Reflections on Quizlet founder Andrew Sutherland's keynote

February 7
Effie Jia, MIT '20

Founder and CTO of Quizlet, Andrew Sutherland’s keynote presentation at MIT’s Festival of Learning focused on “Empowering Students and Teachers.” One of the top 30 largest websites in the US, Quizlet is used by over one-third of all U.S. high school students and has over 20 million monthly active users.

What made these statistics even more surprising to me was:

  • Sutherland started Quizlet at the young age of 15.
  • Currently, there are only 55 employees helping run such an influential, digital-education enterprise.

Quizlet’s mission statement is to help students practice and master whatever they’re learning while providing students and teachers the ability to create their own content for learning and teaching. As Andrew Sutherland talked about his story behind creating Quizlet, I thought about the times I had used the website during high school. In my high school French classes, I used Quizlet flashcards that either I or my teacher had made. The cards were extremely helpful in learning new vocabulary that refined my understanding and fluency of the language. What made the Quizlet website even better was that students or teachers could decide which words or concepts were to be learned, thus allowing the experience to be tailored to the individual.

In the broader scope, there are multiple changes taking place that have allowed for the amplification of online education. Sutherland touched upon two main factors pushing the industry forward:

  • Dramatic improvements in school Internet access.
  • Cheaper devices that give more kids access to computers.

Consequently, this new infrastructure empowers students and teachers to deliberately choose the tools they use in education, whether it be online or not. However, Sutherland also addressed this progress by saying, “Moving to a digital future is not, by default, a good thing.” Current technology in education sets the stage for a possibly worrying future, one filled with children fixed to computer and tablet screens. On the other hand, technology does have the potential to push education forward. The classroom should be a place for students to engage with each other and the teacher, and online programs can help aid those interactions if designed with certain ethics in mind. By designing tools like Quizlet Live, online education can prevent students from learning in digital isolation and instead promote peer collaboration.

I’m excited to see that Quizlet has continued to push the limits of digital education; it now expands far beyond my use of the website for French vocabulary flashcards. Sutherland and his company are leading the path for a more interactive online experience that truly empowers students and teachers to take learning beyond the physical boundaries of the classroom.

Effie Jia, MIT architecture '20