Studying can be fairly antisocial. Writing papers and studying for exams are solitary activities, but OpenStudy, a social learning network demoing at TechCrunch Disrupt’s Start-up Alley, aims to change that. OpenStudy connects students in distant locations in what CEO Chris Sprague calls a ‘massively multiplayer classroom’.
Our opportunities to keep learning outside the traditional classroom are growing. Exclusive colleges release their lectures as video or audio downloads (I’m thinking in particular of Cambridge University’s podcasts, MIT’s OpenCourseWare and Brown’s alumni lecture series, all available to download). Independent learning services like Praxis’ChinesePod, among others, allow non-trad learners to study a foreign language through podcasts. Tech-enabled students set their own educational pace, jumping to the lectures that most interest them, without sitting through 100-level prereqs first, and are able to focus on educational content, not passing exams.
With free access, freemium services, or modest pricing, these educational technologies are almost always available on your smartphone, on the way to work, to make self-guided education completely accessible. Learning Chinese, studying physics or just listening to a one-off lecture, is now totally within reach.
What’s been missing in this open and available education, of course, is the community aspect of a classroom.
When Chris Sprague demoed OpenStudy for me, I saw a retiree answering math questions, and receiving badges in thanks from high school and college students. Recent questions were on a range of topics, and asked with an array of presentations, leaning towards capitalized and spellchecked requests to but with plenty of OMG HELP!!! as well. OpenStudy does not currently employ any tutors. All the academic assistance comes from students-players, volunteering their time and knowledge to help others. Sprague believes that our desires both to help our community and to be recognized by our community are powerful educational motivators.
Although Chris showed me the math section, I couldn’t help seeing further implications for the humanities. OpenStudy could offer the chance to test out a thesis or a closing argument to a group of students with similar interests.
Gamification has become such a product-pitch buzzword that it’s almost meaningless. While I love Reality is Broken, classroom games, and the challenge-reward feedback of casual games, somehow hearing the term gamify in a product pitch, kind of brings me out in hives. I recently attended a product demo of TwoChop, a “gamification engine” that turns any webpage into a psuedo-game with all the appeal of filling a captcha, the worst website add-on I’ve seen since autoloading music.
OpenStudy, though, is gamified motivation done right. OpenStudy offers badges — again, a product-pitch buzzword — for a range of activities, from an automatic badge when a student-player opens chat, to player-given badges as social rewards. It provides a variety of ways for users to connect with each other, and to receive positive feedback from individuals, the community, and the system. And this is the heart of any educational community.