7 Questions for Pearson's OpenClass Boss

... and his answers.


October 29, 2013

What do you think about when you hear about OpenClass?  

What do you know about OpenClass?

I have a bunch of questions about what OpenClass means for higher ed, Pearson, and the LMS market.

Scot Chadwick, the VP & GM of OpenClass at Pearson, is the right guy to ask. Scot is an executive that I have known for a few years, and have always had great respect for. Scot came to Pearson from his role at eCollege, and was one of the leaders behind getting OpenClass launched in 2010.

As you read my questions and Scot’s answers about OpenClass please feel invited to ask Scot more questions and push back on Scot’s responses.  

I commend Scot and Pearson for agreeing to engage in this dialogue.

Question 1: What are the other higher ed institutions that like ACU have moved from Blackboard or Moodle (or some other LMS) to adopt OpenClass as their enterprise LMS?

In 2013, Abilene Christian University and West Virginia University-Parkersburg have moved to OpenClass as their enterprise LMS. In addition, we’ve made it possible for OpenClass to be easily adopted at a program, department or instructor level and those number over 1,200 across US higher ed institutions and grows every day. A similar number exists across US K-12. The adoptions outside of the US across higher education and K-12 are even greater.

Question 2. Before EmbanetCompass was acquired by Pearson the LMS they utilized was Moodle. What online programs that EmbanetCompass has developed now utilize OpenClass?  Can we expect to see the footprint of OpenClass increase due to Pearson's acquisition of EmbanetCompass? 

Pearson Embanet’s graduate online programs for Abilene Christian University utilize OpenClass, and we’re confident that even more institutions will choose to power their programs with the OpenClass learning environment going forward.

Question 3. Pearson owns a college in Britain - called Pearson College I've never been able to get a straight answer if Pearson College uses OpenClass. What is the deal?

Pearson College does not currently use OpenClass. However, this may change in the future as we reorganize into a global business better utilizing all of our capabilities (such as OpenClass) across our businesses.

Question 4.  I've been confused about where Pearson LearningStudio and Pearson OpenClass are the same and where they are different. Can you make run this down for us?

LearningStudio and OpenClass represent two different business models. LearningStudio, from its beginnings fifteen plus years ago (as eCollege) was developed as a Software as a Service learning platform delivered inseparably with a comprehensive suite of support and advisory services. This model, then and today, serves uniquely those institutions looking for a partnership that extends beyond the LMS in support of successfully growing and scaling their online programs.

OpenClass provides a complementary choice for institutions, programs or faculty where a free, hosted, self-service learning environment can be openly adopted for any courses where its unique social and collaboration capabilities can be beneficial.

As we have seen at WVU-Parkersburg, OpenClass can be leveraged in a variety of ways across a campus, including contributing to an overall Pearson solution to address institutional budget challenges and increase access to high quality education.

Question 5.  Tell us about Pearson Blue Sky. Is Blue Sky a part of OpenClass?

Project Blue Sky is a Content Service which we can leverage in a number of different applications, and also as a standalone tool to assemble content and assets be they from Pearson, an original source or an open educational resource. Educators have the ability to publish their customized digital course content within multiple types of learning management systems, including OpenClass.

We have launched the ability for educators to assemble a “digital collection” from Pearson content, OER and their own content using the Project Blue Sky tool. To date, this functionality has been piloted by a dozen educators in Humanities, Social Sciences and Business, and hundreds of their students.

We anticipate many other content service-based applications for other markets that leverage the capabilities of Project Blue Sky, including ones that allow faculty and administrators greater insight into student achievement. As these develop, we will continue our approach of rapidly innovating the design and co-evolution of new offers with early adopters and partners, so that all of our applications meet the real world challenges faced by educators, institutions and students.

Question 6. It would still make me nervous as a decision maker in educational technology to recommend OpenClass as an enterprise LMS if I was not sure that this business was going to be sustained and grown over the long term. The licensing fee for an LMS is actually a small (if not insignificant) expense, compared to the indirect and opportunity costs in staff time for LMS change, faculty development, faculty support, integration, and course development.   A free LMS that is not going to evolve and not going to grow a substantial higher ed enterprise community does not seem like a good deal to me.  How would you address these concerns?

Similar concerns were conveyed as a follow up to your post on ACU’s adoption of OpenClass, which we wanted to address directly in our follow up response you so kindly shared with your readers. Pearson’s investment and commitment to OpenClass is both long-term and from a global perspective on education. The community we are working to engage extends beyond traditional borders and across the lifetime experiences of the learner.

While I’m with you that there are many indirect costs, the direct costs of traditional LMS licensing, hosting and IT management are significant for many institutions. For many, the ability to save or redirect tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars a year can make a huge difference for them.

From a US perspective, we believe the trend of institutions supporting the adoption of diverse teaching models, content and technologies that fit the needs of the program will continue. We’ve seen an increasing number of institutions employ multi-LMS strategies, choosing partners and platforms best suited for the particular program. This has become more common across fully online programs, individual courses offered on MOOC platforms and a wide variety of platforms and applications adopted by individual faculty on every campus. Campus IT organizations have developed amazing expertise at managing increasingly complex technology environments and we only see this continuing.

Question 7. What is your elevator pitch as to why my campus should adopt OpenClass as our enterprise LMS, and not Blackboard, Canvas, D2L, Sakai or Moodle?  

My pitch to you Josh would be that we need to start asking different questions. Let’s say we had that ride in the elevator and at the end you were convinced. How long from that moment would it be before your theoretical institution would have the new LMS fully deployed? (no matter which one you chose).  If history serves, it could be two years later. That would assume there would have also been a year of meetings, RFP drafts, presentations and contract negotiations that had preceded. I believe institutions want to be more nimble and innovative than this legacy approach allows.

Instead of pitching you on enterprise anything, I would recommend first that your institution begin experimenting with a variety of platforms based on the needs of the specific program or courses. Most provide a means to try their product out for free at some level. If it turns out that one suits all of your institution’s needs, great. You may also find that more than one allows you to support emerging teaching models and the needs of the students and faculty the best. This should be an ongoing process that becomes part of your institution’s culture, where diversity and continuous evolution of technology is expected and encouraged.

Today’s integration tools and standards such as LTI, LIS, Tin Can and others make this much easier to manage and collect/analyze student success data. The IT department deserves a lot more credit as well for their ability to expertly manage these increasingly complex environments.

In terms of where OpenClass could be a fit, feedback we hear from faculty and students is that the social capabilities are very beneficial in courses where communication and collaboration are central to the structure and outcomes of the course. They also love the simple, clean design of OpenClass via web and mobile that make it easy to navigate and develop courses that put the focus on the content and not the LMS.

Administrators have shared with us concerns around budget cuts and unsustainable tuition increases putting greater focus on costs and where investments are made. OpenClass as a free, hosted alternative makes it possible for institutions to redirect investment toward resources and support that can make a difference in teaching and learning.

Establishing the relative importance and priority of these elements is more complex and time consuming at an institution level. However encouraging departments, programs and faculty to experiment with new models, tools and applications may help them identify the best solutions for their students, faster.


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