Pearson – the world’s largest provider to educational support materials and textbooks has launched OpenClass, a free, cloud-based, Learning Management System that is tightly integrated with Google Apps. Last week the Pearson OpenClass story spread like wildfire. Is OpenClass really as groundbreaking as it seems?
OpenClass is truly a cloud-based service. There is no hardware, licensing or hosting costs for the users. In the same way that free e-mail has become an indispensable part of many peoples lives, Pearson is hoping that a free Learning Management System (LMS) will become an indispensable part of modern higher education. To that end OpenClass is tightly integrated with Google Apps, which many schools (and a large number of students) are already using. Being a cloud-based service makes OpenClass easy for schools to implement, support, and use. More importantly it has the social and communications characteristics that students have come to expect in many other parts of their lives.
OpenClass will have social features that are common in other online products. Users (students and faculty) will be able to follow each other, regardless of whether or not they are in the same class, building, department, or even university. This is the norm for a site like Facebook, Twitter, tumblr, etc. — they do not create artificial barriers to communications and interaction, and neither should a LMS. By bringing this functionality to the university, OpenClass is a big step towards social learning becoming a useful and scalable asset in higher education. More importantly these features are already understood and expected by students. Since the technology is already widely available elsewhere, students and faculty could quickly use the social functions of OpenClass to improve the learning environment.
Open content is an important concept for the College of 2020. Students generally expect information to be free and many of the best colleges are making their courses “openly” available. OpenClass claims to be an open environment, meaning that content from other providers besides Pearson can be used. Students are expecting more information at their fingertips. Other areas of the web are providing that information at breakneck speed. If OpenClass is even a little better at making higher education truly open, then it will be a great step forward. Some critical questions remain – like is it really free and what is Blackboard going to do about it?
The distribution model of OpenClass is radically different than current LMS offerings. It’s currently free and scalable – it can grow and expand with the needs of an institution. The College of 2020 will have most of its IT in the cloud and all platforms will be scalable and accessible from anywhere. But right now OpenClass seems almost too good to be true. Even if we don’t know all the details yet, one thing is for certain – Pearson is playing at the forefront of higher ed technology.