Fresh on the heels of our Flatworld Knowledge review, we are taking a look at another innovative textbook platform that is about more than just textbooks. Xplana is a platform launched two years ago by MBS Service Company Inc (a former employer of mine). intended to bridge ‘social networking and traditional elements of student learning to transform the way students manage their academic lives.”

So what does that mean? Lets turn to Xplana Chief Executive Officer Dennis Flanagan who said ” Xplana is best described as the social network for learning. It’s the first ever ‘social learning’ platform designed to bring the entire student learning life into a single location.”

So how does Xplana accomplish this rather daunting goal? Providing an eReader and a store through which to by eTextbooks is a natural place to start, but Xplana is much more, and purchasing eBooks is a small part of the big picture. Xplana allows you to collect learning materials on your profile the same way you collect records of your social life and interests on Facebook. Any media related to your academics can be uploaded and associated with your profile, be it a copy of a course sylibi, a website of supplemental material, class notes or even a video recording of a lecture.

In addition to uploading original materials you can search through hundreds of thousands of resources already available on Xplana. Many of these materials have been uploaded by students like you! So next time your cramming for an exam, you can skip the library stacks and pool resources from Xplana to supplement your course material.

However, Xplana can help you stay organized to ease the inevitable last minute cram. You can create your own study tools such as flashcards, notes and study guides as you go for easy reference later on dificult topics. Calendar and journal features let you schedule future study sessions and keep track of class projects, or keep a running record of your academic life.

Just like you might have a photo album on Facebook for that trip you took to Europe after high school, you can collect academic resources into albums within Xplana. This is a great way to keep everything from your actual eTextbook to your class notes to that one website your classmate recommended all in one place. With a little forethought, you can also add keyword tags to any item in your album to make them easily searchable later.

Now this is all great, but where is the social part of this ‘social learning platform?’ I’m glad you asked, because Xplana allows you to friend other users accounts, be it an assigned group project partner, a fellow classmate or simply another student somewhere in the world with similar academic needs. Got a mid-term coming up? You can invite your Xplana friends to an online study group or collaborate on a group project with the messaging system.

Want to show your study group a great resource you found on Xplana? Simple linking allows you to email them a link to any resource material on Xplana or you can share materials through Facebook and Twitter. Better yet, if you and your group all have the same eTextbook for your course, you can instantly share any notes or annotations you’ve made in your copy or see some made by other users.  Just want the best notes and annotations from other students? Then make a habit of rating and commenting on others annotations as you’re searching for the highest rated insight.

And this brings is back around full circle to the most fundamental but by no means simplest part of any digital learning platform, the eBook reader. Xplana’s proprietary reader boasts many progressive features that are quickly becoming industry standards. Search functionality, highlighting and the aforementioned notes and annotation functions are extremely helpful study tools. Checkpoint quizzes to test your comprehension are also invaluable in finding the holes in your understanding of a chapter.

However Xplana’s reader doesn’t stop there and features embedded rich media like animations, videos, audio clips and live links. As we’ve discussed before, these features are already a standard in eReaders when it comes to academic texts, but not all platforms fully support them as of yet. It just goes to show that Xplana isn’t resting on it’s social side by wrapping a second rate eReader into the platform and I look forward to seeing how their reader develops as new capabilities enter the market.

Do you have inconsistent internet access? No problem, you can easily download you eBook for viewing offline. All in reader features (notes/annotations/edits) still work offline and will automatically sync with your online profile the next time you log in.

If offline reading just won’t cut it, you can always take advantage of the Xplana mobile app. Available for iPhone and Android phones, the Xplana app gives you access to all your course materials and will auto sync to your account when you add new media on the desktop version. The app will also allow you to share materials with friends by email or on Twitter and Facebook. You can even take notes on mobile, or better yet, capture photos, audio or video of your lecture which can be uploaded to Xplana and added to your course materials. It’s hard to say exactly how useful this tool will be but it’s one I wish I’d had all those times I went to study and found doodles instead of notes in my notebook.

Xplana certainly didn’t invent the eReader, or social networking, or the idea of searchable, indexed user submitted content, but they are the first company to wrap up so many tools into one platform. Being able to share anything with anyone, and see anything any student has uploaded puts a wealth of information and connectivity at your fingertips. But with such an open and flexible platform, it falls to the student to fit the platform to their needs and make use of it.

If you’re that person who buys a planner at the beginning of each school year, only to fill in the first two weeks and never pick it up again, you probably won’t use Xplana to its full potential. However, if you work at it, you can not only make that cram session for the final exam easier, but be better prepared when you get there.

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