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Summary:

Social learning startup Grockit on Tuesday announced a $20-million-dollar round of financing led by Discovery Communications. The company launched in 2007 to help students with text prep but with the May release of Learnist expanded to a wider audience of lifelong learners.

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Just a few months after expanding its focus from test prep to general learning, Grockit’st new positioning seems to be paying off.

On Tuesday, the social learning company said it had raised $20 million in a Series E round of funding – by far, it’s biggest yet – to bring its total amount raised to $44.7 million. Discovery Communications led the round in a strategic partnership that also includes shared technology, marketing distribution and promotion. Additionally, Summit Group participated in the round, as did previous investors Atlas Ventures, Benchmark Capital, Integral Capital Partners and GSV Capital Corp.

Since launching in 2007, Grockit has helped students study up for the SAT, GMAT and other standardized tests. But in in May, the company opened up to a broader audience with the launch of Learnist, a “Pinterest for education,” that lets users create so-called “learn boards.” The site continues to serve formal students with content that addresses U.S. Common Core standards for middle and high school (as well as test prep content at Grockit.com). But a quick tour of the Learnist.com homepage indicates an emphasis on featuring content for the lifelong learner interested in everything from unrest in Egypt to sports psychology to how to make the “ultimate PB&J.”

“We think of our audience as people who are curious,” said Roy Gilbert, CEO of Grockit. “We’re blurring the layer between things I need to learn in the classroom – common core [content] – and general nonfiction media. People are coming to the internet, not just to do differential equations but to learn about what’s going on in Syria.”

LearnistIt makes sense that Grockit’s new focus on general enrichment (as well as formal education) caught the attention of Discovery, which has its own strong brand of info-tainment. Grockit didn’t share details on what the Discovery partnership could mean but Learnist could certainly be an interesting way for the company to bring its content to a new audience and vice versa.

Farbood Nivi, Grockit’s founder, said he wants Learnist to help turn learning into a casual, lifelong part of person’s daily routine. For example, while in line, instead of reading a short article or shopping online, he wants people to digest a brief learn board on the news of the day or U.S. history via Learnist’s app. That kind of on-the-go engagement is no doubt appealing to cable channel Discovery, which is clearly interested in new distribution outlets. This summer, it led a round in brain fitness game maker Lumosity and announced an investment in digital textbooks.

In addition to the funding, Grockit announced a redesign for Learnist that shifts its aesthetic from a Pinterest-like display to a look that more closely resembles traditional media sites.  It also displays authors names more clearly and more prominently features content from bigger names on the site, such as Bobby Chang, founder of In-Case, Clark Scheffy, founder of Ideo, and Eric Ries, the best selling author of The Lean Startup.

Since Learnist’s launch, Grockit’s user base has grown by 400 percent to hundreds of thousands of users and the average length of user sessions has doubled from 10 minutes to more than 20 minutes, the company said.

  1. Grockit is changing test prep for GMAT. Interesting to also read on what’s happening in India. Great story on the CL Educate (Career Launcher), important player in the Indian test prep for CAT (the Indian equivalent of GMAT) http://edugazer.wordpress.com/2012/12/17/career-launcher-comes-of-age/

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