I’m already getting quite a bit of public and private feedback on my earlier post on Pearson’s OpenClass, and it is all over the map in terms of what people seem to think I was trying to say. This was really a complex topic to try to handle in one post, and I may not have done it justice. So let me lay out a few points as clearly as I can:
- I think Pearson is trying to create a platform in the way that Google and Facebook are platforms. What I mean is that Pearson will get value not so much from selling their products (although there will definitely be some of that) as from (a) becoming a marketplace for other people’s products (think Apple’s iTunes and App stores) and (b) from getting rich data about student learning needs and behaviors that can enrich both Pearson’s products and those of the third parties that sell through Pearson’s platform.
- I think there is a lot that is compelling about the idea of such a platform, and that it could deliver improvements to the learning experience that would be difficult to achieve without the kind of scale and centralization that Pearson is trying to create.
- I also think that a platform approach entails a very different relationship with the vendor than simply licensing a hosted LMS and raises some very serious concerns, including issues of privacy and control over the market for learning content. Schools should make sure they understand the tradeoffs they would be making and discuss them carefully with Pearson (or any other ed tech vendor that brings a platform approach to market) as well as with their peers before jumping in with both feet.
- Pearson’s marketing efforts have been finely tuned to emphasize free and easy, which I believe is a strategy designed to foster very fast adoption by disrupting the market, starting at the low end and moving up. In doing so, their message emphasizes low cost and ease of use over direct improvements to teaching and learning. In essence, the message is that Pearson will get the LMS (and its price tag) out of the way so that, in Adrian’s words, teachers can focus on “climbing the value chain.”
- So far, there is relatively little public detail about the product itself. On the one hand, the deep integration with Google Apps is new to the market and suggests that OpenClass will have its own take on things. On the other hand, there is not yet evidence that OpenClass is trying to fundamentally re-imagine what an LMS does or how it does it as a delivery platform. The deeper innovation will likely come from the content marketplace and the analytics, neither of which has been publicly unveiled yet.
- While Pearson has made what could be characterized as a couple of PR missteps in the introduction, I view these as mostly minor and not indicative of any nefarious intent. Nor am I suggesting that their overall product and marketing strategies are intended to deceive. However, I am suggesting that Pearson will need to raise its game if it wants to foster the kind of trust necessary to build the new customer relationships that it appears to be shooting for.