Produced with Scholar

Case Study of an e-Learning Ecology

Project Overview

Project Description

Explore and document a case study of an e-learning innovation—something in which you have been involved, or which you have observed in a place where you have studied or worked, or an interesting intervention somewhere else that you would like to study in more detail. A practice may be a piece of software or hardware; a teaching and learning activity that uses technology; or a case study of a class, a school or person using technologies in learning in an innovative way. Use the 'seven affordances' framework to analyze the dynamics of the e-learning ecology that you are investigating.

Icon for StudyBlue


Crowd-Sourced Learning for Mobile Devices

Samantha flicks off her alarm, grabs her phone from the nightstand, and does a quick glance through Twitter and Tumblr. She sends a text, then reviews flashcards on StudyBlue for a Bio test later in the week. After getting ready, she walks to the bus to start her 45 minute commute to school. After she burns through five lives on Candy Crush, she hops back on to StudyBlue to see if she can beat her accuracy from this morning.

Flashcards are nothing new, but they are getting a needed update thanks to mobile technology. Students no longer need to sit solitary with their stacks of handwritten index cards, murmurring, flipping, and taking notes. The rapid growth of mobile devices has resulted in a surge of mobile learning platforms, and flashcards are uniquely suited to this environment.

StudyBlue, which was founded in 2009 by graduates of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, delivers flashcards in a rich media environment across multiple devices. It is accessible from desktop, tablet, and mobile, offering an optimized experience on each platform.

StudyBlue helps turn flashcards into an active memory experience, and one that happens iteratively over time. Instead of trying to cram as much information into short-term memory before an exam, students using StudyBlue have been found to reference the application in many short bursts over a span of time. This type of learning aids the student in absorbing the knowledge into long-term memory, which in turn leads to greater recall of the information.

Flash cards are just the start of the experience. Students can also take practice quizzes, with assessment built in for their own feedback - this assessment can also be tied to the classroom, allowing teachers to track student's progress and see where they are having issues in their learning. Students can make notes within StudyBlue, and both teachers and students can upload class materials through the interface.

Study Guide in StudyBlue

One of the most striking features of StudyBlue is its sheer wealth of knowledge. The StudyBlue platform is built on the crowdsourcing model; students and teachers create all of the content, and can opt to share it with the entire StudyBlue audience. This results in a treasure trove of material, with over 100 million pieces of data within their study library. The content is tagged by subject, class, author and textbook making it easy for students to find the content they are looking for, whether it be modern art, biology, anthropology, or chemistry.

StudyBlue started as a resource for college students, with students from Arizona State, Rutgers, University of Michigan and UW-Madison supplementing their studying with StudyBlue[6]. To date, it has begun to move into the K-12 learning space, with high school students now making up 30% of its 2.5 million strong audience[5].

Learning on the Go

The use of technology in learning is growing rapidly, with most households having access to some sort of laptop, tablet, or mobile device at home. More than half of high school students have a mobile device with them daily at school, and schools are beginning to embrace mobile as a solution to the costly effort to get devices into the hands of students. Instead of purchasing technology for the students, maintaining it, and upgrading it as needed to maintain a one-to-one environment, relying on the student's own device solves this budgeting and infrastructure quandry by capitalizing on what the students already own and are familiar with.

Living and Learning with Mobile Devices,

With StudyBlue, students can learn content on the device of their choosing with the assistance of their teacher, fellow classmates, or on their own. Studies have shown that "average user session times for its popular mobile flashcards and study guides were highest for tablets (twenty minutes, fifty-five seconds), as compared to smartphones (17:55) and laptops (15:50)."[3] Since students are in control of their device and how they choose to access it, they can learn more efficiently through distributed learning; time spent by students using StudyBlue is typically "chunked" in short 10-20 minutes increments, which is shown to be a more effective learning technique than simply cramming before the night of an exam[9].

This is one of the primary features that sets StudyBlue apart from physical flash cards; because the students are more compelled to revisit the flash card challenges via StudyBlue in short bursts, multiple times over the course of the day and week, their learning becomes easier to recall. Since they tend to access their smartphone at times when they are a captive audience (waiting in line, on the train or bus, commuting), they become more focused on the act and less likely to become distracted.

