Education Social Network Lore Adds Student Features to its “Virtual Campus”

Lore, the social network for education that got its start focusing on individual classes, today announced new features for students which not only allows them to sign up without being invited by a course instructor, but also expands the definition of what a Lore community might be. It’s a natural next step for Lore, which early on in its life changed its name from CourseKit after realizing that the opportunities for connecting students and educators in a web-based social network extended well beyond the boundaries of the classroom.

Previously, Lore only allowed professors to create classes, and students could only join once they’d been invited to that class by an individual. Lore Marketing & Operations chief Hunter Horsley said in an interview that early on the team saw the opportunities to expand beyond that, and this is a key step towards that goal.

“This summer, we basically re-did the entire course product based on feedback we’d received and ideas we had, and today we’re expanding to the next step for us as a network,” he said. “We started with courses as the smallest unit [for education-based networking], and we’re now recognizing that students don’t just learn from courses, they also learn from groups they’re in.”

Those groups could be honors societies, faculties, majors, study groups or any number of other classifications. Horsley also said that they don’t necessarily have to be formal. Suppose, for example, a student wants to network with a former or current professor, and possibly establish a longer-term mentorship relationship. That’s now possible with the new Lore, as is grouping up with other students who don’t necessarily share classes, but share interests and study goals that cross disciplines and departmental boundaries.

“We know that students want some individual relationships, if you have mentors, if you have aspirational figures in your life,” he said. “I think the experience everyone has is they have that professor freshman year, that they love and go home and rave about, but there’s no good way to stay connected to that guy. You can’t friend him on Facebook, it’s creepy to add him on LinkedIn, so you lose that connection. But now [on Lore] you can follow professors, you can follow other students on campus and they can follow you.”

Students can also build academic profiles on the site, sharing details that can provide a more complete picture than either a resume or a CV. And they’re free to create their own groups, which Horsley thinks should lead to greater use of Lore beyond the confines of higher education, and into more informal groups of users who might be working on continuing education or hobbies.

Another social network famously began as a tool for education-centric communities: Facebook. But Horsley believes Lore will differ by sticking much more faithfully to a vision of a network that empowers and augments education. That’s also what makes it different from other education-focused tools with networking elements, he believes. Whereas something like Coursera wants to become the curriculum and classroom online, Lore is intent on becoming the virtual campus, which should make it a good fit for learners at both traditional institutions like Harvard and non-traditional education communities like Coursera and Udemy.

Expansion aside, Lore will remain free for students and educators, and will steer clear of advertising as a source of revenue. Instead, the company will explore opportunities around the sale of textbooks and other paths to monetization. Horsley notes that the textbook market alone is a $13 billion industry in the U.S., for which Lore could eventually become “the gatekeeper.” For the time being, however, Lore plans to focus on product development and user growth, true to the path taken by social networks like Facebook and Twitter before it.

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