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Appreciating Learning Objects
February 25, 2010 - 9:29pm

Learning Objects is a company I really like.

One of the great things about working in learning technology is the opportunity to interact with companies and the people who work at them. When I was teaching full-time my interactions were pretty much limited to colleagues and students. In my experience, some of the people who are most dedicated to goal of leveraging technology to challenge the status quo in higher ed work for ed tech companies.

3 reasons that I particularly like Learning Objects (LO):

Reason 1: Good Products. The blog and wiki tools that LO integrates into our LMS (Blackboard) are consistently the most effective in catalyzing active learning. We have all struggled with the siloed and instructor driven design of the traditional LMS. The LO blogs and wikis do a really good job of overcoming fundamental design limitations of the LMS by providing spaces where students can author, share, and be in control. Courses that use a blog or wiki almost always offer a superior student experience. Wikis are used in our courses to meet a range of teaching and learning goals, from providing places for group writing, editing, and presentations to a shared research space. Blogs are a great way to facilitate rapid and informal communication and sharing amongst students and faculty. I also really like LO's podcast tool, a feature that allows the easy uploading and sharing of media content.

Reason 2: A Good Vision. LO's new Campus Pack Fusion product represents a significant evolution in its product line. While continuing to integrate with the LMS and the student information system (SIS), Campus Pack Fusion moves to a model of provisioning the services from the cloud. This change in architecture allows for the blogs, wikis, (and other community and personal learning spaces) to be both fully integrated and unbundled from the campus LMS. Integration is key, as faculty and students do not want to worry about authentication or user management. Unbundling is the real advance, as now for the first time student blogs, wikis, journals and podcasts can exist outside of the LMS silo - and be made available (if desired) to the wider world. This software as a service (SIS) architecture also allows for the integration of course components with advanced personal and community tools.

Reason 3: A Proactive and Flexible Customer Focus. My experience with Learning Objects as a customer (at 2 institutions) has always been extremely positive. The quality and speed of their technical support is consistently excellent. Feature and enhancement requests are acted upon quickly. The development process and roadmap are transparent. Learning Objects is entirely focussed on the learning market.

I'm always interested in what factors determine the quality of an ed tech company. Two consistent factors seem to be size and focus. When a company gets too large, or when their focus strays from a core market or set of products or services, than their quality seems to suffer. There is a sweet spot somewhere of size and focus, and I think companies like Learning Objects and Techsmith have found that zone.

What small (but not too small) educationally focussed technology companies would you nominate as your favorites?


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