Pearson's announcement of OpenClass , a free cloud based learning management system (LMS), will definitely change the vibe at this year's EDUCAUSE conference. I'm very curious about how much OpenClass will be discussed amongst the conference attendees, and what sort of traffic and traction that Pearson will get at its booth.
I am very excited about OpenClass, as an enterprise class free LMS has the potential to shake-up the marketplace in the way that Google accomplished with Apps for Education. I stress potential, however, as Pearson has a number of challenging tasks ahead if OpenClass is to live up to its potential to disrupt the LMS market.
4 Initial Challenges:
1 - Convince The Community That OpenClass Is Enterprise Class LMS and a True Competitor for Existing Platforms:
The entire focus of the OpenClass team should be on transparency and access. The beauty of a free offering is that the traditional sales and marketing channels and practices should not apply. There is no need to "sell" the LMS, only a need to get as many people as possible in the EDU community full access to the platform, and to share every detail about the technical specifications, cloud infrastructure, and product roadmap.
Somewhat worryingly, I'm underwhelmed by the initial communications around OpenClass. The OpenClass website is almost totally bereft of content, and sort of looks like a vintage Myspace page. I'm a big fan of Adrian Sannier, SVP of Learning Technologies at Pearson, and it is good to see his video  on the site, but the rest of the content is sorely lacking. Where is the screencast walking me through OpenClass? If it is cloud based, why can't I make an account now and play like I can on Blackboard's CourseSites ? Where is all the technical documentation and all the other information I'd need to start my research? How come there is no place on this site to have a conversation with the OpenClass team? Perhaps these criticisms are unfair, as I know the team had a hard deadline with EDUCAUSE to get this site up, but the results feel rushed and half-baked.
2 - Articulate The Business Model of Offering a Free LMS:
Pearson needs to be very clear and very open about why it makes business sense for them to offer a free LMS. Drop all marketing speak immediately. Be brutally honest about the threats to a publisher of the shift from paper textbooks to digital content, and the need for publishers to not lose control of the sales channel. A free LMS will always be suspect to decision makers on campuses unless we can be convinced that the provider is in the game for the long-term, and is investing enough resources in the business to ensure high levels of service, support, and robustness. We will not be convinced unless we truly believe that the free LMS is in the long term business and financial interests of the provider.
3 - Execute Flawlessly With The Initial OpenClass Pilot Participants:
OpenClass is starting with Google Apps for Education adopters. This is a good idea for a number of reasons. It limits the pool of early adopters to schools that are already forward thinking and technologically proficient, while also increasing the odds that the faculty and student experience will be better due to opportunities for integration between the platforms. But execution is everything, and delivering a premium and flawless experience to these first adopters will set the tone going forward. I hope that Pearson is investing the necessary resources to make this first group a success. (And is committed to making the whole process as transparent as the partner schools will allow).
4 - Bring Pearson OpenClass Skeptics and Critics Into an Open Conversation:
Free is a wonderful thing. Free should change the conversation. Pearson should welcome the critics and the skeptics. Everyone from the EduPunks to the diehard Moodle and Sakai evangelists. Since you are not trying to "sell" in the traditional way you can have all sorts of honest and productive conversations. Pearson does not want any school to adopt OpenClass where the fit is not good. The job of Pearson becomes figuring out how to work with colleges and universities to discover if OpenClass makes sense.
These are good conversations to have.
What do you want to know about OpenClass?