Pearson Announces OpenClass, a Free Learning Management System

Just in time for Educause 2011, Pearson announced a new offering, OpenClass, a free Learning Management System (LMS) in partnership with Google. That’s right. Free. But unlike most open source offerings, there are supposedly no additional costs – no hosting fees, no maintenance fees, no support fees.


I first saw the announcement via Kimberly Arnold on Twitter – sharing an article from Inside Higher Ed. Wired Campus also posted an article and since this morning many more have been written. And Twitter has been aflutter with speculation and information.

Wow! My brain is spinning. This will be a game-changer!


Or will it?

There’s a lot that goes into the LMS planning at institutions. Here are just a few questions and thoughts that came to my mind:

Who will drive use? Instructors or Institutions?  Instructor buy-in is hugely important when considering LMS choice. High adoption by individual instructors on tools like CourseSites** (by Blackboard) and other free or lost cost software often drives institutions to centralize e-learning under one LMS system.

Once they’ve made a centralized choice, institutions spend a huge amount of time and money to train their instructors on how to use the technology they chose, no matter how “easy to use.” They also spend money to customize software to meet specific institutional needs – integrating with student information systems, third-party add-ons like blogging, wikis and more. All this money and training translates into “stickiness” for the software. No institution wants to invest all that time, money and all those resources just to make a massive change later.

However, most institutions are loath to force a tool on a professor. So if instructor opinion sways dramatically on LMS choices, institutions will revisit the issue. Especially if those instructors start using different LMS tools individually, taking away the benefits of a centrally managed solution (single log-in for students, central grade collection, integration with campus systems).

So, will institutions move toward a free solution that doesn’t involve the maintenance and other costs associated with open-source options? Are they so entrenched in costly LMS solutions that the cost of changing would be too much?

But let’s ask a more important question:

Does any of this even matter?

Perhaps the very idea of a “Learning Management System” will change fundamentally. The LMS has become a huge administrative tool in addition to a learning tool. It’s not exactly a technology that’s ‘light on its feet.’

If OpenClass can provide meaningful learning experiences that instructors love, at little or no cost with little or no demand for central resources – well, that could actually be the disruptive technology everyone seems to want. Traditional LMS software, social tools, mobile devices all changed the way we think about learning – maybe OpenClass will do it again.

Check out the video at Pearson’s Adrian Sannier, Senior Vice President of Product is speaking at Educause about OpenClass. Wednesday, Oct 19th, 3:30 PM – 4:20 PM in Meeting Room 104A/B.

I know I’ll be there to hear more.


I’ve seen many of my old Blackboard colleagues tweeting about CourseSites, essentially calling it Blackboard’s version of OpenClass. CourseSites is Blackboard’s free offering for instructors and institutions getting their feet wet with an LMS system.

An old idea (available to instructors when I first joined Blackboard almost 10 years ago), Blackboard shut down CourseSites a few years after I came onboard, then upgraded and re-launched it recently. Years ago instructors could use it for free and then pay a small fee to continue. Now completely free, Blackboard undoubtedly hopes that instructors will find their tools awesome and use their influence to affect intuitional buying. It is a great strategy – Blackboard’s tools are easy to use and there is a whole community of instructional designers and experts out there sharing best practices.

However, Pearson doesn’t need to sell LMS software to survive. Blackboard probably does. What if OpenClass manages to change the very idea of what an LMS should be? What if institutions do move from a centrally administered, heavily invested-in LMS to a cloud-based free tool like OpenClass? Things could change dramatically for a company like Blackboard.


13 responses to “Pearson Announces OpenClass, a Free Learning Management System

  1. Interesting news about OpenClass. As with so many new product announcements it has me (and other tweeters and bloggers I’ve read) asking a number of questions:
    – Pearson will undoubtedly have fabulous integration between their digital content and OpenClass, but will they be open to allowing instructors to adopt and use content from other publishers (e.g., Cengage, McGraw-Hill, Flatworld) in OpenClass?
    – Is OpenClass open to all users – meaning is it accessible to users with different abilities? Will it be ADA 508 compliant?
    – Pearson supports IMS eLearning standards (e.g., IMS Common Cartridge) in other realms of their business, will they support them in OpenClass?
    – Is OpenClass going to support the multi-lingual requirements that today’s global economy requires? Or is this an English-speakers-only product?
    – How will this announcement impact the future of Pearson’s other LMS platforms? Will they continue to invest in them? Will they migrate those institutions to OpenClass?

    I look forward to learning more about Pearson’s plans and hearing/reading the reactions of Educational Technologists, Instructors, and others. One thing is for sure educational technology is an exciting place these days!

    • Yes indeed! There are more questions still to be answered and these are good ones. Re the first question, I tweeted with Adrian Sannier, mentioned above, and he said “OpenClass is open to all content sources…OpenSource, publisher, user generated…and of course Pearson content.” Modifiable? Not sure. But good questions to find out. There’s a lot to think about!

  2. I just saw a good note from a pilot user out of the University of Wisconsin Extension. Good thoughts for why we want to watch OpenClass evolve:

  3. The home page has a box to enter your email to sign up, so I entered my email to sign up and…nothing! Well, the page now says “Thank you for signing up” even though I never got any communication. I cleared the browser cookies and tried it again. Still nothing. Not a good first impression.

    • I’m so sorry! I’m a fairly new WordPress blogger so I’m not sure what the issue is…but I will test the subscribe button when I’m back to my computer later today (I’m on my phone right now).

      I will try and figure it out and then reply with my best smiley emoticon. It won’t compare to a real-life smile but hopefully it will make up for the poor first impression. 🙂 Thanks for letting me know about the issue!


  4. I’m not talking about your blog…I’m talking about OpenClass. 😀

  5. Pingback: Pearson OpenClass making a splash « myLife @ EIU

  6. Pingback: The Power of Twitter | Do You #EDU?

  7. “Once they’ve made a centralized choice, institutions spend a huge amount of time and money to train their instructors on how to use the technology they chose, no matter how ‘easy to use.’” This point is key, especially when we’re talking about a supposedly “free” LMS. Any LMS can end up being expensive from an adoption perspective.

    I also think you also are correct to ask if any of this matters. As those of us in the industry move from LMS to VLE (virtual learning environment), expect to see proprietary systems that provide an increased depth and breadth of functionality, service and support.

    – Gisele Larose, WebStudy

  8. Thanks Gisele. I do believe proprietary systems will always live in (not quite harmony…but certainly together) on campuses. I don’t see Open Source “winning” over corporate options any more than I see corporate options being the choice for everyone. There’s enough room for every taste, I believe.

    I think when I asked if any of this mattered, I was really talking about the possibilities of Pearson’s OpenClass (or another tool, for that matter) fundamentally changing our perceptions of what students and teachers need. If they can (and I have no idea if they can!) then it could be that all that work training/integrating and more at the university level will simply be obsolete no matter how well current systems have served us. It’s a lofty goal – it will be interesting to see what happens.

  9. Kerry Jo, more thoughts on why we don’t think OpenClass is sustainable. What happens when Pearson isn’t able to sell enough of their closed content through OpenClass to support the platform?

  10. Pingback: Pearson Announces OpenClass, a Free Learning Management System | Kerry Jo Richards

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