Education in the Era of Technology

by: Nathan Schultz, President of Learning Services at Chegg

During the 10 years I have been at Chegg, we have witnessed a dramatic change in the higher education system. From the cost, curriculum and student demographics, the industry has been forced to evolve to the new realities. Huge change brings even bigger challenges to address the needs and demands of today’s students who are very different than they were even just a few years ago.

At Chegg, we too have evolved to take advantage of new technology and new realities to help solve the biggest pain points that students face and to be their biggest advocate. We have worked hard to realign the education industry by focusing on students first. And we are making a serious impact.

When I first arrived at Chegg, we were focused on providing cheaper and more accessible textbooks because their costs were so high that many students couldn’t afford their required materials. We created an innovative rental model which immediately and dramatically brought down the cost of textbooks for the first time — saving students and their families significant amounts of money. Students were grateful, and they challenged us to do even more. And, by more, they needed college to not only be more affordable and available, they also needed more help learning So, we evolved our products and services from saving them money to helping them get smarter and, as a result, Chegg is now one of the premier online learning platforms with over 30 million visitors coming to our site a year. We not only support these students in their academic journey but also, increasingly, into their professional endeavors.

We have learned many things about student’s over the years, especially some harsh truths. Most of them don’t have the luxury of spending four years (today, it’s really more like six) pursuing knowledge for knowledge’s sake. Instead, over 40% of them are working, 25% of them are raising a family, 60% of them feel anxious frequently or all the time, with the biggest source of their stress being their finances and academic pressures. They are taking on more debt than ever and they are getting less support from their schools than ever before. They are literally having to choose between eating or reading.

They need — and deserve — our support.

Because of our reach and relationship with students, we are asked all the time, can the education system be fixed? And, if so, how? The answer is yes, but we know it will take the collective efforts and collaboration of schools, educators, government, private businesses, and students. The good news is — some of the change is already happening and technology can accelerate that by making learning more accessible, affordable, relevant, and scalable.

This generation of students has grown up with technology and are increasingly dependent on it in nearly every aspect of their lives. From entertainment to transportation, banking and communication, they use technology to simplify their lives. Realistically, we all do. So, why would we assume that a one-size-fits-all model of education would work for a group of people whose lives have become synonymous with technology? They expect the higher education system to evolve, like every other product and service in their lives. And it should.

Of course, whenever there is change, there are new challenges and obstacles to overcome. We recognize understanding technology’s place in the education system can be daunting. My last post on our official Chegg Medium addresses how weird change can be, especially in this digital age. And I believe we have to keep addressing the challenges the education system is facing, so I will be posting a series of articles in the coming months on this topic.

Over the last few months I’ve been asked; “with so many options to learn from online, from Google to YouTube to sites like Chegg, what are the issues we are facing and how do we deal with the small percentage of students who may use these sites and services to cheat? Or, worse, find sites created for cheating where they can download papers or buy tests?” It’s certainly an important topic for discussion and one we care a great deal about at Chegg. In fact, we are working with several leading institutions to find ways to leverage technology to address this very problem. As most of you know, offline schools have struggled with this same issue for decades and use technology to discourage plagiarism.

At Chegg, we have a fundamental belief in academic integrity and have built all of our services with teaching and learning at their core; from Q&A to step-by-step solutions, high-quality video tutorials, and even human help when needed. All to support student’s learning & comprehension of subjects so they can master their classes.

Today’s students have very specific needs and they want to develop the skills they need for their future with the hope of getting a job that will help pay off their debt and maybe provide some sense of financial security. To do so, they want and need access to expert, authoritative, trusted content when they need support with their coursework. They want help to be online, on demand, affordable and personalized. And given their demanding schedules and the current burden of their student loans, many cannot afford to attend office hours or hire expensive tutors. They need support when and where they need it. If they are in a class of 300 students, understandably they get little to no personal attention, and Chegg aims to be their “always on” support.

We are passionate about helping students learn because we know the power of affordable education and its ability to transform lives. Our belief in the importance of learning the subject matter means that we reject cheating in any form. We have made substantial investments in monitoring and blocking the activity on our platform, to ensure academic integrity, and we encourage others to do the same. If any tutor is known to help a student cheat or does an assignment for them, they are sanctioned and banned from our platform. We don’t allow students to share papers or download copywritten content from our site and if a professor reports that copywritten content has been posted, we investigate and take it down. Any user who misuses our products and services will be censured, and we reserve the right to, and often do, ban bad actors from our platform. And, as we have scaled, we have increased our investments in technology and machine learning, to monitor our site and put protections in place to provide students with a premier learning experience. All our tutors and subject matter experts are tested for their area of expertise, they are trained on our honor code standards, and we monitor activity on our site for quality and integrity.

Could someone get past those protective measures? Yes. But, under that theory, to prevent all online cheating you would have to shut down access to the whole Internet. We realize there is always more than can be done, which is why we are proactively finding ways to combat cheating or academic dishonesty across our platform. As we look at the future of Academia, we need to embrace technology to improve and enhance the learning experience for all students. So, we are increasingly working with universities and other technology providers to address this issue.

As described in our Honor Code, we cooperate with any official investigation by an academic institution. We remain committed to doing everything we can to prevent and tackle any misuse of study support from any source and encourage other sites to do the same.

Today, students have more tools than ever available to them to learn their material, master their classes, and succeed in life. We are proud to be a part of their academic journey, and beyond, so we will continue to be committed to putting students first. We are grateful every time they acknowledge the role we played in their lives and we will continue driving the agenda to realign the education system to serve the needs of the modern student.