The Global EdTech Landscape from NavitasVentures and Quid describes social learning platforms as having a fundamental design principle that “is peer-to-peer, covering both synchronous and asynchronous formats,” and that they “seek to address the challenge of teaching and assessing learning outcomes that are nuanced, nonlinear and deeply human.” We like that definition.
Social learning platforms allow students to take a more active roll in their education and learning, helping them to share, question, and clarify their knowledge. It also makes students part of a learning community where information from an instructor is more likely to be retained and even further examined. These platforms create an environment where learning can occur horizontally, and not just vertically in a classroom. The teacher, professor and traditional learning resources (think old school library research) are no longer the sole source of knowledge and in some cases, may not be the primary source of knowledge - for better or worse.
Another bonus to social learning platforms is that they can be used inside or out of the classroom (online learning), which means that learning and the exchange of ideas is no longer restricted to one place or time. The conversation and collaboration can continue as long as the interest does - on phones, anywhere.
Social Learning Platforms of Interest
For K-12 Institutions
“Reach students and parents where they are. Communication for the school, home, and everywhere in between.” These are the promises of Remind, which seems to provide K-12 institutions with some valuable options instead of coordinating your school activity using Facebook groups.
Remind doesn’t offer much in the way of letting students connect with each other, but the same is true of most platforms in the K-12 market. However, Remind does keep the flow of information open with teachers beyond school hours. For administrators and teachers, Remind offers a way to quickly disseminate or collect information to either an entire organization or smaller groups. Class announcements and teacher/staff availability can be scheduled, and it makes planning meetings with parents or students easier, as they can reach the teacher directly. All of the messaging is two-way, and it also provides in-app translations for families where language may be a barrier.
For Higher Ed Institutions
Piazza is a wiki-style platform currently being used by over 50,000 professors in 2,000 schools and 90 countries. On it, students post anonymous questions on course-specific pages, which other students and the instructors can answer. The professors moderate the discussion and endorse certain answers to keep the class on the right path. Instructors can also track question popularity to see where lectures or materials may have been confusing. Students see color-coded responses making it easy to see what information is coming from their peers and what is from a professor. The platform claims to integrate with every major LMS. Integration claims must always be examined before purchase; references from those who went before you are important.
Piazza may sound like Blackboard or other popular platforms you’re familiar with, but according to The New York Times, “Piazza’s platform is specifically designed to speed response times. The site is supported by a system of notification alerts, and the average question on Piazza will receive an answer in 14 minutes.”
Another social learning platform of interest is the student-driven Course Hero. This one allows students free access to the platform when they upload their study documents sorted by their individual course. Those documents then join over 25 million course-specific study materials, such as study guides, test prep documents, class notes, and practice problems. They also offer 24/7 online tutoring help, provided by other students.
Similar but even larger than Course Hero is StudyBlue, the self-professed largest crowd sourced study library in world with over 400 million student-uploaded flashcards, notes, and study guides. StudyBlue has 15 million student members and offers their material searchable by institution (university or high school).
Taking it further than just students, Wisr provides a slightly different platform based on mentorship, connecting prospective students and parents to undergrads and currently enrolled students to alumni. It is currently being used by Oberlin College, Stanford University, the University of Chicago, Denison, and Cleveland State University, among many others.
According to their website, Wisr works by “analyzing members’ goals, interests, and academic backgrounds to suggest approachable next steps as well as members who can help accomplish them. Recommended members are suggested based on thousands of data points like shared interests, levels of experience, and extracurricular activities.” This process allows parents and high school students to find the answers they need about the school and its programs from the university students themselves.
Wisr contends that their platform improves student life and retention by connecting them to support communities, offering one-on-one career coaching, and building alumni and staff networks. For smaller institutions, the platform may fill infrastructure or staffing gaps efficiently.
The Bottom line
Back to our First Marketing Question: Making better decisions based on gathered and distilled information. Isn’t that the skill education is seeking to instill in all of us as we grow and advance through life?
All of these social learning platforms take what happens in the classroom and bring those topics into the students’ lives whenever they want or need to access them. They let instructors know where students (or their parents) are still having questions and then give students access to the answers they need—whether those answers come from each other, their professors, alumni or the wider knowledge community.
With students familiar with having unrivaled levels of connectivity and sharing so much of their lives online with their peers, it is natural that they would gravitate toward having those interactions integrated into their learning systems.
If your institution is not using these systems now, we expect you will be at some point in the future. Great student experience is such an important message to share -- from the enrollment marketing folks and more importantly from your students themselves (word of mouth).
Don't be the one being referenced with the, "Huh! We don't have that."