Reflections on the Pearson OpenClass design partner meeting: Part 1: General thoughts

Note: I do not promote or endorse any product on behalf of my employer. These are my own opinions.
Last week I was fortunate to participate in the design partner meeting for Pearson’s OpenClass LMS. At the University of Wisconsin-Extension, we are early in our OpenClass pilot but I was interested to hear what others had experienced.

It was a remarkable couple of days. Putting more than 20 people from different types of institutions in the same room to have in-depth conversations about what next generation learning technology infrastructure should look like was worth the trip to Denver. Conversations ranged from high-level technical (what should the SIS API enable?) to more broad philosophical issues (should the system encourage a move away from rigid course structures?).

I was impressed with the candor from everyone about the potential and the challenges of building a globally-scalable learning technology platform. OpenClass is available but still in beta and has some kinks to be worked out. Everyone agreed that the basics needed to “just work” before a more substantial rollout could happen at their institutions. What constitutes the basics, however, was different depending on partner needs.

I believe Pearson is facing a classic “Innovators Dilemma” (Christensen) as they launch OpenClass into a mature market. Mature markets have developed expectations about how products should function. The power users of mature technologies expect products that offer rich features that have grown over time. As these products add more features, they also become more expensive and harder for novices to use. This is generally the case in the LMS/CMS market. A disruptive innovation often offers less or different functionality but can be significantly cheaper than the more mature products. In the case of OpenClass, the cost drops to zero (at least in terms of licensing and hosting).

OpenClass does not have the feature depth of more mature learning management systems (at least the features we have come to expect). For example, there are fewer quiz options, the forums are not as robust, and the ability to customize roles is limited. This is not to say that the OpenClass features are not capable but, if you are used to being able to configure each role in 100 different ways, OpenClass does not have that kind of flexibility out of the box. The key is to look at how OpenClass is different and where it is better than current LMSs. What does it offer that other LMSs do not? It uses a much more social approach to learning, has a fantastic interface, and the potential for content sharing on a global scale (I will talk a bit about the Exchange in Part 2).

The big question is whether Pearson can capture enough of the mature market while pushing into new directions. Given that 3000 institutions/organizations are at least kicking the tires, it seems like they have a good shot at getting a solid user base.

We are continuing to move forward with our pilot at UWEX and are challenging ourselves to think different about course design and structure to take advantages of the platform’s strengths.

I split this reflection into two parts and I will talk more specifically about the current and future capabilities that are reasons we are moving forward in Part 2.


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