From 100,000 to Millions

Up close and personal with the founder of one of the world’s leading learning platforms.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

CREDIT Jeremy Friedman CEO Schoology.jpgJeremy Friedman creates and leads the execution of Schoology’s strategy for advancing what is possible in education. He has guided the company through five consecutive years of triple-digit growth. Today, Schoology is arguably the leading learning management solution serving over one thousand enterprise clients and used by over 20 million students, educators, advisors, and parents worldwide. Jeremy (pictured, left) is a recognized education technology thought leader and frequently sought speaker at industry events. He was selected as one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 in Education; he co-founded Schoology while still an undergraduate at Washington University in St. Louis earning his BA in Economics. Schoology is an EdTech Awards honoree for their work in transforming education.

We are only scratching the surface in terms of the benefits that personalized education can deliver in the classroom.

Jeremy has written for EdTech Digest on The Data Dilemma in Education. “There is no easy solution to the data problem,” Jeremy wrote back in 2012, “but one thing is for sure — the next few years will be exciting.” He was right, time flies, and now five years later, we catch up with Jeremy and hear his insights on managing learning, his thoughts on user experience, on what data should be — and a massive shift on the horizon.

Can you give us a brief overview of Schoology as a company currently? How has your product and mission evolved from five years ago?

Jeremy: Our mission is still the same–we are advancing what’s possible in education. The big difference is that the company has grown, not just in revenue and size but also in scope and pace of innovation. Schoology’s position as a market leader has created amazing opportunities to expand the general definition of learning management. We are now building products and features to enhance the entire education experience.

What role does the LMS play in today’s classrooms?

Jeremy: We wholeheartedly believe the LMS should be the hub of the education experience. We know the average student will experience nearly 57 teachers between kindergarten and 12th grade. Each of those teachers has differing methodologies and technology. Think Google Drive, YouTube, and so on. And that is just within the classroom. Think about all the administrators, staff, parents, and advisors who are also vital to the success of each student. Schoology makes it easier to both manage and enhance this complex educational process via one simple-to-use and unified platform.

Digital consumers immerse themselves in amazing online and mobile experiences. Schoology brings that same level of integration, ease of use, and user experience to education. As the market evolves, LMS providers like Schoology are enabling educators to differentiate and personalize the learning experiences for each student.

What features make Schoology stand out from other LMS providers?

Jeremy: Educators require that all of their tools and resources work together, so we are committed to making sure Schoology is always the most open LMS in the market. Our investment means supporting and promoting industry standards, and working closely with our ecosystem of partners. When we turn on Schoology for a new district or university, that organization has access to more than 200 pre-integrated partner apps, content tools, and SIS integrations.

User experience has always been a core competency for Schoology. We make it incredibly simple for organizations to adopt the platform and for users to quickly get productive.

When we replace a legacy LMS for a client, we see every adoption metric skyrocket by 5, 6, even 10x within the first year. 1,000% improvement in adoption means that Schoology is an incredibly useful tool for educators.

Since we started the company we have always offered a basic product that anyone can sign up and use for free. To date more than 10 million users have used Schoology with no training or assistance. This many users becoming productive on their own means that our LMS is aligned with their needs and expectations for education technology.

Schoology is leading the market in integrating data and analytics into the LMS. We are the only LMS vendor with an integrated assessment management platform (AMP). We did this not to create new tools but to allow users to get access to more data. Data should be timely, easily accessible, and provide visibility into the entire learning experience. Only then can it effectively inform decisions in the classroom and across an institution. 

The last time we spoke, the Schoology platform was just two years old. What have been some major highlights since then? Any environmental events that you’ve responded to in the development of your offerings?

Jeremy: We have been busy! In the last five years, the number of Schoology users has grown from a few hundred thousand to millions of users. We have taken advantage of that scale to create a massive feedback loop that has accelerated our innovation–the more users we get the better the product becomes and that is so exciting.

We have also spent the last five years expanding our offering and pushing the boundaries of the LMS – from collaboration features, to partner content, to integrated data, analytics and assessments. That includes expanding into new markets such as assessment management and Higher Education. We are the only LMS to include an integrated assessment management solution (AMP).

Educational institutions expect all of their tools and service providers to work together and we believe the best way to make that possible for our customers is through open, industry-wide interoperability standards.

How do you work with other education technology providers to enhance the teaching and learning experience?

