Debating Pearson's OpenClass

Did you check out the Pearson's OpenClass booth at EDUCAUSE?   If not, it is worth spending some time on the new OpenClass site www.openclass.com.

November 12, 2012

Did you check out the Pearson's OpenClass booth at EDUCAUSE?   If not, it is worth spending some time on the new OpenClass site www.openclass.com.  

How would you answer the following questions:

1. Where does OpenClass fit into the LMS ecosystem?

2. If you are doing an LMS bake-off, is OpenClass among your main contenders (with Blackboard and Moodle and Canvas and D2L and Sakai)?  Why or why not?

At EDUCAUSE, Adrian Sannier (SVP of Product Pearson Education) gave a terrific presentation as part of a panel called Disruptive Innovation: Current Trends and Future Directions. (You can get the slide deck for the presentations at the EDUCAUSE session site).

It is worth paying attention to what Adrian thinks about the future of the LMS (and higher ed in general) because a) he is a smart guy with a strong iconoclastic streak, and b) Pearson is a big (and becoming bigger) player in the edtech platform, services and content space.

I've been trying to make sense of Pearson's strategy with OpenClass (to answer question #1 above), and listening to what Adrian has to say is one of our best roadmaps to calibrating where Pearson may go. You can check out a short (4 minute) video of Adrian talking about the vision for OpenClass at this link.

A summary of Pearson's OpenClass strategy would go like this:

A. Course development remains predominantly a "craft" exercise - with individual faculty developing their own courses. Most courses, even blended or online courses, are not "born digital" - rather they are translated from a traditional face-to-face classroom setting.

B. In order to achieve both better quality courses and courses that can scale up to more students it is necessary to move to a course development (and teaching and support) method optimized for the digital world. This means team developed courses, with content pulled in from publisher and open source content, and design strategies benefit from pedagogical research (implemented by learning designers) and continuous improvement driven by data.

C. The value proposition of OpenClass is that it lowers the barriers for a school to adopt the platform (as OpenClass is a free cloud based LMS), and moves the conversation towards the value added services for program or course design / re-design that truly impact both quality and coasts. Pearson is developing more capabilities around value-added services (see the EmbanetCompass acquisition), as well as being able to leverage a large services infrastructure and content / simulation library.

OpenClass is an argument that the LMS is the "least important" part of the learning value chain. By making OpenClass free, Pearson is highlighting what attributes really do add value (course design, content, data driven improvements, learner support, etc.) - and is confident that they can deliver value (and revenues) along these dimensions.

Is that about right? How would you improve my analysis of the Pearson OpenClass strategy?

My argument with OpenClass is that I believe that "free" is more powerful than Pearson recognizes. I think a full-service program/course development model (with learning design, content, support etc.) is only one strategy for improving higher education. An important strategy, one that we will see more with a growing number of non-profit / for-profit partnerships.  But only one strategy.  

I think that there is potential in the market for a Gmail / Google Docs version of an LMS. A free, cloud based based learning management system with the potential for robust integration to the campus student information system (SIS).   

What if Pearson had invested in OpenClass in as big a way that Instructure invested in Canvas? What if Pearson had the faith that building a large community of practice, a large number of adopters, could later be effectively monetized around services and content?

Pearson has deep enough pockets necessary to make a long-term investment in a free OpenClass.  

It would, I believe, be necessary to break the OpenClass team off from the main Pearson Education mothership - to give the unit some independence and autonomy. That autonomy would ease the concerns of the higher ed community about adopting a Pearson product.  This could be done without hurting Pearson's long term play of transitioning from a print product to a digital content and services company.   

I think that a more aggressive and independent OpenClass rollout is the right way for Pearson to move forward.

What do you think?


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