Hundreds of mobile apps promise to boost students’ grades and help them prep for tests, but StudyBlue has managed to rise about the crowd with an approach that sources content straight from the people studying it.
Over the past couple of years, the Madison, Wisc.-based company said it has attracted more than 2.5 million students “from middle school to Med school,” who have shared more than 100 million notes across Web, iOS (s AAPL) and Android (s GOOG) apps. On Friday, the company said it raised $9 million in a Series A-1 financing round led by Great Oaks Venture Capital and including the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) and other existing investors. The round follows a $3.6 million dollar Series A round in 2010 and brings the company’s total amount raised to $14.8 million.
Through the apps and website, students can upload the content they need to study and then review it on the go. The app tracks what the students get right and wrong but also surfaces other similar content on the platform. For example, if a student uploads material about the Pythagorean Theorem, StudyBlue’s algorithms search for other user-submitted content on the topic and then lets the student review it. Students can see who uploaded each piece of content and then message the author.
“Having to share, compare and debate is a big part of the learning experience,” said StudyBlue CEO Becky Splitt. “The funding is all about continuing to refine our ability to enhance our data and connect students to each other in the most effective way.” She added that the funding will also go towards helping the company scale its team across operations and product development.
Other companies compete with different parts of StudyBlue’s business – digital test prep startup BenchPrep and digital textbook startup Kno, for example, let students create digital flashcards, but based on content from publishers; Cerego, an online memory management tool, enables students to create interactive notecards for studying any topic; and plenty of apps offer students discipline-specific, static study guides. But Splitt said only StudyBlue tries to give students a “digital backpack” that brings any content in their backpack to their phones.
For now, the company gives students a basic way to track their own progress and monitor their strengths and weaknesses. But Splitt said the company is exploring ways to further capitalize on its growing database. For students, it intends to roll out more guided learning plans that tailor content to students’ mastery level. And, for teachers, it’s looking into creating a dashboard that lets them follow students’ progress – although Splitt said the company knows it needs to tread lightly in this area.
“We’re walking that line very carefully because students see StudyBlue as their place – in college, in particular, [they] don’t want Big Brother watching over [them],” she said.