Steve Case-backed Echo360 buys ThinkBinder to bring more social learning to higher ed

In its second acquisition since scoring a $31 million round from Steve Case’s Revolution Growth Fund, education technology company Echo360 has picked up New York-based startup ThinkBinder.

On Tuesday, the Dulles, Va.-based company, which makes software that helps colleges bring their classroom lectures online, said it plans to integrate ThinkBinder’s peer-to-peer communications tools with its service and transition the startup’s 4-person team into roles in product expansion.  The company declined to share financial terms for the deal.

“ThinkBinder’s social collaboration tools offered [us] an opportunity to compliment a modern student’s 24/7 digitally connected lifestyle,” said Echo360 CEO Fred Singer.  “By empowering students to engage, share and solve problems in an on-demand environment, we’re able to stretch learning beyond traditional classes and improve academic outcomes by encouraging peer to peer interaction at all hours.”

Since launching about a year ago, ThinkBinder has been in beta. But, during that time, co-founder Greg Golkin said it was able to attract tens of thousands of users with a simple web app that enables students to organize and conduct group work online. Students can sign up for free and then easily invite peers via email and Facebook to share a group calendar, exchange files and multi-media content, organize tasks and chat.

“We think of engagement outside the classroom as this next frontier in education. Historically, you interact with teachers and students in the classroom and then the day ends and you go off and do your own thing,” said Golkin, who will become Echo360’s head of platform innovation. “If you can keep the student thinking about content outside the course that has been shown to [improve] outcomes. We wanted to create a way for students to collaborate with each other and teachers out of the classroom.”

When Echo360 announced its investment from Revolution last year, the company said its goal was to expand from 5,000 classrooms to 30,000 by 2017. So far, it says it’s reached 6,000 classrooms in 30 countries. But as it competes with other higher ed-focused companies, including BlackBoard and Desire2Learn, which also offer colleges and universities tools for digitizing content and enabling online collaboration, Echo360 wants to ramp up its social product set.

In November, the company said it acquired Lecture Tools, a startup founded by a University of Michigan professor that solicits real-time feedback from students and increases in-classroom engagement.