OpenStudy: Make the World Your Study Group

The importance of institutional education varies depending on culture and geography. For instance, in the part of the world I live, at least one professional college degree is a must to have a fair chance in landing a decent job. The number of degrees is directly proportional to the social status.

On the contrary, in countries like USA, college and school drop outs don’t have so much hardship in life. In fact, successful people like Peter Thiel encourage students with upfront cash to drop out of college. In my opinion, both the mindsets are flawed. Not everyone is brilliant, self starting and adaptive to changing conditions.

The thing is, it’s not a degree per se that is so important, but the education you gain from it. Education is what gives the rest of the average and below average students a sense of direction and a chance to figure out what they are better suited to do in life, and can even broaden advanced students’ world view. OpenStudy is a virtual meeting place for students from across the globe to form study groups and learn everything from Math to History. Let’s see how you can use this to broaden your own horizons and learn more, whether you’re in college or starting the next Facebook.

Overview

OpenStudy is a social learning network where students ask questions, give help, and connect with other students studying the same things. The web app is aimed at making the world one large study group, regardless of school or location.

Overview

Overview

OpenStudy is a free web app and is open to anyone above 13 years of age. You can sign up for the service with your existing Facebook account over OAuth.

Getting Started

Getting started with OpenStudy is extremely simple even if you haven’t used a lot of web apps in the past. Think of OpenStudy as a Question and Answer service like Yahoo Answers or even as the Facebook comment system that’s been designed fully around education. You either post a question or answer an existing one. Eitherway, you can get the job done in a few seconds as soon as you finish typing your question or response.

School Specific Courses

School Specific Courses

First up, choose a subject of your choice. Don’t get fooled by the eight subjects prominently displayed and make sure you hit See all groups. You will find almost all subjects taught in schools covered here and in some cases, specific courses from partnering institutes are covered as well. Best of all, many of the subjects can be viewed freely online from iTunes U or MIT OpenCourseWare.

Accessing Study Groups

User Interface

User Interface

Once you are in a study group, you will find that the page is divided into two major sections. On the left side you have questions and this section is updated in real time. Here you can switch between the tabs to find recent questions, unanswered questions and the questions you have asked so far.

Each question is accompanied by a badge that indicates the number of responses it has got so far even before opening the page. In addition to the badges, the app does a great job indicating how many people are currently viewing the question and if there has been an answer that satisfies the person who posted it.

Answering a Question

Answering a Question

You can answer questions from a text box and if need be, use the Equation feature to input a complex equation whose symbols can’t be found in a standard keyboard. An option to attach files is available as well. If you find an answer that offers a perfect solution, use the Good Answer option to reward it with a medal.

Achievements and Medals

The Leaderboard

The Leaderboard

What good is educational app that doesn’t grade students based in their knowledge and achievements? OpenStudy has a cool system that offers medals upon achievements and promotes them to various levels based on merit. On the right side of the study group page, you will find the leaderboard of sorts cum status page.

Profile View

Profile View

All profiles are accompanied by the number of answers each one has provided in the web app, the user level they are in and the question they are currently viewing. As a newbie, you will start as a Neophyte and do note that the levels you achieve are exclusive to individual study groups. So if you reach the highest level in the Math group, you still will have to climb from the Neophyte level in other study groups.

If you are in doubt, check out the tips window that shows up from time to time explaining the levels, achievements, medals and other things related to OpenStudy. Also try using their real time group chat to converse with fellow students.

Final Thoughts

Despite being a for-profit startup, OpenStudy has a noble goal of helping people learn. The web app is well designed and is very intuitive to use. The easy to use and elegant design in fact will make students – who usually tend have a very little attention span – to say longer than usual on the site and give it a serious try.

However, I do have two serious concerns about the app. Why do they have to collect all my Facebook data and then again put me through a sign up process? I don’t see the relevance of having all my personal data in the system as it doesn’t add any value at all.

Second, there aren’t a lot of people online at any given time. I monitored the number of online users over a few days and found that except for the Math section, most of the time only a handful of students are available online. Hope this changes as the app gains some traction!

Share Your Thoughts!

As a student, how useful are web apps like OpenStudy to help you learn? Which one in your opinion is a more productive option – a local study group or a virtual, global one?

Or, if you’re looking to get different questions answered, check out our roundup on Great Ways to Get Your Questions Answered Online