Coursekit  announced today that the LMS was officially open to the public. The startup earned a fair amount of buzz earlier this year when it raised $1 million in investment and its trio of founders said that they were dropping out of the University of Pennsylvania to pursue their business idea full-time.
It was that experience as UPenn students that the founders -- Joe Cohen, Dan Getelman, and Jim Grandpre -- say was the impetus behind founding Coursekit. In an all-too-common complaint, they hated Blackboard. And so they decided to do something about it.
The alternative that Coursekit has built is focused much more on the social component of a classroom than it is on the "learning management" piece. That makes the startup fairly friendly to those who are familiar with Facebook -- the news feed, the sharing, the profiles.
Whether or not that's something that professors want, of course, may be another thing entirely. But Coursekit is clear: it is aiming precisely at professors as its customers. "Laser focused," CEO Joe Cohen told me.
As such, Coursekit does offer a lot of the bells and whistles of a typical LMS: calendaring and grading, for example. But Coursekit gestures towards other things that most LMSes are still struggling to incorporate: sharing, real-time feedback, openness to non-enrolled students.
But by making a system that's catered to professors and students, Coursekit is bypassing the business model that most LMSes have adopted: sell directly to university IT. Coursekit is free for professors to adopt. More generally -- for the time being at least -- Coursekit is simply that: free.
I asked Cohen today about the startup's business model, and it sounds as though it's still a "work in progress." And in some ways, I'm awfully sympathetic to that: I'd rather see the pedagogical needs of teaching and learning met before the needs of "the bottom line." But the bottom line does dictate whether or not an LMS (or any company for that matter) will be around, in a year, in a semester, in a month. And that's an important consideration for any professor to make before deciding to use a particular product in her or his classroom.
One is geared at institutions; one at teachers and students. And connected to that, perhaps, one costs money; the other is free.
There are other "either/or" comparisons to be made too: one sort of LMS focuses on course administration; one on instruction. One is created by incumbent players in the education space; one by startups run -- in the case of Coursekit at least -- by 3 (former) students. One can be adopted by any individual teacher (or even, arguably, by a group of students); and one that requires institutional buy-in.
In some ways, the entrance of Coursekit into the very crowded LMS space means a hard road ahead for the startup. But if, indeed, there are multiple spaces, then perhaps Coursekit is one of the early movers in a space that'll be more geared towards student and teachers' needs, more geared towards social learning, more open and Web-friendly.