Personalized Education for the Connected World

Verizon Powerful Answer Award Winner Paves Way for Future of Digital Learning

By on February 23, 2015

Verizon is now accepting ideas for the 2015 Powerful Answers Award 

Expanding its ongoing commitment to innovation and social responsibility, we are currently accepting submissions for the chance to win up to $1,000,000 in prize money. Enter here by June 18th, 2015: verizon.com/powerfulanswers/award/

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Ever since The New York Times named 2012 "the year of the MOOC," the idea of open access online education has surged in popularity. Many massive open online courses, or MOOCs, attract tens of thousands of virtual students from around the world. Yet these large-scale lecture-style courses – many of which lack engaging or personalized content – are on average completed by less than 13% of the students who enroll.

Seeing an opportunity to fine-tune the online learning experience, Zach Wissner-Gross co-founded School Yourself, a Boston-based startup that believes the future of digital learning should be one-on-one and interactive. Wissner-Gross and his team developed a unique platform for creating scalable, personalized education courses, and use a custom analytics platform to continuously refine them. This innovative approach to improving online learning stood out to the judges of Verizon's 2014 Powerful Answers Awards, who awarded $250,000 to School Yourself.

“Edtech is a hot space right now and Verizon is right on to include this category in its 2014 Powerful Answers Awards,” said Wissner-Gross. “Over the last five years, the advent of broadband and high-speed internet created a fundamental shift that allowed anyone to access online educational content. In the next five years, my co-founders and I aim to leverage all of these technologies so that not only can you access educational content, but you can access personalized instruction.”

Wissner-Gross and his three co-founders – now working long-distance between Boston and New York City – launched School Yourself three years ago, but hearing that their company had just won a quarter of a million dollars in funding from Verizon was easily one of the best moments the team has shared to date. The grant will allow School Yourself to grow its team and hire new talent. With added resources, the team will be able to develop and release more courses and authoring tools, and take time to carefully explore new businesses models.

In addition to winning the Verizon Powerful Answers Award, School Yourself just launched two new high- school level math courses in conjunction with edX, a Harvard/MIT online education collaborative. The two courses started on February 10 and have already more than quadrupled School Yourself’s user base from 4,000 local users to 25,000 global participants.

According to Wissner-Gross, nothing has aided in the company’s growth quite like being centered in Boston’s “education hub.” Working in close proximity to Harvard and MIT has offered a slew of technology resources just across the Longfellow Bridge, and has allowed the team to push the boundaries of what’s possible in online learning.

Michael Murphy is a public relations manager with Verizon Wireless. Follow him on Twitter at: @VZWmike.

Tags: Verizon Powerful Answers Award, School Yourself, Edtech, Online learning, EdEx, Zach Wissner-Gross