A* or your money back: Online learning platform Up Learn expands into schools


An online learning platform that claims to get students top grades or their money back is expanding into schools.

Up Learn was founded two years ago by new graduates Guy Riese (pictured centre) and Andrew Mitson (right). Now aged 23 and 22 respectively, their platform mixes cognitive-science learning techniques and artificial intelligence to deliver a curriculum which, they insist, always gives the best results.

The group are so confident that each student who completes their course is guaranteed an A or A* grade, or their money back.

In its first year, Up Learn offered free AS-level courses in Edexcel economics. Only 50 of the 160 students who signed up stayed on the intensive course right to the end, but 95 per cent of those got at least an A.

Last year, Up Learn introduced an A-level option and charged for its courses. Of the 180 students who signed up, 60 completed – and they all either got an A or A*.

Now the company is working with three schools, including one in a MAT, to supply the course to students in schools without an economics teacher.

Riese believes programmes like his will deliver the entire exam curriculum in future.

“Instead of students learning in different ways throughout the year and then having a single shot at an exam, you can assess them constantly and determine when they have completed the course and therefore achieved an A* or A,” he said.

Money isn’t our main motivation. We get out of bed every morning because of the impact we are having on students

“We aren’t trying to remove teachers. There’s so much more teachers can do beyond what Up Learn is able to do, like collaborative learning or bringing a subject to life. Up Learn can take care of the exam curriculum and let the teachers concentrate on the rest.”

He said that 25,000 people have signed up to the service so far, which currently only offers courses in Edexcel economics.

The team are expecting to launch courses in Edexcel maths and OCR physics in January, as well as AQA and OCR economics, and eventually want to offer courses on English literature, geography and chemistry.

The company says each curriculum is designed by professionals, and uses techniques including retrieval practice and spaced repetition to check how much information students are retaining.

It uses an algorithm to analyse the strengths and weaknesses of students, as well as checking how accurately they recall information and the time taken to answer questions. The algorithm self-assesses to improve its teaching as it is used.

“We want people retaining information beyond exams, rather than frantically cramming and forgetting everything immediately,” said the firm’s director of education, Kris Boulton (pictured left).

“People are capable of more and deserve more, and as a society we should be tackling this problem from whatever angle we can.”

The course costs £229.99 for a year, or £329.99 for a “master” course, but Up Learn also gives away as many courses as they sell, so students from more deprived backgrounds can receive free learning.

“Money isn’t our main motivation. We get out of bed every morning because of the impact we are having on students and the feedback we get from them, that we are helping them achieve what they thought they weren’t capable of,” said Riese.

“We want to create the most high-quality curriculum. We wouldn’t want it to only be available for those who can afford it. This way, we know we aren’t increasing inequality. We can help social mobility.”

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  1. On-line revision software may well boost grades in GCSE exams that have long since failed to test deep understanding. This is evident from the pitifully low raw mark thresholds for the higher grades in this year’s ‘more rigorous’ GCSE exams.

    However, there is more to understanding science and other subjects at a deep level that can ever be effectively taught by ‘individualised learning’ approaches regardless of the sophistication of the on-line software, as this article explains.

    Vygotsky is right that knowledge first emerges on the ‘social plane’ and is then most effectively internalised by individuals to become deep understanding by the sort of social interaction learning favoured by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and long established and proven approaches set out by the ‘Cognitive Acceleration’ movement established by Michael Shayer and the later Philip Adey.

  2. This is an example of a sinister, deeply political movement to profitably privatise the US & UK school systems. It originates, like most bad ideas in education, from the neo-liberal ideology of the US, that in terms of its education battle-front regrettably managed to take in New Labour and Democrats like Barack Obama.

    Matthew Bennett explains this very well here.