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Sunday, Sep 24, 2023

Startup TutorMe Rides Wave of Remote Learning

Well before the pandemic forced schools to adapt to virtual instruction, Myles Hunter was brainstorming ways to make tutoring more efficient.
As a student at USC in 2013, Hunter had tutored one of his fraternity brothers, Alex Convery, in accounting. Hunter said he wasted a lot of time coordinating schedules and payment details, and it occurred to him that they could develop a product that would streamline the process.

In 2015, after they graduated, Hunter and Convery, along with fellow USC alum Ari Stiegler, teamed with software developer Victor Kotseruba to found TutorMe.

The Century City-based e-learning company offers on-demand virtual tutoring in more than 300 subjects from more than 13,000 independently contracted tutors, who are available 24/7. Hunter, who serves as the company’s chief executive, said every student can be connected to a tutor within seconds.

Hunter, 30, could not have predicted that a global pandemic would completely change the way schools function, but TutorMe was perfectly positioned for the shift to online learning.

From 2019 to 2020, according to TutorMe, the company’s total tutoring hours increased by 330%, and its five-person staff grew to 25 full-time employees.

“We’ve had to obviously make adjustments to what our future growth projections are because we kind of crushed through a lot of them,” Hunter said. “So, in a good way, we had to revisit a lot of our models and how we expect to grow because the future came so fast.”

In 2019, Arizona-based education technology company Zovio Inc., which also owns Fullstack Academy, acquired TutorMe in a deal that included $3 million in cash, plus 310,000 shares and payouts to service providers, according to Securities and Exchange Commission documents.

Hunter said his experience working with Zovio has been positive. TutorMe, he said, has been able to maintain a motivated startup mentality while polishing its operations. 

Learning ‘supplement’

Alan Arkatov, USC’s Rossier Katzman/Ernst chairman in educational entrepreneurship, technology and innovation, does not see the demand for online learning software abating anytime soon.
Before the pandemic, one barrier to wide adoption of online education had been parents who were unfamiliar and uncomfortable with the platforms, Arkatov said. Now that that barrier has been removed in many households, he said, online learning will continue to grow — even as schools reopen. “Does (online learning) replace on-the-ground learning? Absolutely not,” Arkatov said. “Does it supplement it and supplement it well? Absolutely.”

Before launching TutorMe, Hunter and the company’s other co-founders gathered advice from USC administrators. The takeaway from those conversations was that not only could they make the tutoring process simpler, they had an opportunity to make it more accessible.  

Rather than requiring students to pay for tutoring themselves, TutorMe contracts with schools that pay for tutoring sessions that are free for students. Schools have the choice to pay for every hour of tutoring or by the number of students, the latter of which is the more popular payment model, according to Hunter. Individuals can also purchase hours of TutorMe through the company’s website.

In the United States and Canada, TutorMe has partnerships with more than 200 K-12 schools and colleges, including USC, and corporations such as Comcast Corp. Hunter said companies sign up with TutorMe to offer free tutoring as a perk to their employees and those employees’ children. Over the summer, TutorMe launched a partnership with McGraw Hill to give students using the learning science company’s “McGraw Hill Connect” platform access to one free hour of tutoring a week. 

rovement in grades

The Community College of Aurora in Colorado signed up for TutorMe in January 2020, shortly before Sherie Muñoz joined the college’s staff as the director of its Academic Learning Center.  

Muñoz said there has been a noticeable improvement in the grades of students who used the platform. She said TutorMe allows students to rewatch their tutoring sessions through the site’s video library and gives them the opportunity to connect with the same tutor at a later time.  

“They are able to assist students in any subject and at any time, and the platform is very user friendly,” Muñoz said.  

Over the past year, Hunter said, the company received requests from schools for a feature that would allow students to submit a paper through the platform and have it reviewed by tutors.

TutorMe launched that tool about six months ago, and Hunter described it as a success.

According to Arkatov, e-learning platforms like TutorMe are helping level the playing field. Access to quality education is no longer as dependent on where students live, though there’s still a lot of work to be done to ensure that every student has the Wi-Fi and technology they need.

Hunter said his long-term goal for TutorMe is to make online tutoring available to every student in the country “regardless of where you come from or who your parents are.”

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