Go. Learn. infographic, courtesy of

StudyBlue in Action

Screenshots of StudyBlue on mobile

Students can choose to learn in StudyBlue through three formats: flash cards, quizzes, or review sheets. They create their own study topic modules, making sure that the content is tailored to their needs. Teachers using a StudyBlue Educator account can also create modules for use in their classroom, though this is not required. This important distinction is one of the best features of StudyBlue - since the content is crowd-sourced, overburdened teachers don't have to use StudyBlue in order for their students to benefit from it.

Content on StudyBlue syncs across multiple devices. Students can create a study guide or set of flashcards on their laptop or in the classroom, and it will be immediately accessible on their mobile device. There is also a reminder system integrated so that students can be prompted to review their content[4]

All content within StudyBlue is rated and reviewed by users. This ensures that quality, relevent content is pushed to the top. For students that would prefer more privacy, any content created by the student can remain private[7]

For Teachers

In 2013, StudyBlue introduced a new feature called Class Stats to accompany their existing stats available to students. Teachers can use Class Stats to aggregate the data from the existing user assessments to view group and individual progress[2]

Additional information about StudyBlue and how it is used can be found on their YouTube channel at

StudyBlue and the Seven Affordances

While the learning concept underlying StudyBlue may be perceived as didactic learning within a novel, mobile device shell, the experience is updated to maximize learning within the seven affordances model developed by Cope and Kalantzis.

Ubiquitous Learning StudyBlue is accessible from multiple devices in a synced experience. This allows students to access their content at any time, in any environment. Students studying via mobile study about 40 minutes more a week than traditional students. This is a result of the "at-the-ready" availability of mobile devices; students are likely to access StudyBlue in their downtime (on the bus, before bedtime, just after waking) in short 5-10 minute increments[8]
Active Knowledge Making Students can create their own study materials, allowing them to design them in their own voice and style. The student is in control of how they create their flashcards and quizzes, which helps them think about how they will best remember or recall ideas or terms. This act alone helps students understand how to split up the concepts, resulting in greater knowledge retention.
Multimodal Meaning In the premium version of StudyBlue (available for $3/mo) students can link content on their flash cards and study guides with additional media - videos, images, and sound - for a richer learning experience.
Recursive Feedback Students receive personalized assessment and growth statistics within StudyBlue. Teachers can connect via StudyBlue with their class and track group and individual progress.
Collaborative Intelligence The study material within StudyBlue is created by the community of students and teachers that use the service. Becky Splitt, the cofounder of StudyBlue, says that"connecting students to their peers has been our driving force. We make a growing library of more than 190 million pieces of content available to all. About 20 percent of our users create the vast majority of that content. So in this way, we harness the knowledge of the stronger students to benefit everyone through their common desire to learn."[8] 
Metacognition Flashcards engage student's concept recall skills, and can assist with ingraining ideas more deeply into memory. When combined with the additional media options, students can add a visual component to their flash cards to help with recollection of ideas and concepts - a feature that can be particularly useful for learners that retain knowledge more visually.
Differentiated Learning Students use StudyBlue on their own time and at their own pace, encouraging them to take greater control and ownership over their learning experience.

Conclusion & Reflection

StudyBlue has many benefits for students on the go. Since it capitalizes on devices that they already use with voracious frequency (many students polled on the StudyBlue Student Stories site say they use their phone or tablet 4-5 hours a day), the material in StudyBlue is more easily accessible than paper note cards.

The community aspect of StudyBlue can help ease beginners into the app, as there is a wealth of knowledge created that can be used to quickly create flashcards and content. 70% of students study alone, and the community of StudyBlue can make this solitary task seem less lonely.

While flashcards might not be the greatest authentic learning tool, they can be very effective at knowledge retention when used in a recursive way. More importantly, students that use StudyBlue and create their own flashcards and quizzes think about how they learn, and how to best create content to fit their personal learning style. The flashcards and quizzes provide immediate feedback about the students progress, which can help challenge them to try for a better score. This investment in the process can help motivate students to become more engaged in their learning, which can in turn lead to more confidence in the classroom.

StudyBlue should not be the only tool in a student or teacher's arsenal, but it makes for an effective accompaniment to the classroom.