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 http://www.joinopenclass.com. 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.