Hoping to make its online learning platform a stickier place for students, interactive course startup BenchPrep is moving to a subscription model.
Since the Chicago-based company launched last year, it has charged students on a per-course basis for access to its digital test prep and curriculum-focused courses, which include licensed textbook content from dozens of top education publishers, including McGraw Hill, Pearson, O’Reilly Media and Cengage Publishing.
On Tuesday, the startup is announcing that it will continue to offer its professional and certification courses on a per-course basis, but will shift to a subscription model for courses appropriate to high school, college and graduate students.
As opposed to paying up to $100 (or more for multi-platform access) for an interactive SAT or AP Algebra prep course, students can pay $20 a month for web access and $30 a month to use hundreds of courses on the platform from any device.
“The end goal of what we’re trying to build is a platform that lets students be free to explore and, overtime, build their own learning platform,” said co-founder Ashish Rangnekar.
Just as people may be more willing to explore new genres and content with a subscription service like Netflix or Spotify than they are on a platform like Apple’s iTunes, BenchPrep’s bet is that the new model encourages students to start using an increased range of courses and stay on the platform for potentially 15 months, instead of just the three to six months it might take to complete a single course.
With the new model, the company also gains greater flexibility in terms of other services and products it could ultimately offer down the road. Course Hero, for example, a web-based learning platform that uses available online information, offers subscription-based access to its library of courses, flashcards, tutors and other study guides (as well as free access to limited resources).
Rangnekar has previously said that BenchPrep’s focus isn’t necessarily content, but delivering it in a personalized, adaptive learning environment. The new model moves the company further away from being a distributor of discrete digital courses and positions it as a broader, more consistently used platform for online learning. It’s also in line with the nature of many education textbooks and products — especially those for test prep — in which students use the material for a short period of time and then move on to something else.
It may take students (and their parents) a bit of time to adapt to the new platform, as they might be prepared to pay for a single SAT prep course but not think they need additional resources related to an entire year of a college education. But Rangnekar said universities, libraries and other institutions the company has spoken to want to offer BenchPrep as a supplementary service to students and a subscription model enables that to happen.
More than 275,000 students currently use the platform, averaging 78 sessions and nine hours a month, the company said, adding that by the end of the year it will offer 500 courses.