Thursday, October 20, 2011

Pearson to Offer Free Learning Management System

This week Pearson announced a new learning management system that will be free to colleges without having to pay any of the usual licensing or maintenance fees.  The new platform, called OpenClass, will offer free support, hosting and upgrades in addition to the service itself making it very attractive to current open-source users since open source systems still charge for services. 

OpenClass is  “absolutely for free,” says Adrian Sannier, senior vice president of product at Pearson and former CIO at Arizona State University. “No licensing costs, no costs for maintenance, and no costs for hosting. So this is a freer offer than Moodle is. It’s a freer offer than any other in the space.”

“By freeing the LMS, Pearson seems to want to steer higher education dollars away from e-learning platforms and toward e-learning content,” says Phil Hill, executive vice president of the Delta Initiative, an I.T. consulting firm.   In doing so, Pearson is “potentially outflanking Blackboard,” because while Blackboard still relies heavily on revenues from its LMS licenses, Pearson has its “core business in digital content,” says Hill. Relegating the LMS to commodity status, while elevating content, plays to its strengths, he says.

According to the article, “Pearson says it is taking a strategic cue from Google, which offers its cloud-based e-mail and applications suite to colleges for free in an effort to secure “mind share” among the students and professors who use it. Like Google with its Apps for Education — with which Pearson has partnered for its beta launch — the media conglomerate is hoping to use OpenClass as a loss leader that points students and professors toward those products that the company’s higher ed division sees as the future of its bottom line: e-textbooks, e-tutoring software, and other “digital content” products.”

“Whether Pearson can pull off its end-run around the LMS market depends largely on whether it can convince its competitors in the publishing world to play nice with OpenClass, says Lev Gonick, the Case Western CIO.

“Integrating sophisticated digital content into a cloud-based LMS involves a lot of coordination between the platform provider and content provider, says Gonick. So Pearson might have to court its fellow publishers before it can guarantee to professors that OpenClass will support the content they want, he says. “I don’t think that’s a slam dunk,” says Gonick.

‘If the endgame of taking on the LMS market with OpenClass is to up-sell Pearson’s line digital content products,” he says, “Why would any other publisher want to give that advantage to a competitor?” Pearson might be using Google as a model, but Google did not have to partner with Microsoft to get institutions to adopt its suite of education apps, he says.

“Certainly, we’re aware of this issue,” says Matt Leavy, CEO of Pearson’s eCollege, adding that “there’s probably a lot of negotiating and deal-making to come” with both publishers and distributors. But he said he does not think instructors will require OpenClass to support all types of digital content from other publishers as a prerequisite to signing up. “A lot of professors don’t have that expectation of deep integration,” Leavy says, “and shallow integrations” — i.e., embedding simple links inside the LMS — “are still available to them.”

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