Quizlet, an online learning company best known for its automated study tools, announced today that it is taking on $20 million in a series B round of funding to pursue artificial intelligence products.
Those products include Quizlet Learn, a service the company launched last year that creates an adaptive study plan for user-submitted topics. It’s all based on a learning platform that taps anonymized data about how users study to inform the creation of future lessons.
The goal, according to Quizlet CEO Matthew Glotzbach, is to create products that can serve as AI tutors for students anywhere in the world. It’s a powerful mission that could help equalize opportunity and give people who may not be able to hire a private tutor access to specialized educational tools.
“This new functionality really helps give a guided study path that most effectively and efficiently gets someone to mastery on the information they’re studying,” Glotzbach said in an interview with VentureBeat. “It’s that kind of investment — prior to tapping into some additional capital — we wouldn’t have been able to make. We just wouldn’t have [had] the resources to hire the caliber of people we need and invest proactively ahead of the curve, in that [functionality].”
To be clear, Quizlet’s ambition isn’t to replace teachers or schools. The company is focused on creating products that can help users tackle the material they’re learning in a classroom setting. That’s ultimately in line with how the company began 11 years ago, when founder Andrew Sutherland created the software to prepare for a French exam.
Quizlet has a ton of data to pull from. Its core product is designed to help users learn by repeatedly quizzing them on sets of data they submit, similar to what people can do with paper flash cards. (The company’s software differentiates itself from the traditional process by figuring out what people are having a hard time learning and focusing on that.)
Anonymized data from the years people have been using these quizzes, including what areas they study, what trips them up, and the order they tackle tasks, is then used to produce the sorts of recommendations that power Quizlet’s existing products.
But to further level up the company’s machine learning chops, Quizlet needed an infusion of cash to hire new talent. Glotzbach said Quizlet has an opportunity to improve and diversify the machine learning models it uses to power its intelligent features, and bringing on new talent will help the company achieve that goal.
Icon Ventures led the round, with participation from previous investors Union Square Ventures, Costanoa Ventures, Owl Ventures, and Altos Ventures. This is only the second round of venture funding for the company, which raised a $12 million series A in late 2015.
In addition to building out its AI capabilities, Quizlet is also working to expand its reach internationally. While the company’s audience is already global, much of its existing outreach has been focused on the U.S.
Having support and sales staff in other markets could help Quizlet reach more students around the globe, which is important for its long-term ambition of serving learners everywhere.