1M Users Strong, Schoology Grabs $6M To Take On Blackboard, Moodle

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Schoology, the makers of a one-stop, cloud-based learning management system for primary and secondary schools, is announcing today that it has closed a $6 million Series B round of venture funding. The round was led by FirstMark Capital and includes a contribution from existing investor Meakem Becker Venture Capital, bringing the New York-based startup’s total funding to $9.3 million.

For those unfamiliar, Schoology is building on the concept behind services like BlackBoard, Moodle, and Edmodo by way of a collaborative learning platform that allows schools to integrate online education, classroom management, and social networking through a good-looking, Facebook-esque interface. The cloud-based solution is available both for free, as a stand-alone product, and as a fee-based, enterprise-grade solution for schools and districts.

The appeal of Schoology for teachers is that they’re able to sign up for the service in a few minutes and can easily invite their students into the system using a unique access code. Therein, teachers can build a curriculum, create lesson plans, assign tests and quizzes, while students can submit their homework and join groups to participate in collaborative study projects, etc. Teachers can then grade assignments and also have the ability to take advantage of collaboration and content sharing with other educators within their school or school district, as well as adding apps into their workflow.

Schoology believes that its value proposition is in the way that its platform can be used across schools and spaces, allowing a diversity of organizations to participate in shared classes, groups, and discussions. In this sense, as FirstMark Managing Director Amish Jani says, Schoology doesn’t need to spend months and years convincing heads of a school system that the technology suits their needs, instead, “users simply adopt it, and Schoology then has the privilege of notifying districts or universities about additional capabilities available to them with a few clicks of a button.”

The goal is to push schools towards the adoption of Open Educational Resources. As education adopts digital textbooks, adaptive learning, and the flipped classroom, there will increasingly be a need for platforms that bring these next-gen technologies together. Schoology wants to be that platform, much in the same way that Boundless Learning is approaching the problem through creating open, expanded digital textbooks as the framework for the future of educational platforms.

Schoology hopes that the fact that its system integrates with existing platforms (the startup offers teachers the ability to quickly export their Moodle courses directly into Schoology) and offers social networking functionality, will result in a network effect. And there’s reason to believe that it’s beginning to work, as Schoology today has nearly one million users on the platform, across 18,000 schools.

Next, as content can be built, shared, and purchased from directly within its platform, Schoology wants to encourage developers to get in on the action and begin building a wider set of smart, educational apps for use by teachers and their students. Jani also pointed out that teachers can “be given micro-credits to personalize the system for their needs, and parents can be invited to participate in the educational process,” which can, in the long run, significantly contribute to this network effect, as well as offering that much-needed customization layer that adds to the appeal of enterprise-grade services.

Schoology’s vision for its technology also extends beyond the classroom, as any organization that wants to offer continued learning or on-the-job training can use the platform as an educational tool for its workers. Groupon, for example, has been using Schoology for sales field training, offering sales managers the opportunity to quickly educate new employees by sharing its own proprietary materials that need to be learned. They can then offer quick quizzes and tests on the material, upload new guidelines, and offer a general resource for revisiting sales, best practices, etc.

It’s no easy feat to offer an interface that remains intuitive both during basic, say, homework sharing, and in its more complex user management functions. Keeping the barriers low enough so that it can be used effectively in classrooms or at a corporate level to train and educate employees, while offering enough customization for both use cases is a difficult line to walk. But Schoology seems to be finding the balance as a full-service, cloud-based learning management system that looks good and is actually easy to use.

For more, check out Schoology at home here.