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While Digital Education Watch focuses on K-12 educational publishing, the site will occasionally explore innovations being made in the higher education world, in the hopes that the technology will soon come to benefit the younger grades as well. Lore is one such company, and a start-up to be exact. While other companies have aimed to infiltrate Blackboard’s dominance in the K-12 classroom, Lore’s advancements in the higher education world is one that merits exploration.
Lore is one of the top 10 education start-ups of 2012, according to Teachthought.com. While the last post explored how Pearson has used technology to enhance their content and products, Lore demonstrates another use: social media and social networking. Many publishers, and businesses in general, have noticed the great benefits social media and social networking can bring to their companies. In this week’s edition of the GWU’s Professional College of Studies Publishing Program’s e-newsletter, the students explore how social media is affecting the publishing industry and this blogger discusses how it affects the publisher’s marketing role.
Lore shows how valuable social networking is in the educational publishing segment, where it can be used to enhance both the student’s learning experience and the teacher’s instructional role. Lore brings social media to the classroom by creating a digital community around learning. This is an essential step to make in the shift from print-to-digital in educational publishing. With Facebook and Twitter’s prominent presence in the rising generation’s world, the students of today are creating digital communities for everything else in their lives, and we must incorporate education into their online world in order for them to connect with it in more meaningful ways.
Lore agrees. On their website, the company explains that “Our education system today can be better. It’s not relevant enough, engaging enough, or, most importantly, accessible enough.” In a 2012 New York Times article about the startup, one of its founders, Joseph Cohen, expands on this concept: “Our education experience is truly offline,” he said. “We want to build what Facebook has done for your personal life, but for your school.”
In an article about the company also from 2012, the Economist explains how founders Joseph Cohen, Dan Getelman and Jim Grandpre dropped out of the University of Pennsylvania in May 2011 to create Coursekit, soon renamed Lore, which has already raised $6 million from investors such as Social+Capital, David Tisch, Joel Spolsky, and IA Ventures.
Joseph Cohen describes Lore as a “social-learning network for the classroom.” Cohen’s description gives us an appropriate name for the social networks educational publishers can benefit from: social-learning networks, networks that further the classroom experience by enhancing the communal aspect of it. Classrooms, in their nature, facilitate a group learning experience, something that can be lost when materials are moved online and learning becomes more individualized. Lore brings the sociality of learning back to the classroom by, ironically, taking it online. Lore recognizes that the Internet has allowed us to become more social, to create communities easier and to communicate within these communities more conveniently. These concepts greatly benefit learning, as students can better understand what they’re learning by share, discussing and questioning the content with their peers; they can also bond with one another to create a learning community. Professor at Boston University Edward Boches explains how using Lore for his advertising classes has made his teaching “more interactive, [it] extends it beyond the classroom and stimulates students to learn from each other rather than just the professor.”
As one of Lore’s featured “Popular courses,” Professor Jeff Ely’s Intermediate Microeconomics class at Northwestern University is made publicly accessible from Lore’s main page. With Lore’s platform, Ely posted the class’s calendar, the course’s syllabus and readings for his students:
Ely’s Lore page for his course also features a discussion board that he and his students used to discuss and ask questions about assignments and concepts covered in the class. While Ely has made this course public, professors can make their courses private and they can control who has access to their network and see exactly how they’re using it, a solution to one of the limitations of technology discussed a previous post in this blog.
Lore is not the first company to attempt to bring online social networking to the classroom. The most notable company to do this is, of course, Blackboard. While Blackboard has gained success in many K-12 and university classrooms across the US and earns a profit by charging for its service, Lore offers many solutions to the problems students and teachers have noted when using Blackboard. From my own personal experience using Blackboard in high school and in my undergraduate and graduate university courses, Lore’s usability looks superior to Blackboard’s, particularly with their discussion boards. Founder Joseph Cohen agrees when he addresses their competitor in a note on the Lore blog from March 2012 and declares that Blackboard’s “products remain lousy.” Matt Cannon at The McDaniel Free Press urged those at McDaniel College with the “Blackboard Blues” to try Lore and offered a comprehensive view of Lore’s improvements on Blackboard’s system to encourage his readers. He notes Lore’s calendar tool, which keeps students abreast of upcoming deadlines, and Lore’s gradebook tool that opens up the grading process for more discussion between teacher and student. Ki Mae Heussnew at GigaOM.com updated us in summer 2012 on how Lore’s redesign has “upped their ante” against Blackboard.
After launching its first version in November 2011, 600 universities used Lore in at least one class in the 2012 academic year. While it’s no doubt that Lore is enriching the classroom in innovative ways with its social-learning network, the company’s future is still unclear–to its customers, as well as its founders. Lore is currently free to users, and the company has expressed that attracting users is its main goal, founder Joseph Cohen has also said that if enough students begin to use Lore as their main resource for learning, the site could eventually sell textbooks and other educational resources. If Lore approaches learning materials with the ingenuity they’ve brought to their social-learning network, we should be in store for even more innovations in the classroom from this start-up.