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Google+ and the LMS: Ads and Education
June 29, 2011 - 9:30pm

The Google news this week is all about Google+, the company's next effort to break into social networks. I say this is great, as I'm another one of those outmigrants, or maybe conscientious objectors, to the Facebook nation.

The real reason I'm excited about Google+ is not social networking (which I think is sort of tiresome), but because Google+ is an important building block for a killer Google LMS (learning management system). Learning is social. Incumbent LMS tools not so much.

Integrate the goodness of Google Docs with Google+, throw in media management from YouTube, whip up a little SIS (student information system) integration, and finish off with a new assessment engine and gradebook (maybe just buy Instructure for a shortcut) - voila - a recipe for a Google LMS. Build the thing around Android and you are talking emerging economy learners (the one's that will really matter anyway in the next 20 years).

But I'm not here to talk about Google+. I'm here to shout over the giant Googleplex wall that there is BIG BIG MONEY to be made by getting into education. How? One word: advertising.

Google. You make money when people who use your search engine click on your ads. The degree to which people will click on the ads depends largely on how relevant these ads are. The more data you can collect on your users, the better your ads will be. You don't need to sell licenses, as your core ad business can and should be the revenue model to invest in education, specifically the launch of a world-class cloud based Google LMS. The data mining potential from within courses, either full credit bearing courses or non-credit training courses, is enormous. Students and professors spend tons of time in the LMS - both building the courses and participating in the learning. Both course content (the articles, recorded lectures, etc.) and learner generated content (discussion posts, blog posts, etc. etc.) are incredibly valuable from a data mining perspective.

Before you freak out and say, "the last thing I want is Google to be mining my data and showing me ads in my LMS", a couple of caveats. First, we need to decide if we think it is more important that the rest of the world gets access to educational platforms, services and content that we enjoy, or instead that the domains of advertising and commerce stay separate and distinct from education. In the rich world we can make the choice to opt-out of advertising, we are wealthy enough.

In the emerging economies, I'm betting that many many people (millions, hundreds of millions), and many many governments and institutions, would gladly trade-off sharing online behavior and being exposure to targeted ads in exchange to access to a free learning management system. Give people a choice. If they want to use the free Google LMS they agree to have their data collected and to view the ads, the same choice we make everyday with Google Mail. Those who do not wish to give up this data, or to see ads, can pay for this privilege through their tuition dollars and licenses to LMS vendors.



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