This past year my institution engaged in a (faculty led) LMS evaluation process. We looked at the usual suspects. Blackboard. Canvas. Moodle. D2L. Sakai.
Pearson's OpenClass was not even on our radar.
That is why I was so interested that Abilene Christian University (ACU) had chosen to go with OpenClass.
I'm a huge fan of ACU.
Back in 2009 I wrote: "If the MacArthur Genius Program gave awards to institutions I'd bet that Abilene Christian University would be a shoo-in."
ACU was way earlier than the rest of us in innovating around mobile learning, launching a one-to-one iPhone / iPod Touch program back in 2009 to experiment with what can happen when all student and faculty are on the same mobile platform.
ACU's decision to go with OpenClass is a big story because ACU has a history leading higher ed at the intersection of learning and technology.
In order to find out more about ACU's move to OpenClass, I called up Kevin Roberts, Vice President of Planning and Operations (and someone who is both highly respected and universally liked within our field), to ask about why ACU made the OpenClass decision.
The big deal about OpenClass is of course that it is a free cloud based LMS. The reason that OpenClass makes sense for Pearson is that a campus using OpenClass is a campus that will be able to build relationships with people at Pearson. As Pearson evolves from a publisher of textbooks to a seller of a wide range of educational services, the presence of a Pearson LMS (if it is working well for everyone on campus), will serve as a terrific potential bridge to Pearson's portfolio of educational services and content.
Kevin was clear to point out that ACU's OpenClass decision was not based on saving money. Rather, OpenClass allowed ACU to re-purpose every dollar that they would have spent on LMS licensing fees and local server and storage costs to investing in faculty innovation in teaching.
I asked Kevin if he is concerned about getting out ahead of peer institutions in adopting OpenClass.
As of today, there are not that many universities (that I know about at least) that have made the full switch from an existing LMS to OpenClass. In our business, we tend to like a robust community of practice - a set of peers to learn from. What I also wanted to know from Kevin is if ACU was worried about Pearson's business model with OpenClass. Did he think that Pearson would invest adequate resources in improving the platform and in customer support in the absence of licensing revenue?
To both these points, Kevin emphasized that learning software today is different from just a few years ago. In the past, we made decisions that we knew would be with us for many years, as adoption costs were considerable and switching costs were high.
Today, we can afford to be much more agile in our enterprise edtech choices. The move from a producer of educational technology to a consumer of services means that our time horizons can be much shorter.
We now pay attention to avoiding vendor lock-in, to working with platforms that are interoperable with other software, and that adhere to standards that are open and universal.
We are better about saying "no" to customizations that will make switching more difficult.
We are better able to communicate that the technology is only a lever (a means to an end), and that the real value is in the work that faculty and learning specialists (learning designers, media professionals, librarians etc.) do in designing, running and supporting the classes.
ACU seems to understand that going with OpenClass is a risk. Pearson could potentially not succeed in getting traction in the higher ed enterprise market. Or the publishing giant could change strategy, or fail to invest adequately in the platform.
But playing it safe is not something that ACU seems to do very well.
Perhaps we should learn something from ACU.
Perhaps we should take another look at OpenClass.