What lawsuit? Boundless Learning pushes ahead with free textbook platform

Boundless Learning, the bold Boston-based startup taking on the textbook industry with a free, open-source alternative, is now available to anyone. The company, which launched last fall and quickly drew a lawsuit from publishers, has only been available to students at certain schools, but is announcing Wednesday that it is coming out of private beta.

In addition to opening up the platform, the company has updated the core product and navigation to make it more visual, tablet-optimized and to lay down the groundwork for a more social experience. In refreshing the platform, co-founder and CEO Ariel Diaz said they took their cue from student feedback.

“We respond completely to students. That’s really our core driver, which is different from a lot of educational products because they’re selling to institutions or professors,” he said.

The new version is easier to navigate with photo thumbnails for each chapter in the table of contents, and it also includes an improved search feature to help students more quickly find relevant content. Students can also highlight sections and take notes, and, Diaz said, they plan to release a notebook feature in the near future that includes all of a student’s notes and highlights, organized by chapter, so that they can have instant study guides.

New version lays groundwork for social

While Boundless isn’t social now (Diaz said some students are apprehensive about sharing in a learning environment because of potential honor code violations), the updated platform provides the foundation for future community features — with an activity feed, for example.

“We’re starting to think about how the community and social features will play into it,” he said. “We’re making sure that they’re helpful, not social just for the sake of being social.”

As the platform progresses, Diaz said, they plan to make the content more “modular” so that teachers will ultimately be able to assign the same section on neurons, for example, whether the class is on psychology or biology or neuroscience.

For every course, Boundless cites the original source, both to be compliant with Open Educational Resources standards and to provide students with a richer experience. “With textbooks, you don’t see any sources – the textbook becomes the de facto authority which is silly because if you do deeper research, material is sourced in a research paper or other documents,” he said.

Publishers allege copyright infringement, unfair competition, false advertising

In April, Boundless Learning announced that it had raised $8 million from investors, including Venrock, NextView Ventures, Kepha Partners, Founder Collective and SV Angel, just as three major publishers filed a lawsuit against the company. In the suit, Pearson(s PSO), Cengage and Macmillan alleged several violations, including copyright infringement, unfair competition and false advertising. Last month, Boundless filed a motion to dismiss the latter two claims and, while it didn’t argue to dismiss the copyright infringement claim, it said it’s without merit.

The company said it’s currently in use by students at more than 1,000 universities and plans to file a formal response to the full complaint, including the copyright claims.