Flashcards, study groups, and all-nighters—anyone who has done time in academia is all too familiar with these universal test prep methods. But thanks to StudyBlue, the latest generation of students is getting an upgrade that lets them use their phones for something besides selfies. Launched in 2010, 5 million users have downloaded the app (free for Android, iOS, and web) to access crowdsourced study guides, create, and customize intelligent digital flashcards (they remember what you stumble on and filter out concepts you’ve mastered), take practice tests, and collaborate with classmates—all while on the go.
"No one would argue that education doesn’t need reforming in this country. What we don’t agree on is what to do about it," says Becky Splitt, StudyBlue CEO. "We wanted to address what happens in between the lecture and the test—what do students do to actually absorb and master the material?"
To those who know her, it’s not a surprise that Splitt ended up working in education. It’s in her blood. "My parents were both teachers, and I have three sisters with teaching degrees. Education has always drawn me in," says Splitt, who wishes she’d had StudyBlue when she was earning her communications degree from University of Wisconsin at Madison and her MBA at Wichita State University.
But Splitt started out using her skills elsewhere. After serving as a VP at voice recognition tech company Brite Voice Systems where she helped grow the startup to $9 million in revenue in less than two years, she moved on to head Microsoft’s MSN International and EBusiness Solutions Group. By 2000, she had the growing feeling that something had to change, so she left Seattle for her native Wisconsin. "My then-two-year-old was having serious health issues, and my husband, who had always sacrificed his career for mine, had a job opportunity in Minneapolis. He ended up passing on it, but there were so many things colliding at once, telling me loud and clear to take some time to be the primary caregiver for my son."
Nine years later, she wanted back in. "I'd been doing a lot of consulting even when I wasn't ‘officially’ in the workforce, and I was chomping at the bit to get back into something that leveraged my skills. So I set out to have 50 cups of coffee with people to see what was going on in tech in Madison. Chris [Klundt, StudyBlue’s founder] was probably coffee number 23," Splitt says. "StudyBlue started as a project called Class Connection. Chris built it in 2007 because he was frustrated with the collaboration tools then available to students—Blackboard and that sort of thing. He totally blew me away with his smarts. I could immediately see that this was something that had both huge market potential and huge potential to change the way kids learn."
Turns out she was right; StudyBlue reached its 1-billionth study session last quarter. Students from middle school through medical school are using it to bone up on everything from fine art to accounting to pharmacology to Russian, using their mobile devices to truly crowdsource the studying process. "If a student is using StudyBlue in an anatomy lab, they can take out their phone and immediately capture things you can’t capture on pen and paper. Once a student has made that note and posted it, most choose to share it. Then we aggregate all the material and show it to their classmates, right on their phones. At any point, they can connect to challenge and expand their understanding," says Splitt, who divides her time between Madison and StudyBlue’s San Francisco office.
But Splitt says you don’t need to be a student to benefit from her company’s tools. "I want to build the world’s foremost crowdsourced learning platform. We can connect anyone with anyone else in the world who’s learning; we’d like to be a destination for anyone who wants to learn anything, regardless of whether you have a final to study for."