Professors out, experts in! Course Hero adds 18 free skill-based courses

Online learning platform Course Hero announced today it has added 18 new courses to its catalog, so users can pick up skills like web programming and product design for free.

The Redwood City-based company began as a study supplement and online tutoring service but recently began offering classes. Unlike Coursera, a platform for online college courses, subject matter experts can teach on Course Hero. The focus is on professional development skills that aren’t typically taught at college.

“Anyone in the world can offer a course on Course Hero,” said Andrew Grauer, the site’s founder and chief executive. Educational content is drawn from all over the web for courses taught in business, photoshop and design, Excel, calculus, algebra, and constitutional law.

These courses will always be free to users, but the founders are considering offering premium services like one-on-one tutoring. To access the library of study materials, users pay a $40 per month subscription, or a one-off annual fee of $100.

Above: Andrew Grauer, Course Hero’s CEO

Once users complete the class, they aren’t given any formal accreditation. Grauer said you can’t prove your aptitude with a piece of paper. Instead, take a class and you’ll be able to pull out a laptop and start programming in HTML5 or work up a solid business plan in hours.

“Our thinking is that there will be alternative methods of certification in the future,” he said. But Grauer, a Cornell grad, would not advise that students drop out of college.

Course Hero is one of many startups that aims to disrupt the higher education market. But it’s a bit different for a number of reasons: The company has been profitable for over a year, content is crowdsourced, and it uses game mechanics to reward users. For instance, a team that excelled in one of the entrepreneurship-focusesed classes walked away with $5,000 and an opportunity to pitch investors at SV Angel as a reward.

The company makes money through its database of college class notes that would typically be discarded at the end of a semester. Grauer told me the site has accumulated a massive database of class notes, exams, and assignments by offering students free access to materials in exchange for uploading 40 documents each month. It’s straight up bargaining, and it seems to be working.

Grauer has also worked out a clever way to curate content. Unlike Boundless, a competing site, it doesn’t rely on bots or an algorithm. All material uploaded to the site is subject to an extensive peer review process. At least one member of the startup’s 25-person team will take a look once the content has been rubber stamped by a campus-based employee, usually an intern.

The site isn’t just focused on classes. Grauer told me the company recently acquired Cardinal Scholars, a Palo Alto-based tutoring service, to expand to K12 education. The sites will function separately, but Course Hero will benefit from an influx of Ivy League-educated tutors.

The site has raised $2.4 million in seed funding from a band of investors, including SV Angel, Maveron, and YouTube’s cofounder, Steve Chen.

Top Image via Shutter stock