Accredible: What were you doing before you joined Quizlet, and what led you to the company?

Arun: I was at MIT. I’ve always been into education and tutoring and teaching…I discovered technology and wanted to leverage it to teach everyone. Andrew (Quizlet’s founder) came to recruit at his alma mater, and I decided to join this small company with a huge impact—somewhere I can come in and really own a piece of transforming education. This is where I felt I could make a meaningful contribution.

Accredible: What are your tips for others who want to be an Android developer?

Arun: Go build something!  Android is Java at the end of the day. In terms of getting started and seeing whether it’s something you’d like to do: go find these programming languages online – and you can build a simple app with basic tools.  If you can do that and be excited, you can get a sense for whether you love it or not. Then go take classes in college or go online and look up tutorials to learn how to program. Between all of the online courses and resources, Youtube, Quizlet, etc. you can pretty much find and learn anything you’re looking for.

Arun and fellow developer Shane take a break on the swings (yes, inside the office!)

Arun and fellow developer Shane take a break on the office swings (and yes, that’s a Justin Bieber piñata hanging above them)!

Accredible:  What would you say is the most essential skill for being a developer?

Arun: (1) Problem-solving. At the end of the day, my role is to problem-solve. (And obviously, having the ability to code.) (2) Being willing to take on the challenge and being okay with failing. A lot of what we do here trying something, failing, and then pushing on till we get it right. (3) And you have to be willing to learn from those mistakes so you can improve yourself and your product.

Accredible: What contributes the most to your success?

Arun: The team. I see the team as our team here and our users—the millions that send feedback—that’s the whole Quizlet family. Everyone is so helpful. They give me the pieces, helping me piece everything together.

Accredible: Thanks, Arun!

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Software Developer David wants YOU to apply!

Interested in working for an edtech company with a fun-loving team? Check out open positions here!

 

5 Trends in Online Graduate Education

First and foremost, online graduate education is on the rise (1). This has been true for the past 10 years and shows little sign of stopping. Where education used to function primarily to give prospective employees a marketability advantage, it now may serve as a prerequisite for any number of jobs.

The second trend is that colleges and universities across the country are expanding their online programs. With the rise of technologically fluent students as well as an ever increasing IT force, focusing more capital and human resources into the online sphere is only practical. In recent years, more and more colleges and graduate schools have turned to online education, with even more planning to expand in the near future.

The third trend is tied closely to the first. Lifetime education is, generally speaking, becoming the status quo in today’s society. And not only are older students uninterested in taking in-house classes with kids who could be their children, they see the price point and the pliability of the online graduate course schedule as enormous advantages. These older students often have a great deal more academic credits and experience on hand before embarking on further—which is to say graduate—education, and the convenience of the online platform allows them to continue seeking education throughout their career.

The fourth trend concerns the professorial view of online education. Though many faculty members in U.S. institutions believe that online education has less qualitative value, some see the merits of online higher education. Even with respect to in-house courses, professors are more willing than ever to engage students online. This has been true of emails for some time, but other programs like Blackboard are staking their claim in the academic world. With the explosion of technological gadgets and systems, students and professors alike are beginning to sense the ever changing academic scene. Though many professors do not believe that traditional teaching methods will ever be overtaken by distance education, they all agree that it will become more and more prevalent.

The fifth and final trend mentioned here has to do with the introduction of MOOCs, or massive open online courses. These enormous online courses have as many benefits as possible downfalls. Tuition, generally speaking, is not getting any cheaper these days, and in a down economy any means by which one can attain high credentials at a low cost is the best means.

The less attractive aspect to MOOCs is the inevitable quality problem. How can the individuals in a large class get sufficient attention needed from one professor and maybe a student aid? And what about the work load for MOOC professors relative to other classes? Especially with regard to graduate school, the student to professor ratio is one of the most attractive elements for prospect students. For some programs ratios are as small as 2:1, guaranteeing that students get sufficient attention (2). But what about a grad program that offers a 50:1 ratio, 100: 1, or even 200:1 and above? Does that even count as graduate school in any traditional sense? These are hard questions for both institutions and students to face.

