Pinterest drew almost 12 million unique views in January.

Perhaps the only task more daunting than rounding up the internet’s trove of free resources is organizing those blogs posts, videos, photos, and audio files into a presentable classroom lesson. Online pinboards could simplify both.

Grockit, a social learning company based in San Francisco, has created an education-focused site called Learnist, based on the idea behind the popular photo-sharing website Pinterest. College students and educators can use Learnist to compile free online material onto one presentable page chock-full of content on a certain topic.

Learnist, which was launched as an invitation-only site at the outset, has Pinterest’s image-heavy appearance, allowing professors, for example, to put YouTube clips, online articles, eBook excerpts, and podcast clips on the same page, creating a one-stop learning space for their students.

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Farbood Nivi, founder of Grockit, said the ability to combine all sorts of freely available web-based learning material on a single page would cut down on students’ time-consuming web searches and expose them to resources that they might have missed if left to their own research on a school topic.

“We feel strongly that social learning shouldn’t be a method or practice you use for months or a year,” said Nivi, who added on Twitter that the launch of Learnist is “the proudest accomplishment of my life.” “We believe that social learning should be the dominant instructional design for all of humanity. That’s a big idea. And we’re ready to prove it.”

Grockit makes a test preparation program that connects members with peers studying for a similar exam. The product sells for $30 a month.

Learnist members will be able to sequence free web material, deciding where videos, blog posts, and photos are placed on their page. They’ll also be able to invite experts and others to join the Learnist board, and recommend learning material for other boards made public on the site.

Like Pinterest, Learnist members can transfer their boards to their Facebook timelines and share it with their social media community. They also can check off which learning boards they have completed on the site.

Roy Gilbert, Grockit’s CEO, said the company would leave it up to the Learnist online community to decide which pages are authoritative and worthy of students’ attention, and which are not.

“With traditional search results, there’s no way of vetting content, so we feel this is actually a more credible experience than, say, a search engine, which has a very specific algorithm that decides what’s important,” he said.

Audrey Watters, a blogger for the technology site Hack Education, said it’s no surprise that educational technology companies are tweaking the Pinterest platform for learning purposes. Pinterest was valued at $1.5 billion this month.

“[T]he interest in Pinterest makes for a great opportunity for an education company to build a better version, one that takes advantage of our fondness to pin and share online but that also recognizes that we must do more than just build a visually appealing content delivery system if we’re really going to make something that works for teaching and learning,” Watters wrote.

Building a crop of reliable Learnist board makers, Watters wrote, will be critical in establishing the new site as a destination for college students conducting online research.

“Attracting a strong user-base to the site will be the first challenge for the site, particularly as the emphasis is on social learning,” she wrote. “Although Learnist isn’t really a challenger to a site like Wikipedia, I think there are important lessons to be learned there about the power of volunteer editors and about the struggles to define what constitutes the right thing or right information—let alone the right learning.”

Social media pros on college campuses have tested Pinterest as a possible addition to their school’s social networking circles after market research showed exponential growth in the site’s membership.

Pinterest drew almost 12 million unique views in January, and now has more referral traffic than Google+, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Twitter, according to a report from Shareaholic, a web traffic tracking service. The Pinterest model, based almost entirely on sharing photos and links, is “naturally inclined to drive referral traffic,” according to the Shareaholic research.

Displaying campus scenery front and center on a school’s Pinterest page is the direct way to share photos in a social media setting, said Christen Gawan, head of social media sites at Union College in New York.

“On Twitter, you can tell followers that you have a great photo online, and you can promise it’s nice, but you have to have them click to actually see it,” Gawan said. “And sometimes that extra step loses people. … Photos can get lost on Facebook and Twitter, so it’s such a missed opportunity to not post pictures of your campus on Pinterest, where you can really display them in a very prominent way. ”


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