Digital learning platform BenchPrep adds new publishers, doubles courses

The past few weeks have seen quite a few textbook-related headlines — from digital textbook startup Kno’s announcement that is entering the K-12 education market to Amazon’s decision to rent textbooks to free textbook alternative Boundless Learning’s move out of private beta. But BenchPrep, a Chicago-based ed tech startup, isn’t interested in delivering new kinds of textbooks, but new kinds of courses.

Last month the company said it had raised $6 million from New Enterprise Associates and others and on Thursday the company said it had added several new publishers to its roster. The new partners, which include Pearson Education, Inc., O’Reilly Media, Inc., Microsoft(s msft) Press, Archipelago Learning (now part of Plato Learning), A.D. Banker & Co., and Allen Resources, put the company on track to offer 200 courses by the end of September, with another 400 in its pipeline.  At the moment, the company offers 120 courses.

Co-founder Ashish Rangnekar said that when the platform launched a year ago (and rebranded from its initial launch as Watermelon Express), its focus was on test prep. But as the platform attracted users (it now has 250,000), they realized that they could also make a play to help students in their learning before or after an ACT, GRE or other kind of standardized exam.

“With these partnerships, we’re able to fill in some gaps in our course portfolio,” he said “Now, we’re able to cover all the bases and once a student is on BenchPrep, they have all the courses for their learning needs.”

While its earlier offerings focused on college test prep, the new courses focus on curriculum with interactive courses for college physics, algebra, chemistry, etc.

With its new options, BenchPrep seems to be moving into territory occupied by Kno and Inkling, which provide digital textbooks that include some interactive elements for college courses.

Rangnekar, however, said that while the topics may overlap, those companies remain more focused on distributing books in a digital format and BenchPrep is offering more involved multi-platform courses. In addition to working more closely with the publishers to refashion content for its platform, he said, BenchPrep’s final product includes more video, exercises and assessments.

Still, as digital textbooks become more interactive, the line between a ‘book’ and an online, instructor-less ‘course’ will blur, and it will be interesting to see how these various companies differentiate themselves and progress.