For students, however, program quality, financial aid, and employer acceptance ranked as their top concerns about online education, according to an earlier study by Learning House. The online education company surveyed 1,500 students either enrolled or planning to enroll in an online degree program.

Written by University of Pennsylvania graduate and freelance writer Kevin Hughes and edited by Laura Morrison, the Content Manager of GradSchools.com. To see more of the wealth of opportunities offered by online graduate school programs, find out here.

    (1). http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/education/story/2012-08-07/online-teaching-degrees/56849026/1

    (2). http://www.fastweb.com/college-search/articles/87-the-importance-of-class-size

MOOCs: A Step in the Right Direction

e-Learning Concept. Computer Keyboard

The concept of ‘massively open online courses’ (MOOCs) have slowly but steadily taken the academic world by storm. While the idea has only been around for two years, many institutions of higher learning are keen to adapt this new mode of teaching. While some have quite a bit of qualm over the concept, the fact remains that a healthy discussion regarding the modern educational system has been initiated. In this article, we’ll discuss the current status of MOOCs worldwide.

Limitless potential
While the economy translates to unfavorable tuition fees and mounting student loans, it might be able to enhance the value proposition of a university degree. Through free courses, individuals are given the chance to learn and acquire possible degrees through credits that provide more worth with little to no restriction brought about by finances.

In recent news, American student loans skyrocketed to about $1 trillion mainly due to inflated rates by higher institutions. This can be traced back to either the general state of the American economy and the cuts implemented by the government across the educational sector. The problem does not stop there: only 50% of students who brave the lofty tuition of university education get a hold of a diploma and a bachelor’s degree.

MOOCs will be able to flip the dire situation, but only if the conditions are aligned perfectly. Colleges and universities should be able to recognize that offering courses online will save them funds, and in turn will allow them leeway to lower the expensive matriculation schemes. MOOC providers should continue to invest in technologies that will allow online courses to have a more precise grading scheme – a necessary step towards universal credit granting.

Smartphones and education

MOOCs play a vital role as a sort of test run on the future of learning in the digital era. New high-end top tier gadgets like Apple’s premiere smartphone, the iPhone 5S, lends itself to this endeavor. Innovative features are pushed down the pipeline constantly, such as better security (such as the Touch ID, a fingerprint scanning feature on latest iPhones as mentioned in O2′s page), more reader friendly screens, better and faster internet connectivity – all these are driving the online learning trend forward into new heights.

One benefit that is often overlooked is the fact that many people from remote and developing nations are using MOOCs and mobile technology as a substitute or supplement to the current learning options. For MOOCs to become a true force of change on a global scale, companies in the technology sector should create ventures that are aimed for this specific purpose. Jonathan Nalder, in his piece on Edutechdebate.org, noted that “for learners in remote locations or developing countries the promise of increased access to the keys of education must of course also be considered in light of the reality of the internet access needed to make much of it possible.”

A break in tradition

Last year, a program initiated by the Southern New Hampshire University called College for America was officially approved to grant degrees upon students depending on their proven and tested knowledge. This means that even if someone gathers all the knowledge he needs through other sources aside such as non-credited courses from MOOCs, then he or she will be granted a degree.

This triggered the United States Department of Higher Education to invite universities to create similar programs. If successful, students will no longer be required to carry on their shoulders the financial mountain of tertiary education. In effect, brick-and-mortar universities will have no choice but to compete through lowering their costs.

With all the benefits that could possibly change the education system for the better, the success of MOOCs ultimately depends on the quality of its courses and the eagerness of the government and tech titans to contribute to learning.

Reese Jones is a graduate student and a freelance writer for Techie Doodlers. She has successfully finished numerous courses on Coursera and edX to supplement her tech management master’s degree. Contact her via Twitter or add her on Google+.

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