Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Worries about OpenClass -- a new learning management system from Google and Pearson

Google and Pearson, a large textbook and etext publisher, are joining forces to offer a free learning management system (LMS) called OpenClass. OpenClass will be competition for Blackboard since it will be free, and, given the skills and resources of Google and Pearson, well done. It will also compete with Moodle, which is open source, but requires a significant staff committment to run.

That is the good news for OpenClass. The bad news for OpenClass is that the LMS market is not competitve -- it is dominated by Blackboard, Moodle and a few less popular LMSs.

Even if OpenClass is better than Blackboard and Moodle -- "open and not clunky" as they claim on their Web site -- it will take time to become a major player because we are locked into current LMSs by the material we have created, the training our students and staff have accumulated, and the systems we have built around them.

Do you use an LMS on your campus? If so, how many students and faculty know how to use it? Do students expect it to be used in a class? Have faculty invested in material that is now loaded into the LMS? Do they use it to automate testing and grading? Is it integrated with student records applications and the textbooks faculty adopt?

Don't get me wrong -- this is not a defense of the current LMSs. My campus uses Blackboard, but it is way too "clunky and closed" for me to use. I am just saying that it will be hard to displace even if OpenClass is superior.

Don't get me wrong on that either. I am not enthusiastic about OpenClass. For a start, I worry that it will favor Google Apps and Pearson teaching material. More important, I worry about the pedagogical impact of any LMS. If OpenClass were to become dominant, would it push us to teach within the confines of the OpenClass LMS -- a Procrustean fit?

On my campus today, on-line education is synonymous with Blackboard. We are in the very early stages of networked education and educational technology. It is too early for such standardization.

Don't get me wrong one last time. I believe the folks working on OpenClass at Google and Pearson are smart and mean well. I just wished they worked for a small startup that did not have such deep pockets.

For more discussion see:
Google Plus discussion
Chronicle of Higher Education discussion
Pearson announcement