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Shaping the Future of Online Learning with Gooroo Ed-Tech (Episode 58)

Scott Lee is the CEO and founder of Gooroo, an educational technology company that provides accessible videos through ‘Gooroo Courses’ and personalized tutor matching services.

Scott’s mission is to reimagine education, unlock every student’s potential, and promote lifelong learning for all.

Previously, Scott was a Senior Analyst at JPMorgan Chase’s Chief Investment Office. Prior to Gooroo, he also founded Peertutor.co.kr, a non-profit platform that connected underserved children with English tutor volunteers. He then founded Mud Cafe, a niche online fashion retailer.

The story of the guru behind Gooroo

Scott grew up in South Korea, and moved to the U.S. when he was in high school. He wasn’t able to speak English, so his friends and teachers helped him significantly as he adjusted to the culture, schoolwork, and got involved in different sports.

He developed a passion for entrepreneurship at a young age.  His first venture was a peer-to-peer tutoring club at his school in Hartford, Connecticut. When he first arrived, even GPS was not helpful. Coming from a small country, the forest was huge from his perspective. Likewise, the school was humongous, and it was hard to find tutors. In South Korea, there are tons of tutoring centers and tutors all around the city.

When he returned to South Korea, he wanted to volunteer with underserved children because he felt extremely fortunate to study in the U.S. It was a way to use this privilege to give back.

He reached out to centers who needed volunteers, contacted college students, and after coming back from the army, it was clear to Scott that education and unlocking students’ potential was his passion.

After graduating from Columbia, he briefly worked at JPMorgan and quickly realized that he felt more comfortable as an entrepreneur.

Gratitude and perspective rules Scott’s energy and vision in all the projects he takes on.

Scott tells a story about how his grandparents escaped from North Korea and that his father lived with six siblings in one small room.

Korea was a disaster after the Korean war. His family had to leave their first son with a relative and were never able to find him after they left. A lot of people suffered in Korea, and education is a huge opportunity.

Now, he teaches six to eight students on Sundays during his church service, and Scott believes he learns just as much from them. Everything is a learning opportunity, and human interaction is precious.

Covid has highlighted the importance of community, connection, and conversation.

Scott didn’t speak English for two years while living on a mountain in Korea. After not studying for two years, his brain felt frozen and he dealt with comparisons once he started attending Columbia University.

He started panicking and realized he desperately needed a tutor. He was shocked yet again at how difficult it was to find a tutor, despite there being so many talented, intelligent people in the U.S.

Young and overly confident, Scott decided to build an app that would be like Uber for tutors. He now admits he greatly underestimated how difficult findings tutors would be.

At the same time, he was battling his discontent working at JPMorgan, though his parents were incredibly proud and envisioned a lifetime with the company. In Asian culture, you’re supposed to get a safe job, work there your whole life, retire, and die. This type of thinking mostly came from Scott’s mother, who was married to a risk-taking entrepreneur. Evidently, that passion was passed down to Scott.

Scott left JPMorgan and leapt into the jungle of New York.

He bootstrapped initially, using some savings, stocks, and support from his father’s businesses in the U.S. and Korea. Without these resources, it would have been hard to fundraise. He was a first time founder, overly confident, and had no tech experience.

Scott and his group made a prototype, built the tutor app, and made a lot of mistakes along the way.

They had over 40 investors in the first round, which is unheard of, but initially it was very difficult. He learned a lot from his parents, students, and teachers, but in the end, persistency was the most important piece.

The online learning boom during the pandemic

With Covid-19, online learning has become the norm. While Gooroo focuses a lot on Metro cities, they’re now all over the United States. They also have Chinese students and offices in Shanghai and Jakarta.

One of the most unique parts of the platform is the personalization. The platform matches a tutor with a student, using a customized and specific testing process.

The pandemic has affected over 1.2 billion learners, making quality education a global problem. Tutoring is an amazing resource that Scott and his group wanted to make more affordable, while adding value to this service with the help of current technology. They wanted to make tutors available to everyone, not just the wealthy.

Currently, Gooroo covers all of the normal courses, but also includes topics like personal development, chess, music, singing, cooking, and so on. Now, they’re launching group clubs, which are extracurricular activities for K-12 students with engagement and project based learning. The goal is to allow students to explore new areas and unlock their potential.

Scott believes that a student’s super power is the freedom to think outside of the box, something that schools often cannot achieve due to lack of funding. Extracurricular activities are limited based on where neighborhoods and schools are located. They believe this focus will be extremely important, especially in the future.

The future of education – online learning

There is still a lot of today’s education that is focused on memorization and non-practical information. In the end, the future of education will focus a lot on independent, critical thinking, with the mindset of creating lifelong learners.

People need to realize that your job can be replaced at any time. Your major can disappear while you’re at college. What’s possible because of AI, and the pace of the AI being developed, means we have to keep learning and get good learning. You have to be creative and unique so that AI cannot replace your job and what you do.

That’s why humans are so amazing. We are masterpieces.

The future of education has to focus on enabling everyone to live up to their potential. It is critical. Not living up to our potential creates a toxic environment because we feel accomplished by doing and living our lives, not by getting money.

It’s time to rethink what education is really supposed to do for future generations.

How do we help students find out what they should be doing? How do we aid them in self-actualization? How can we create resources to help others find their path as human beings?

One-on-one learning is ideal simply because you can ask about your learning styles, and teachers can observe how each student learns and build relationships that inspire them. Matching tutors with  students who have common hobbies and interests increases that connection and multiplies the effectiveness of the relationship.

Alternatively,  the group clubs are more project-based and have a lot of different ways members can interact, while keeping affordability and accessibility in mind.

Parents are also more aware of how their kids are learning, because they are given tools to learn their role. A lot of times, parents receive little to no education on parenting, and they make a lot of mistakes with their first time raising kids. Learning how to do that doesn’t happen automatically. Educating parents on what kind of learner their child is increases their chances of success as a parent.

Communicating well to parents about their kids, and helping everybody to stay on the same page is critical. This is a huge problem for schools and parents. They are extremely disconnected. The only thing that parents are told is about their children’s grades and when they have problems.

The process of transforming the education system for the future happens one step at a time.

Online learning styles and modalities

Over the last six or seven years, Scott has dedicated some of his time to learning about styles and modalities. He has been fighting to normalize the reality that every student learns differently.

Using a one size fits all system means some students are led to believe that they’re bad students, when in reality, the material hasn’t been given in their learning style.

That’s not their fault, and students need to know that it’s not their fault.

It’s tricky because school resources are limited, and teachers are stretched and underpaid. On average, teachers burnout in four or five years.

Filling the gap is possible for a tech company like Gooroo, especially if they try to think about how to go above and beyond helping those students to find their learning styles, and how to unlock their potential.

Gooroo’s mission is to reimagine education and unlock every student’s potential through technology.

Gooroo is an education technology company, not a technology education company. This means they have to focus on the future of education, and how to help students go above and beyond. All this while continuing to be innovative and creative.

Technology is a tool to educate, inspire, and guide: Gooroo uses artificial intelligence for the matching algorithm, but this technology was built by their tech team. Behind the scenes, their instructional coordinator, teachers, founders, and all the humans involved are the ones who keep things going.

To learn more about Gooroo, check out its website. For more content like this, browse previous episodes of the podcast

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