Take Note: Course Hero Raises $15M to Help Students Share Study Materials

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Year in and year out, students create reams (or megabytes, depending on your generation) of class notes. Why waste them?

That’s the idea behind Course Hero, a marketplace where high school and college students can upload and share class notes, study guides and flashcards, and connect with tutors. The Redwood City, CA-based company has raised $15 million in a Series A round led by GSV Capital and IDG Ventures. Previous investors SV Angel and Maveron also participated.

The startup was founded in Oct. 2006, when Andrew Grauer, then a Cornell undergraduate, wanted to build a marketplace where he and his peers could find course-specific supplemental resources to help their learning.

Course Hero currently claims over five million users, approximately 80 percent of whom are college students, and the rest high schoolers, according to Grauer, now the company’s CEO. The company boasts over seven million class notes, study guides and practice tests--and at least one study resource from 8,900 schools across 60 countries.

The majority of these documents were created digitally; only a few were scanned from handwritten notes. This means most of the notes are at least legible--if not necessarily sensible. When it comes to quality control, Grauer says Course Hero has a self-policing community where users upvote or downvote the materials, and also flag items for inappropriateness.

Students uploading and sharing class materials have ruffled feathers, however. In the past, school officials have sent cease-and-desist letters to other companies that allow students to sell notes. Professors have also called out sites--like Course Hero--for making it easy for students to cheat.

Course Hero relies on an Honor Code that “expect[s] our users to act with academic integrity,” and Grauer firmly believes that students must ultimately own up to their actions. With regards to copyright, he says the company is “very upfront about educating students about having explicit permission to upload the materials.” He cites the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) as a “very useful precedent” in delineating the responsibilities between content uploaders and hosts. Indeed, teachers have notified the company of infringement, and “in those cases we take the materials down,” Grauer shares.

In addition to study materials, Course Hero also offers tutoring and Q&A services. In July 2012, the company purchased Cardinal Scholars, an online and in-person tutoring service that it continues to operate under the original name. Students can search for peers and alumni for 60-90 minute tutoring sessions by university location, and pay either per session or in packages.

Course Hero site also has its own legion of tutors that are available to answer questions online. Students can spend “tutoring credits” to ask questions and request answers by a specified date.

In addition, students can create share and digital flashcards to help review basic facts. All flashcard sets are public, but premium features allow students to create private flashcard groups, upload unlimited images and see analytics to track study progress.

To access Course Hero's tutors and flashcard features, students purchase a “Premier Membership” (ranging from $10 to $40 per month) that gives them full access to all study documents, along with tutoring credits and flashcard features. There’s an incentive, though: students who upload 40 or more study documents can get free monthly subscriptions.

The concept of a student-driven, note-sharing marketplace and community is certainly not new: Knetwit raised $5 million back in 2008 with a similar vision; the site has apparently been shuttered. That hasn’t discouraged Course Hero, or competitors like Boston-based Flashnotes, which also recently raised several millions to provide a similar service where students directly buy and sell notes, flashcards and videos.

Grauer remains firm about his vision: “We want to focus on just offering supplemental help for students who are already enrolled in courses in school. How can we help them succeed better?”

Along with earlier funding, his company, now with 60 full-time employees, has raised $17.4 million.

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