The Korea Herald


[Herald Interview] AI inevitable force to shape education: Riiid

Korean education startup sees huge potential in ’AI tutor‘ as education struggles to overcome pandemic shock

By Song Su-hyun

Published : May 5, 2021 - 16:39

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Riiid executive David Yi (Riiid) Riiid executive David Yi (Riiid)
Education has always been slow to adopt new technologies. But with the COVID-19 pandemic and schools forced to move online over infection risks, the time has finally come for it to embrace the artificial intelligence.

“COVID-19 is making AI inevitable,” said David Yi, an executive from Riiid, a Seoul-based AI education startup said in an interview with The Korea Herald. “In the US, students are all off campus, students are disengaged and are falling behind. How do we help this lost generation?”

According to the executive, who has been in the education field for 19 years, as a lawyer and entrepreneur, the answer may lie in AI, which enables personalized study in remote learning environments.

“The problem with online learning (now) is that students are on the computers, but they are not learning,” he pointed out.

Yi joined Riiid last year to head Riiid Labs, which was established in Silicon Valley in 2020 to help expand the firm’s business across the United States, South America, the Middle East and beyond.

Started in Korea in 2014, Riiid gained its fame with the mobile TOEIC test prep application Santa launched in 2017. It is an AI tutor solution based on deep-learning algorithms designed to help English learners raise their test scores. It has been used by more than 2.5 million students in Korea and Japan.

“Most AI companies out there would want to show off their fancy dashboards,” Yi said.

But Riiid’s proprietary AI technology, based on deep learning algorithms, analyzes user data and content, predicts students’ scores and behaviors, and recommends personalized study plans in real-time to help users optimize their learning potential.

“Our flagship comes out to four things: score prediction after just a short period of time; knowledge tracing, knowing what answers students are going to pick; a recommendation system that suggests content; and dropout prediction, or knowing when students will sign out and suggesting easier and happier content,” he explained.

Based on over a year‘s worth of user data, Riiid reported that the average score increased by 165 points out of a possible 990 points after just 20 hours of study.

Riiid is currently in talks with over 200 companies to apply its AI to a range of educational content, aimed at enabling personalized instruction for widely-used standardized tests. It has partnered with US Kaplan and launched an app for GMAT.

The firm was named one of the top 100 AI companies across the world by CB Insights this year, the only Korean AI company to make the global list.

As stakeholders in education struggled to find ways to address challenges posed by the pandemic, AI as a whole can be a driving vehicle for a new educational paradigm, the Riiid Labs CEO continued.

“The biggest question is to use smartphones effectively in learning, like shopping and entertainment companies do,” he said. “AI can do this, and we call this AI tutor -- we are not replacing teachers.”

“Before AI, smartphones were not useful for education, but with AI, there’s so much more data to play with and push, making students want to study more,” Yi said.

Yi predicted that the company’s AI tutor solution would be more effective and useful if it goes to voice, seeing how people interact with AI speakers Google Home and Amazon Alexa.

“AI will be much more vocal with us,” he said. “AI will not be restricted to phones, and eventually all the technologies we have here we can transfer them to other places, and people will be able to interact that way,” he said.

By Song Su-hyun (