Lore ups ante against Blackboard with redesign, option for anyone to audit public courses

In an effort to further cast itself as a consumer-facing social network for education – and unseat incumbent Blackboard – New York-based Lore rolled out a new version of its platform Monday that makes it more streamlined, design-centric and functional.
“We see a future for education… that is a hybrid of both online and offline behavior,” said Lore founder and CEO Joseph Cohen, who dropped out of the University of Pennsylvania to launch the company. “We want to be the software platform for it – we want to be the underlying experience that connects you to this whole world.”
Originally launched as Coursekit in December, Lore says it’s now in more than 600 colleges and universities nationwide. As opposed to traditional learning management systems (LMS) that are purchased by schools for their communities, Lore targets students and professors who can adopt the system course by course. Through the platform, students and professors can share course materials, chat about homework assignments and lectures, schedule events and more. The software itself is free but the company has said that potential revenue could be earned by selling other tools and services through the platform.
One of the most interesting features of the new design is the ability for professors to list their courses as “public” and then allow anyone to follow the commentary and progress online.
Cohen said that more than half of the current classes on Lore are already public but professors were hacking the system by giving non-students course codes that would allow them to join the online discussion. (Earlier this year, it was reported that a professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business attracted 1,800 online students when he opened up his class through Lore.) In the near future, an outsider interested in auditing a class would have to be alerted to the option by someone in the class but, eventually, Lore will give visitors a way to search for public classes, Cohen said.
Public option follows trend to open up higher education
The effort follows a trend to open up higher education (as evidenced by initiatives at Stanford, MIT and Harvard, as well as online education programs launched by several new startups) and it could give universities a way to market themselves to potential students.
The newly-designed platform, which Cohen said they re-built from the ground up, includes several changes, including:

  • A new on-boarding experience for professors, which shows them how Lore can work best for the specific discipline they teach
  • A merged social stream and calendar to simplify discussions
  • A new system for organizing course materials that files documents, Powerpoint decks and other information into easy-to-find “stacks”
  • A modern gradebook that encourages collaboration between professors and students
  • A LinkedIn-like profile that lets students and professors share current courses, past course loads and future plans

Lore, Edmodo, Schoology want to provide social layer for education
Social platforms Edmodo and Schoology similarly want to provide a social layer for education, but those platforms target K-12 students and teachers, while Lore is focused on higher education. At the moment, its clearest competitor is Blackboard, but as it expands its footprint in an effort to be the LinkedIn or Facebook for education, it will likely find itself edging up against other startups aiming to up-end education. While Blackboard may not rival Lore’s user interface, sharing capability and simplicity, it has managed to penetrate thousands of colleges, K-12 schools and other organizations. As Lore brings in more users it will have to show that it can keep up with the load to avoid the buggy-ness some associate with Blackboard.
But the company seems to have a good amount of wind in its sails. In addition to its impressive adoption, it’s raised $6 million, including investments from TechStars, Founder Collective and Peter Thiel.