In the last 25 years, the growth and increased convenience of commercial internet has fundamentally changed how we live most aspects of our lives. It has created new ways for us to connect and transact, and it has turned massive industries on their heads who were unable to keep up with the pace of change.
But despite the rapid innovation, our education system remains largely untouched–for most Americans, learning today looks far too similar to what it did 50 years ago. As Dani recently outlined, education has been stagnant. Test scores (the current mark of educational outcomes) are flat. Earning potential for degree holders is flat. Teachers salaries are flat, too. What has been changing in education is access and opportunity, but not in the way we’d hope for. Government aid to higher ed is falling, tuition is increasing, student debt is climbing at a record pace, now reaching $1.5T.
USV’s thesis 3.0 centers on the idea of broadening access. There may be no greater need to make available to many what is currently only available to some right now than in education. But this will require not only driving down the cost of quality offerings and opening up the geographical barriers, but also evolving what it means to learn. This is a theme we’ve been investing in for the last several funds with companies like Duolingo, Quizlet, and Skillshare, businesses that are now reaching many millions of learners and starting to change the landscape. It is also why we are excited to announce our investment in Outschool, an online marketplace for live, online small group learning experiences targeted at K-12 learners.
For $10-15 a class, a fraction of the cost of traditional core or supplemental classes, Outschool allows students to both learn material and engage with one another in real time, online. The course catalogue currently spans 8,000 options ranging from Spanish 1 to Astronomy as told through Harry Potter to a deep dive into Hamilton, the Musical. Teachers control the offerings and curriculum, and, through the platform, find a way to reach a broad network of students and often substantially increase their earnings. Many are K-12 educators, but not all, allowing young learners exposure to a broad range of education styles and capabilities. A UN human rights lawyer teaches a series of classes on debating where she earns more than $10,000 each month. A Mom and gaming columnist teaches critical thinking through Dungeons and Dragons that’s become a platform favorite.
There is also an important “why now” to Outschool. The platform is built on top of Zoom, a technology that makes possible and affordable a convenient real time experience that would have been expensive and cumbersome only several years ago. We believe this underlying technological shift to accessible and reliable video chat is opening up mass opportunities across categories. We have already invested in three companies that are taking advantage of it and will likely invest in others.
Most importantly, Amir, Nick and Mikhail, the Outschool founding team, not only come with deep marketplace and platform experience as leaders at Square, Airbnb, and Google, but are also true believers in the necessity to change what excellent education can mean and who it can reach.
We are excited to lead the Outschool Series A alongside Reach Capital, and for the opportunity to work with companies and teams introducing meaningfully new experiences to education.