The Company Crowdsourcing Homework Help

Nearly every student knows the frustration of getting stuck on a homework question, and nearly every parent has experienced the time where they just can’t figure out how to help. Michal Borkowski, a Polish entrepreneur, decided to try to solve this issue by co-founding Brainly, an online platform that crowdsources homework questions to its larger community. Founded in 2009, the site is now used by over 350 million students each month across nearly 35 countries. Recently, I spoke with Michal about Brainly and its mission to help students better understand their schoolwork.

— Rick

Rick: Tell me about Brainly.

Michal: Back in 2009, my co-founders and I realized there was a real need to give students a safe and trusted digital platform specifically built for learning. So, we founded Brainly, now the world’s largest online learning platform, where students and parents are able to both receive and offer help with homework problems and questions. Since launching, Brainly has grown to offer help in school subjects such as math, history, English, biology, chemistry, physics, social studies, geography, health, arts, business, and more. Students can search existing answers to millions of the most common questions or ask our community of experts themselves, often receiving answers within minutes. Each question has up to two answers provided by our experts and student users, and the answers include step-by-step explanations to help students really understand the question at hand. Additionally, we launched Brainly Tutor in April, a subscription service that supplements the free platform and provides students with real-time access to live chat support from our global pool of authorized tutors for the subjects that challenge them the most.

Rick: How is this different from other online homework help out there?

Michal: What Brainly does better than anyone else is provide a focused, safe, and collaborative study-centric environment where our community of students, parents, and teachers can all learn and grow together. For some users, Brainly has provided the extra resources they need to thrive in a difficult educational environment. For others, it has leveled the academic playing field, providing a free or low-cost alternative to high-priced tutors and other academic resources. And, as opposed to other platforms that cater to specific topics or are operated by educational institutions, Brainly was established as an open community to directly support students and their parents. We believe in giving our users all the tools they need to succeed in schoolwork across the full spectrum of subjects on a single, free, easy-to-use platform, while offering additional premium resources for those who need them.

Rick: Who uses Brainly?

Michal: Brainly has three hundred fifty million monthly users — primarily middle and high school students — across thirty-five countries, although users in each region don’t overlap when using the platform due to differences in curriculum, language, and other factors. Parents also comprise a vital part of the Brainly community, using it to brush up on dusty school skills to help with their child’s homework or to oversee the progress their student is making. And, we’ve recently introduced Brainly for Parents, which gives parents the ability to pair their account with their child’s, allowing them to see the questions and answers their child is asking or receiving. It’s a great way for parents to be included in the learning process and see the subjects that their child is finding most challenging.

Rick: Does Brainly cost users anything?

Michal: Users can access most of the content and features available on Brainly for free. But to access the entire knowledge base, including unlimited verified answers, users purchase a Brainly Plus subscription, offered as either a six-month plan that costs eighteen dollars or an annual plan that costs twenty-four dollars. Brainly Tutor is also available as an annual subscription for ninety-six dollars.

Rick: How do you make sure the questions answered by students are actually correct?

Michal: All users in our community are able to monitor the quality of answers by using our rating system, leaving thank yous, and reporting wrong answers or answers with mistakes. Additionally, we have a team of thousands of moderators and volunteers who actively patrol the platform for accuracy and suggest improvements wherever possible to make sure that Brainly’s knowledge base is a reliable resource for learning. For the most challenging topics and questions, our users can rely on the expert-verified answers. These answers, which we flag with a green check mark, are ones that our volunteers and Brainly staff have reviewed and found to be both correct and the most helpful for creating understanding.

Rick: How do Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning come into play?

Michal: As we grow our product offering beyond our core peer-to-peer homework-help platform, we’re increasingly looking to tech solutions such as AI and machine learning to enhance our user experience. Math Solver, an AI-powered product we recently launched, is a great example of the direction Brainly is heading in. A student can simply take a photo of the problem or write it on a mobile device’s touchscreen, and Math Solver instantly provides a detailed step-by-step explanation or a graphic visual of the solution to help students understand it.

Rick: Some parents or educators might be concerned that Brainly is custom-made for copying answers. We understand you have an honor code, but how do you enforce it and ensure students aren’t just using this platform to cheat?

Michal: Brainly is overwhelmingly used by students and parents who come to the platform to learn, share, and create a level of understanding that transcends questions and quizzes. We have a zero-tolerance policy for cheating and, if someone violates our community guidelines, they are barred from the site. In addition, if students and parents are uncomfortable with the way others use the site, we encourage them to report those behaviors to our moderators. From there, we review the report and deal with it accordingly.

Rick: How will you know if what you’re doing is successful?

Michal: We hope to see Brainly’s technology become a part of our users’ educational journey, rather than just helping them prepare for a test or overcome a homework hurdle. We’re seeing our platform help students achieve their biggest learning goals — according to an internal survey, eighty-eight percent of users said they are better prepared for high school or college. To be frank, that’s what this is all about.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

This post originally appeared on Rick Hess Straight Up.

Direct Ed Policy Studies at AEI. Teach a bit at Rice, UPenn, Harvard. Author of books like Cage-Busting Leadership and Spinning Wheels. Pen Ed Week's RHSU blog.