InstaEDU: On Demand Tutoring When You Need It Most


It never failed. During each of the twelve(!) academic quarters I spent as a teaching assistant during graduate school, the days, nights, and hours immediately preceding a quiz, exam, or assignment deadline were always chaotic. Students I had never even met before would come out of the woodwork needing last minute help. Undergrads queued up outside my tiny office during typically silent weekly office hours. Emails flooded in at all hours of the night. This crunch time sometimes involved tears, outrageous stories, and excuses you would not believe. These fond memories all came back to me when I met Alison Johnston, co-founder and CEO of InstaEDU, last week for coffee.

As co-founder of in-home tutoring service Cardinal Scholars with her brother Dan, Alison noticed a lot of the same patterns I observed as a TA. Urgent questions kept coming up at all hours of the night. We all remember that panicky feeling of being stuck on that one last problem in a set, or needing a couple points clarified for an important test at a time when the chances of getting a hold of your TA are slim to none. While it would be impractical to schedule an in person study session to meet all of these last minute needs, Alison and Dan knew that there were many capable tutors – students at elite universities such as Stanford who had successfully taken the same course before, for example – online at all hours who might be able to help.

InstaEDU, who recently raised a $1.1M seed round from the Social+Capital Partnership and others, offers a great solution for last minute study woes. Currently in public beta with a network of 1000 experts vetted from Top 25 universities in the U.S. (based on the latest U.S. News & World Report rankings) as well as Oxford and Cambridge, students can log on to the site, indicate what kind of help they need, and be matched with a tutor in less than one minute, on average. Sessions can be conducted over video chat (or audio only, if preferred), and assignments can be uploaded so student and expert can concurrently work on the same problems.

InstaEDUAlthough the company is still in its early stages, I believe that InstaEDU is one to watch, and am looking forward to seeing their wider roll out as the academic year begins this fall. There are many aspects to their services and business model that make me a fan of InstaEDU. From a student’s perspective, it is an economical way (first 10 minutes free, 50 cents per additional) to get help when they need it, even during odd hours and stressful times. It is also a great opportunity for students to earn extra cash during their free time. The system notifies experts currently online when a student is seeking help, providing a truly “on demand” service, and the tutor can choose to accept or ignore the request, working solely on their own schedules. At $20 an hour, serving as an expert pays more than most on campus and work-study positions, and could certainly help graduate students and postdocs supplement their stipends as well.

Alison and I also discussed some features that InstaEDU is considering adding to their arsenal. Students can currently rate and review their expert after a tutoring session, so more detailed profiles and testimonials will appear in future iterations of the website. Moreover, the team is working to find optimal ways for proactive students to schedule sessions ahead of time with their preferred tutors. From my experiences of being an overwhelmed TA, I suggested a case where individual universities might have a list of reliable experts that can be recommended to students in the event that their own TA might not be available, which could provide quality help for students, a bit of cash flow for the tutors, and a slightly lighter work load for the TA, resulting in a win-win-win for everyone.

As options for online learning grow, and class sizes can range from just a handful of students to tens of thousands, another future endeavor of InstaEDU is to personalize the experience of a distance learner. As one of thousands of students in a live streaming lecture course over the Internet, you may not be able to easily engage with your professor, but with InstaEDU, you can have an expert in your subject area help you one-on-one in under a minute.

Are you in need of a study session? Interested in earning some extra cash as an expert? Go to to find out more.

Alicia Chang is EDUKWEST's Science & West Coast Editor. She is a cognitive and developmental psychologist (Ph.D., UCLA, 2008) with research interests in language and cognitive development, the effects of language and culture on cognition, and cognitive science applications to STEM education. She lives and works in Silicon Valley. You can follow her on Twitter @aliciac and Google+.

  • Anonymous

    I bet they had fun working out how to price this service correctly. I’m really curious if the free first ten minutes will maximize their revenue in the end. I also wonder what the reasoning was behind this approach.

    • Isn’t that always the fun part? I think 10 free minutes at the beginning are a good way to make the situation less stressful. You can start with some small talk, explain the problem in detail (the part were the tutor is listening anyway) and then get into the solving process. I know that most of my lessons started with at least 5 minutes of weather talk. This also helps to build relationships, students might come back to a tutor they liked, have a chat, complain about the teacher etc.

  • Justin Kidder

    I think most tutoring services offer free trials…see,,, etc.