How Study Guides Are Changing Online Learning

Remember when SparkNotes exploded onto the online scene and paved the way for many different EdTech companies such as Studypool, Chegg, Course Hero, Quizlet, and many more to blossom? The central innovation that SparkNotes introduced which arguably kick-started this entirely new niche for learning lies in the idea of offering succinct summaries of the most important point associated with popular high school literature books. The rest is history.

Naturally, modern EdTech experiences no slouch in its growth. Just last year, a study by EdSurge noted that EdTech investments peaked at $1.45 billion for raised capital in the United States. Let’s take a look at the past and present circumstances for this budding field.

The History of Study Guides

So, while Sparknotes was the pioneer of this idea, there have been many spinoffs in recent years all essentially offering similar services. Enotes, BookRags, Shmoop, Cliffsnotes, and Gradesaver, to name a few, all belong to this category of sites that provide literature resources. The emergence of these sites coincides with the increasing amount of information and publications that are available and accessible.

In other words, as more and more students are able to have access to greater numbers of texts, the ability of each student to internalize the entirety of a text and then remember the key points after two weeks becomes weaker. Think about it, when’s the last time you’ve read some long, 19th century novel like Crime and Punishment, or if you have, do you really remember all the details that clearly?

In Nicholas Carr’s often cited essay in The Atlantic entitled “Is Google Making Us Stupid,” he alludes to this notion that an overflow of information may fundamentally alter the way we process, digest, and retain information – and sometimes not for the better. In an excerpt from the above: “I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy… That’s not the case anymore.” What this all points to is the idea that the Internet is becoming a more common medium that requires us to pinpoint and process relevant information, rather than to dive deeply.

So what’s the connection here? SparkNotes capitalized on the shifting trend in how people read and conceptualize things. Increasingly, people want things that are boiled down to the basics and that can tell them the main plot elements, characters, and themes in contrast to the more traditional approach of slowly internalizing each of these elements.

The Modern Approach the Study Guides

A picture is worth a thousand words. How many pictures is a video worth then? That’s what the trailblazing EdTech company Studypool is asking when it comes to the presentation of study guides. Studypool has taken a hybrid approach towards developing a system that allows users to access and learn the information they want to know about books when browsing online, but the company has also started to explore how videos can help even optimize this process further.

Infographics are helpful for condensing information, but videos are especially engaging when used properly because there is much more contextual information that viewers can glean from the intonation and body language of a speaker, as well as from the fact that video requires more active attention. These aspects work in tandem to help Studypool achieve a take on study guides optimized for learning.

Another signature approach to these informative videos is to make them piecemeal. Khan Academy embodies this strategy the best, by having each video contain a discrete concept, but also by ordering these videos in a way such that a coherent narrative or presentation is created. Again, all of these are up and coming innovations to the original types of short, text-based content first utilized by Sparknotes.