This summer, as it became apparent that COVID-19 showed no signs of letting up, colleges across the country announced that fall classes would be held remotely. But though students are taking classes from the comfort of their own homes instead of lecture halls, the cost of tuition remains the same.
Outlier, founded in 2019, offers online courses, taught by university-affiliated professors, with credit that can be transferred to traditional universities. And while a student might pay $50,000 in tuition to attend class from home, they could instead spend $400 to take a class on Outlier that would transfer over, saving them tens of thousands of dollars. It’s the winner of our 2020 Innovation by Design Award in the category of Learning.
When Outlier founder and CEO Aaron Rasmussen was in college, he saved tuition money by taking community college classes over the summer and then transferring over the credits. Several years later, after founding the wildly popular Masterclass, he set his sights on using technology to make college courses more affordable for the masses.
Outlier currently offers four classes: Introduction to Statistics, Introduction to Astronomy, Calculus I, and Introduction to Psychology. They’re taught through slick videos, usually filmed in New York, and offer different professors for each class, so students can choose one that best suits their learning style. During the pandemic the company was able to adapt, sending professors equipment (including microphones, cameras, and lighting), so they could film classes in their homes. For professors who didn’t have a filming space available, the company found convenient Airbnb locations close by that they could use.
The company has also incorporated current research to make sure students can retain information: questions about the end of the chapter are asked at the beginning to gear students’ minds to learn, and exercises are interspersed during instruction to make sure that students are paying attention.
Outlier says it’s working to expand its offerings, and it has also partnered with some colleges to allow enrolled students to take its courses. Though not all universities accept Outlier’s credits, the company says it helps advocate for students if administrative issues arise. While Outlier declined to disclose how many students are currently enrolled in its courses, Rasmussen says the number of students taking classes during the pandemic has increased by 7x.