If you haven't had a chance to read about Noodle's acquisition of the Lore, please go check out Doug Lederman's piece from 3/15.
Before we get to our questions for Noodle's founder and chairman John Katzman , I think we should first congratulate Joseph Cohen and his partners and colleagues at Lore.
We need more people like the Lore founders to start edtech businesses.
Every time that I spoke to the Lore folks I was impressed at their passion to change higher ed, and their willingness to critique a system of schools, publishers, and tech companies that they saw as colluding to preserve a status quo that benefited them more than the students the industry was supposed to be serving.
I hope that Noodle's purchase of Lore will embolden a new set of really smart people that believe that our education system must change to take the risks and embrace the sacrifices necessary to play a similar role in participating and shaping whatever comes next in higher ed.
As the 3/15 IHE article on the Lore purchase points out, John Katzman has a strong "track record [of] identifying and starting companies that seek to transform parts of the higher education ecosystem". Katzman is rare in that he manages to be both a respected thought leader in higher education while demonstrating an ability to create value for partners, investors, and employees.
Despite my deep admiration for Katzman, and my respect for both the Lore team and the platform they have built, I do have a few questions about this acquisition:
1. Why Buy a Platform?
The platforms that enable new models of online and blended learning are rapidly becoming commoditized.
This is not to say that our online learning platforms are wonderful, as from learning management to presentations capture to media management, all of these platforms have a long way to improve. This is particularly true with the mobile versions of these platforms - as most of these platforms were designed first for the browser and fail to take full advantage of the mobile app capabilities or the mobile form factors.
What we will see, however, is the continuos evolution and improvement of learning platforms, as companies face strong competition and the need to invest in these platforms in order to offer more lucrative services around the platforms that they provide.
It seems to me that in a competitive platform market that there is value in remaining agnostic about which vendors to partner. If Noodle Launch, (the name of the service organization that will offer unbundled services to enable institutions to go to market with online programs) wants to keep costs down wouldn't it make more sense to be as flexible as possible in the LMS that will support the online program?
Why invest money in a platform when there is strong competition in the LMS market? Why buy when you can partner? Why build when you can rent?
And if Noodle Launch will be LMS agnostic then why absorb the acquisition and investment costs that will be necessary to keep Lore current with the competition?
2. How Will Buying Lore Improve Productivity?
Katzman is quoted in the IHE piece as saying that his goal with Noodle Launch will be to "use technology to significantly reduce tuition while improving the quality of both their on-campus and online programs...".
I think that unbundling the services of a 2U (Katzman's former company), EmbanetCompass, or Bisk makes good sense.
What I'm not clear on is how purchasing Lore furthers the goal of reduced costs and higher quality.
The thing is that the platform, the technology, is now the least expensive part of the online learning business.
What is much much more expensive is paying the people necessary to run an online program. These people include the faculty, but also the learning designers and technologists and support folks it takes to run a quality program. Nor can we underestimate the costs of telling the world about your wonderful program.
The fact that people are the most expensive elements of an online learning program should not be thought of as a negative. It is the investments in people, not technology, that determine the quality of the online program. It is the investments in people that translate into an online program that is worth paying for.
Buying a technology platform like Lore does not mean that Noodle Launch will not find ways to improve the productivity of higher education.
Productivity improvements are the key to improving quality while lowering costs. These productivity improvements, however, must come from the people side of higher ed. We simply don't spend enough money on the learning side of technology (as most higher ed tech spending is on the administrative side), to increase productivity by focusing primarily on the learning platforms.
What would you want to ask about Noodle's Lore acquisition?