There are some tools for learning that just feel right. What’s better is when they’re actually good for you, and when the results are amazing. This story is about a little company having a big impact, and that provides for students both in high school and college settings, as well as the teachers and professors who help them. As head of company, Becky Splitt brings over 15 years of experience in early stage tech business growth, has worked for Microsoft running MSN’s International business; Christopher Klundt heads technology development and operations, graduated top of class in Computer Science and BioMed Engineering at UW Madison, went straight to work designing the software platform that is now StudyBlue.
Victor: Briefly, why StudyBlue?
Becky: We created StudyBlue to give students the power to create and share online flashcards and study materials for their courses. We realized that, all too often, students have to rely on their teachers to take advantage of technology created for learning. StudyBlue puts the power of making useful online study materials directly in the hands of students.
Victor: What is it and who created it?
Christopher: I founded StudyBlue with a friend from college and with the help and support of a mentor of mine who eventually became our seed investor. We started StudyBlue because we were driven to find a better way for students to achieve greater academic success through the use of technology. The original prototype service, called “TheClassConnection.com,” offered tutoring, class calendars and study group coordination, as well as note and flashcard sharing. We launched StudyBlue in 2009 as a suite of online and mobile study tools focused on helping students master their stuff.
Victor: What does it do and what are the benefits?
Christopher: StudyBlue provides a digital backpack for students to store, study, share and ultimately master course material. They can choose to work alone or collaborate online with others. Now that students can create and study materials on their phones, studying can happen anywhere.
Becky: Students can type and text much faster than they can write, so whether they create flashcards using their computer or their phone, they save time. We’ve found that students who use our mobile app are two times more likely to study between the hours of 6 and 8 a.m., which saves them from studying late into the night. Additionally, mobile studiers spend up to an hour or more studying every week because they take advantage of downtime, such as waiting for the bus. We’re creating the easiest and most convenient way ever for students to master their material.
Victor: Where did it originate and where can you get it now?
Christopher: Online flashcards are available for free to any student who creates an account at StudyBlue.com, or downloads our free app from Apple’s App Store or the Android Market. In addition to online flashcards, StudyBlue offers a number of additional services including personalized quizzes, study reminders, study stats to measure mastery and study filters to provide focus.
Victor: What’s the name mean?
Christopher: We needed an “ownable” name; we threw out some names one day when we were working out of the basement office and that one stuck. It just feels right.
Victor: How is unique from other, similar products and services—and what companies do you see as being in the same market?
Becky: StudyBlue is different because it serves as a student’s digital backpack. We help them streamline the same kinds of studying methods that have been used for years by providing a digital service to create and share studying materials using computers and phones. It may sound funny, but pen and paper is our biggest competitor.
Victor: When was it developed and what’s something interesting about its development history?
Christopher: StudyBlue was founded in 2009 in Madison, Wisconsin. In September 2010 we had our “5-dot-0 release” and ever since then we’ve been laser-focused on making the best online and mobile study tools for students. Our growth has been tremendous ever since.
Victor: How much does it cost, what are the options?
Becky: We are a “freemium” service, which means that we offer a free version of StudyBlue, and a version that has additional features that students can pay for to take their studying to an even higher level.
Christopher: Our premium version focuses on delivering all of the features that we hear students asking for the most. We are continuing to develop and test a mix of features for SB+. In general, SB+ offers a more advanced version of the StudyBlue experience. So far we’ve heard from our students that they really love the advanced study filters featured in our premium version, which help them focus on the material that they are having the hardest time mastering.
Victor: Got some examples of it in action?
Becky: We get hundreds of success stories from students who have used StudyBlue to get better grades. Getting positive feedback and seeing people tweeting and posting their success stories on Facebook is one of the most rewarding things about working at StudyBlue.
We also have teachers who share blog posts about how they are using StudyBlue in the classroom by creating different types of study games with our quiz features and flashcards. Although StudyBlue was created for students, it’s an especially good feeling to know that teachers are embracing this technology as a great way for their students to learn the stuff they teach.
Victor: Who is it tailored for?
Christopher: In 2009, we were 100 percent university students. Today, high school students and teachers have grown to about 30 percent of our total user base. In the future, we see middle school and international growth as our largest opportunities.
Victor: Your thoughts on education these days?
Becky: Students today are living in a “bring your own device” or “BYOD” world. Their mobile devices are an integral part of their everyday lives as students. We feel it’s imperative that our service matches the lifestyle of today’s mobile students, which means offering a cloud-based service that students can access from anywhere, on as many devices as possible. As students become more dependant on their mobile devices for learning, our mission at StudyBlue becomes even more critical because of how important it is for students to have access to quality learning tools on the devices they use most often.
Victor: Any formative experiences of your own that informed StudyBlue development?
Christopher: When I was in school all of the online tools out there were created for the professors. That’s why from day one StudyBlue has been of the students, by the students and for the students. I wanted to create a study tool that was student-centric and student-based. Basically, I wanted to make the exact study tools I wished had existed for me when I was a student.
Victor: How does StudyBlue address some of your concerns about education?
Becky: Altering a school’s existing infrastructure is incredibly difficult. Budget constraints and bureaucracy combine to make change happen slowly, which is why we’re going directly to the learners so they don’t have to wait for their school or their teachers to start adapting to new study methods.
Victor: Your outlook on the future of education?
Christopher: The ability to connect to others is becoming incredibly important because learning is easier when you can get help from students who are trying to learn the same things you are. I think this will only get more important as the spectrum of learners continues to grow from traditional students to people going back to school to enhance their existing careers or start new ones.
Becky: People are starting to realize that specific training for specific careers is necessary to find employment. They want to get degrees that will help them get jobs. The amount of specialization that has taken place and will continue to take place only increases the need to connect over the Internet with other people who are trying to learn similar specialized subjects.
Victor: Got anything quirky or funny to share?
Becky: We’ve got people from all walks of life working at StudyBlue. Every person here plays an important role for our company and our ability to serve our users. We like to say that StudyBlue is sort of like a smoothie, and we wouldn’t taste the same without one of our very important ingredients. Every time a new employee starts we have a “fruiting ceremony” where the new employee is assigned a fruit, which is added to the StudyBlue smoothie. It’s a fun little thing we do, plus we get to have a healthy snack afterward, so everybody wins.
Christopher: People at StudyBlue work hard so we think it’s important to provide them with plenty of fuel. We keep soda in the fridge and we’ve got a bulk food dispenser in the office kitchen that’s full of pistachios and peanut butter-filled pretzels, which I view as an integral part of our success.
Victor: Anything else, advice to leaders in education, final thoughts?
Christopher: StudyBlue allows students to connect over the Internet and on their mobile phones. We connect students to other students, and students to content. Students who use StudyBlue never have to feel alone when they are trying to learn because they can easily connect to hundreds of other people trying to learn the same material. StudyBlue empowers and enables students to find these other people, making studying more effective and more efficient than ever.
Becky: StudyBlue exists outside the system. There’s no need to get approval from a principal or school board. The students who are using StudyBlue have taken it upon themselves to use our service because they think it’s the best way possible for them to learn their material. We’re seeing tremendous growth in the usage of our mobile app and we think it’s simply because we’ve created a service that is tailored to meet the needs of today’s students. The classroom will always be an important part of education, but providing students with study tools that fit easily into their lives is now more important than ever. And that’s exactly what we do at StudyBlue.
Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. He is the editor-in-chief of EdTech Digest, a magazine about education transformed through technology. He has written white papers, articles and features for schools, nonprofits and companies in the education marketplace. Write to: victor@VictorRivero.com
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