Jeremy: We really understand and focus on the fact that educator and student success requires an ecosystem of content partners and learning tools. Educational institutions expect all of their tools and service providers to work together and we believe the best way to make that possible for our customers is through open, industry-wide interoperability standards.

That is why we fully support open standards, such as IMS OneRoster, LTI, Common Cartridge, and QTI. This helps us integrate with critical third-party components, whether that be their SIS, their content provider, or their favorite web tool.

While most LMSs connect with third-party tools, ours was built from the ground up to pull third-party tools into a single interface to simplify their use and provide a seamless learning experience. An open API and our growing app marketplace ensure institutions are future-proofed and can easily grow over time. 

What technology developments have you seen impacting LMSs and education technology in general?

Jeremy: The increase in general accessibility of devices has changed the way schools approach education. When we started Schoology, blended learning (combining technology with traditional learning) was still being worked out in classrooms. Now it is everywhere. Chromebooks, tablets, and smartphones have forced technology into classrooms. Now, schools and districts need to invest in software that can bring all that technology together into a great education experience that they can manage, measure, and enhance. That is what LMSs need to become.

What are your thoughts on the state of education these days?

Jeremy: We are only scratching the surface in terms of the benefits that personalized education can deliver in the classroom.

With so much discussion on student outcomes and standards, our customers understand that one key to success is personalizing education for every student. No two students are the same, and bucketing or grouping students by assessment level does not actually offer personalization. Teachers and students need data to know how they are doing as individuals, what subjects they need to spend more time on, and where to get that information. Despite all the technology that exists, that can still be a herculean effort on behalf of a teacher. That is why we are rolling out tools to reduce the amount of friction between a teacher and the information and resources he or she needs to help drive personalized learning. We want to enable educators to fine tune curriculum such as assessments and objectives based on an individual student’s skills, pace, and performance for the things they need help with.

What is the purpose of education? How do you contribute to that purpose?

Jeremy: Education is preparing learners to be successful in a rapidly changing world.

Schoology has always been about making a big impact on people’s lives. We believe the biggest impact is how people learn new things–how knowledge is transferred. It is not about which student scored the best on a test, but rather, how we are able to help improve student outcomes and help teachers be more efficient at doing the things they are already great at — inspiring their students, encouraging lifelong learning, and furthering the prospects of knowledge.

Since our inception, our mission has been to advance what is possible in education. Advancing what is possible means empowering educators and learners with the tools and knowledge to effect change. We see it every day. Nothing makes us happier than hearing the amazing stories–whether in person or on social media–about how educators are using Schoology to transform learning. 

The LMS is the hub of the education experience, and therefore it is logical that more and more functionality will be folded in over time.

What is the state of edtech from your perspective? What makes you say that?

Jeremy: When we started the company there was a radically different set of competitors, some of which no longer exist. With scale comes opportunity and we will see more and more segments of the market integrated into the LMS.

Our assessment management platform is Schoology’s first example, but there will be more of this type of vertical development. The LMS is the hub of the education experience, and therefore it is logical that more and more functionality will be folded in over time.

What have been some major company milestones you’ve celebrated in the last five years?

Jeremy: Every day, more students, teachers, parents, and administrators use Schoology’s LMS than any other LMS vendor. Some of our numbers:

  • 1,500+ school districts
  • 60,000 schools
  • 20M users

Over the last five years, Schoology has been selected by institutions all over the country and around the world, and not just in K-12, but in Higher Education as well. For instance, the state of Delaware adopted Schoology, Los Angeles Unified School District adopted Schoology, the country of Uruguay adopted Schoology, as did Wheaton College, and many more. By having a platform that is so strong and so versatile, we are seeing success in every pocket of education.

No matter what customer or partner I meet with, I see an intense focus on student outcomes and preparing students for the future.

What’s on the horizon for edtech, for learners, for your company?

Jeremy: It’s amazing to think about how much education and technology have changed since we started the company. Today, Schoology has a unique vantage point on the market; we are in 1,500 districts, 60,000 schools and have 20 million users, spanning the biggest urban districts to the smallest rural districts.

No matter what customer or partner I meet with, I see an intense focus on student outcomes and preparing students for the future. Schoology has evolved into the hub of the education experience, unifying all the people, content, and systems that are integral to the process. As we look forward, we envision a massive shift towards personalized learning. Everyone understands that individualized learning, focused on outcomes not just test scores, gives students a better opportunity to succeed. We’re equipping educators with the tools and environment needed to deliver that. Schoology will be the platform to deliver personalized education at scale, for every student.

Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

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