LMSs & free beer

by Paul Maharg on 24/10/2011

Stephen Downes blogged Steve Kolowich’s article on Pearson’s announcement that they’re teaming up with Google to provide a a cloud-based ‘new learning management system that colleges will be able to use for free, without having to pay any of the licensing or maintenance costs normally associated with the technology’.  According to the article, OpenClass has no licensing costs, no costs for maintenance, and no costs for hosting. Pearson thus claims it’s more free than MOODLE. Hard to know where to start on this (well actually no, we could start with asking what’s Google getting out of this, what’s the nature of the big G’s business link with Pearson, and if Google needed an LMS so badly why this one), but here are three points for starters…

1. Remember Ning, which used to be free as in free beer, and lots of academics built projects and networks there, only to wake up one day (as I did) and find it wasn’t free any more? As Pearson’s ad line puts it, ‘Always Learning’…  Is this really a huge publishing giant giving us enormous amounts of free stuff, or are they playing the oldest trick in the marketing book? Here’s their spin:

‘OpenClass is completely free. No licensing costs. No hardware costs. No hosting costs. FREE! OpenClass takes the practical and financial burden out of running an LMS.’

Can anyone believe Pearson will continue this indefinitely? Who would sign up their valuable content and resources to Pearson on this basis?

2. One of the most difficult things to resolve with LMSs is the relationship between content and structure.  It’s problematic because it’s ongoing, ever-changing as relations between content, task, intention, motivation, anticipation, heuristic and many other factors change.  Even if we didn’t know this experientially, we could guess it would work out like that by learning from previous learning management systems — thirteenth century glosses, or the shift of manuscript to book in the early fifteenth century.  What about the relation of content and structure in the OpenClass LMS: how are users (students as well as staff) enabled to alter this easily and intuitively; and did we see this functionality in Pearson’s earlier offerings, eCollege and their Waterford Early Learning product…  Even first impressions show some problematic issues.  The only answer to the perennial problems of LMSs, and their complex solutions, is to take the means of production into our own hands.  MOODLE ain’t perfect, but it shows us the way forward, which is development of the technology by the community, for the community.

3.  Analytics — the holy grail of the commercial internet.  Will Pearson be helping themselves to barrowloads of crunchy analytics from their userbase?  Users (students as well as staff) would want that info for themselves — will Pearson be supplying it?  Given the commercial value of it, and how much we all want that information, it’s hard to see Pearson giving up the opportunity.



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