Challenges: Connect learners around the world with tutors through a live, peer-to-peer tutoring platform
Solution: Zoom Meetings, Zoom Developer Platform
Benefits: Seamless integration helped learners and tutors connect live with ease and allowed platform to scale quickly; features like whiteboard, reactions, and chat helped improve engagement.
When we put people on Zoom together, we found connections and friendships formed that we couldn’t have imagined.
Drew Bentco-founder and COO
Every week, hundreds of connections happen on Schoolhouse.world, each with their own story. Like that of Carl from Iowa and his tutor Sachin, a teenager from California.
At 52 years old, Carl is studying algebra in hopes of earning his high school diploma. He connected with Sachin on Schoolhouse.world and they’ve been working together for over a year to prepare Carl for his equivalency exam. Despite the age gap and physical distance, Sachin has helped Carl improve his algebra scores and feel more confident with math.
Or, the story of Kate from Arkansas, Schoolhouse.world’s most active tutor and a mentor for new tutors on the platform. She has reached learners in more than 50 countries, even though she’s never traveled outside the United States.
“Schoolhouse started as a tutoring platform, but people wanted more than that — they wanted a social community. When we put people on Zoom together, we found connections and friendships formed that we couldn’t have imagined,” said Drew Bent, co-founder and chief operating officer at Schoolhouse.world.
Drew is a big believer in the power of education. His parents are both educators, so he saw at a young age how learning could impact people’s lives. “My passion is to increase access to high-quality education for everyone who needs it,” he said.
He started out as a programmer for Khan Academy, a free learning platform founded by Sal Khan with a mission to provide a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere. While Khan Academy has helped millions of people learn at their own pace, teachers and students can’t connect live.
“I wondered about the human connection part of it — the other ways we can connect people, not just through [asynchronous] videos, but through live interaction,” Drew said. “At the time, it wasn’t clear how something like that could be built out on video.”
The opportunity to make that live connection a reality came in 2020, when in-person learning moved online during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sal partnered with Drew, Shishir Mehrotra, co-founder and CEO of Coda, and Mariah Olson to take the mission behind Khan Academy a step further: connect the world with free, peer-to-peer tutoring over Zoom.
“All the tutoring that happens on Schoolhouse happens over Zoom,” Drew said. “When we thought about how we can help connect learners around the world, Zoom was the obvious choice.”
Seamless integration keeps focus on learning
Here’s how it works: learners join live tutoring sessions over Zoom directly from the Schoolhouse.world site. “We have a seamless integration between our website and Zoom,” Drew said. “We are able to do everything in the API that we need to do.”
Part of the reason his team chose Zoom was that it gave them the ability to build and configure the platform based on their needs.
His team used Zoom APIs to create an experience that’s simple for both learners and tutors — all that’s needed to join a session is a Schoolhouse.world account. When learners join, their names and pronouns are already pre-populated and features like screen sharing permissions are off by default.
Other safety measures include recording sessions for safety and quality purposes (which are automatically deleted after 30 days for privacy), waiting rooms, and the ability to eject a learner if they become disruptive. “All this is essential for running a tutoring platform at scale,” Drew said.
After the session ends, learners get sent back to the website, where they can rate their tutor based on the interaction and vice versa. The data helps Drew’s team measure the quality of the sessions and how tutors can improve going forward.
The seamless experience helps tutors and students focus on learning without having to worry about the technology.
We don’t need to explain how to use Zoom, people know what it is. They can use it right away. It can be used on mobile, browser, desktop, and across countries.
Drew Bentco-founder and COO
Live transcription has become an important feature for those cross-country exchanges. Most tutoring sessions happen in English, which is not a primary language for many learners. With live transcription, Drew said learners don’t just have to rely on verbal communication, they can also read what’s being said.
“We actually have had learners use Schoolhouse tutoring not just to learn math, but to learn English because they find that feature so helpful,” he said.
Rising to the challenge of ‘camera-off’ engagement
One of the biggest learning experiences for Drew’s team, and the thousands of tutors on the platform, has been how to engage learners — especially when they can’t see them. It’s common for learners to have their cameras off, especially in small group sessions, which gives them privacy while allowing them to engage with a real tutor.
“At first you think, this is not the most ideal way to engage learners,” Drew said. “But then we asked, what if we can leverage other ways of interacting: chat, whiteboard, reactions?”
Whiteboard is a crucial tool, “approaching the experience of being in a room together,” Drew said. And tutors have found success with various other tools, such as the raising hand feature and emoji reactions.
“Engaging people in a virtual context is hard,” Drew said. “One tutor shared that she does a pulse check — ‘how are you feeling about the material?’ — and her learners will type a number in the chat. This is the type of real-time feedback that would be hard to do in an in-person setting. Online, it’s easy.”
Learning happens through active learning, not through lecturing. Finding ways to use Zoom and all its various tools to focus on increasing learner engagement time and decreasing tutor talking time has been a fun experience.
Drew Bentco-founder and COO
A social network for good
In two years, Schoolhouse.world has grown to a community of 4,000 tutors and close to 30,000 learners from over 100 countries.
“The key question we’re working on is, can we provide free tutoring to everyone who needs it around the world — can we scale this to millions of people?” Drew asked.
There’s no shortage of interest, and the platform has even created a feedback loop as learners become tutors themselves. Drew said that many of their learners have expressed interest in tutoring after being inspired by their experience, and some have even become certified tutors on the platform.
“Schoolhouse.world has become a social network for good, and it’s happened because of interactions over Zoom,” Drew said. “Our tutors and learners have the ability to create new connections across borders.”
Disclosure: While Schoolhouse.world receives product donations from Zoom Cares, those donations are not connected to, nor provided in exchange for this story. Read more about our donations to Schoolhouse.world on our Zoom Cares webpage.