Think Cliff’s Notes with more zing. And more information. And more topics (history! biology! driver’s ed!). Fun to use and fun to say, Shmoop offers high-quality learning tools that stand out from the crowd.
We hear the phrase “online learning” so often, it’s become a little like white noise. After a while, all the providers become one big blur. But one digital learning platform is doing things a little differently: a quirky, smart, abundant little corner of the web called Shmoop.
Blending “a teen-friendly, approachable style with academically rigorous materials,” Shmoop provides totally original content on a range of subjects, from Shakespeare to calculus, plus tons of test prep and career guidance. It’s all written in a funny, down-to-earth style that makes even the most difficult and esoteric concepts relevant to teenagers.
If you read no further, take two minutes to watch their video on Homer’s Odyssey. This will give you a taste of what Shmoop is like:
A Quick Peek
Let’s go inside. At first glance, the site seems a lot like others I have been to. It’s only after I start clicking around that I discover two factors that make Shmoop different: humor and depth. You’ve seen the humor already, so let’s talk about the depth. Shmoop offers layer after layer of information-rich content that goes well beyond scratching the surface. Just when I think I’ve reached the end of their coverage on a topic, something else catches my eye and I discover that they’ve gone even deeper.
Let’s take a look at their learning guide on Infectious Diseases, just one of 31 different topics listed under “Biology.” Going into the Infectious Diseases section, you’re given a menu of items to choose from, including an introduction to infectious diseases, a list of terms, and a section on major topics in depth, like the one below on bacterial infection. (Note — you’re just looking at the very beginning of the section — it’s much longer than this!)
In another tab, there’s a discussion of how infectious diseases impact our lives in the real world:
Another provides a breakdown of common infectious disease terms, looking at their Greek and Latin roots:
For readers who want to explore the topic elsewhere online, “Best of the Web” shows them where to go:
What’s on the Shmoop Buffet
Although some of Shmoop’s materials come at a cost, students and teachers alike could keep themselves busy for a whole semester just with their free stuff. Here’s a breakdown of what you’ll find on Shmoop:
Learning Guides: These are satisfying, in-depth guides on a broad range of topics, including classic and contemporary literature, U.S. History, Math, Chemistry and Biology. There’s even a DMV guide, which provides driver’s ed instruction customized for the user’s state.
Essay Lab: Students brainstorm, compose, and edit sections of their essays with guidance and tips in an interactive setting. The Lab offers step-by-step help on argumentative essays, literary analyses, and college application essays.
Flashcards: Online flashcards allow students to quiz themselves on any topic. Tons of pre-made cards are ready to use, or students can create their own, which can then be stored for them right on the site and even shared with others.
Teacher Guides: Each subject-specific guide offers activities, assignments, quizzes, discussion questions, and connections to current events and pop culture.
Online Courses: Great for homeschoolers, alternative schools, students who want to supplement their learning, or teachers who are looking to differentiate, Shmoop’s online courses are offered in over 50 subjects.
Test Prep: Shmoop offers materials to prepare for the SAT, ACT, dozens of AP Exams, some state high school exit exams, and more. Some study materials are even available in Spanish.
Shmoop for Schools: Districts can buy licenses that allow access to test prep and teaching materials, plus a powerful analytics program to see which materials students are using and where they’re having trouble.
A Little Constructive Criticism
I’m a big fan of this site, and would like to see them continue to grow, so I’ll share a few things I’d like them to consider as they move forward. I say these things with love:
The ads can be a nuisance. Shmoop runs a number of pop-up ads and features that slide in from the margins, which sometimes block content. For an adult who’s trying to review the site, this is just annoying. For a distraction-prone teenager, it could mean a very choppy study session.
The paid stuff is a mystery. It’s hard to judge the quality of the paid materials before purchasing them, or to learn more about what you’re getting. Is an 18-week course just 18 weeks’ worth of material, or does the site control the pacing of the course within an 18-week framework? An FAQ section would be a welcome addition, to help prospective buyers learn more about the products. It looks like there’s one in the Courses section, but even after registering on the site, I couldn’t get in.
The cool factor gets heavy-handed at times. I’m not a 16-year-old trying to understand The Scarlet Letter, so I many not be the best judge of whether the style engages students more, but there are times when the snark and pop culture references take over and you have to really focus to dig out the content. The voice of Shmoop is one of its best features, but just like with salt, a little goes a long way.
It’s hard to get a hold of you. I tried to address some of these concerns through the “Contact Us” link, but every time I was asked to give my email and password, they were rejected, even when I was already logged in, and even after multiple password resets. For such a fantastic site, this seems like something that would be an easy fix and would make the user experience much better.
Bottom Line: Get to Shmooping, Son
Minor issues aside, I would highly recommend Shmoop for students, teachers, or anyone who just wants to brush up on their knowledge. Every visit will make you a little smarter. And the best part is, it won’t even feel like work. ♦