When I speak to people from schools that are currently involved in an LMS selection process, I very often hear the following assumptions and line of reasoning:
- Sakai 2 hasn’t set the world on fire, and anyway, it’s going to be replaced by Sakai 3 soon.
- But Sakai 3 isn’t ready yet, and we aren’t sure exactly when it will be ready or how to go about evaluating it now.
- Since we have to make a decision soon, we are going to have to forget Sakai as a candidate.
This is a reasonable and understandable train of thought, but it is built upon mistaken beliefs about Sakai 2, Sakai 3, and the relationship between the two projects. The Sakai community has a vision and a plan that ensures both Sakai 2 and Sakai 3 will remain healthy and under active development for some time to come. In fact, far from being merely an awkwardly timed product transition, the two-product approach the community is taking actually provides what I believe is a unique strategy in the LMS space for supporting schools’ present needs, fulfilling their vision for their future, and providing a path from one to the other. Rather than being a reason to dismiss Sakai from consideration, the Sakai 2/Sakai 3 dichotomy is actually reason to look at the Sakai community and family of software especially closely.
Let’s start by dispelling a myth. Sakai 2 isn’t going to go away any time soon. In fact, it is going to get better. There are well over a hundred schools using it in production today—schools ranging from small community colleges to large research universities all around the globe. The rSmart distribution of Sakai that SunGard will be supporting is based on Sakai 2, so you can expect the number of Sakai 2-adopting schools to increase fairly dramatically. Sakai 2.7 was released this summer and work on Sakai 2.8 is well underway. Because Sakai is an open source community, nobody has to end-of-life the software based on profitability goals the way for-profit companies do. Sakai 2 will continue to be developed and supported for as long as there schools using it and willing to invest in supporting it, either through their own developers or through the support dollars that they pay to commercial affiliates. Because end-of-life is a bottom-up, community-driven decision, nobody can simply declare when that will happen. But under the circumstances, I would be shocked if support and substantial continuing development for Sakai 2 stopped in less than five years, and I can easily imagine maintenance patches and perhaps even additional feature development continuing beyond that.
At the same time, Sakai 3 is not just the next version of Sakai 2. In retrospect, we probably should have given it a completely different name. Sakai 3 is a next-generation learning and research collaboration environment designed to be in tune with changes in the university and the larger world of technology, including open education, the rise of social software, the rise of the consumer web, and much more. It is being developed on an aggressive timeline, and I expect to see impressive leaps in functionality over the next 12-15 months, culminating in a solid yet cutting-edge system that will be usable and adoptable by many institutions. It will meet the same needs that an LMS does today and some that an LMS doesn’t, but it will often do so in different ways. I expect that Sakai 3 will enable people to teach and learn and collaborate in ways that are difficult or even impossible in current-generation LMSs. But even good change can be a challenge and often needs to be managed, particularly where overworked and overstressed faculty are the ones required to make those changes. As a result, different schools will want to move to Sakai 3 at different paces and through different migration processes. Rather than being a hard switch-over from Sakai 2 to Sakai 3, we expect that many current Sakai schools will have both platforms for a number of years.
As a result, the Sakai community is investing heavily in developing a very sophisticated set of strategies for technical and functional co-existence and integration between Sakai 2 and Sakai 3. It will be possible to mix Sakai 3 capabilities into Sakai 2 courses on a course-by-course basis. Work will be done to bridge the user experiences of the two systems and make the transition as seamless as possible. In other words, for many schools that are excited about the prospects of Sakai 3, the best place to start down that road is by adopting Sakai 2.
Let me be more specific. Here is my personal advice to schools in a variety of situations who want to consider adopting Sakai:
- If you need to conclude your LMS selection process in the next 12 months, will have an aggressive migration schedule from your old system to your new one, and make heavy but relatively traditional use of your current LMS, then focus on Sakai 2. Sakai 2 has been around for a long time and has been battle-tested for the kinds of uses you have. There is a wealth of community experience in migrating to it from all the major LMS platforms. There is plenty of commercial support available for it. It is being and will continue to be actively developed and enhanced. And it puts you on a path to Sakai 3 whenever you are ready to go there.
- If your situation is similar to above but you also have strong constituencies that are interested in academic social networking, PLEs, open education, or similar topics, then focus on Sakai 2 as your main platform but look closely at the option of doing a hybrid installation with Sakai 3 from Day 1. The addition of Sakai 3 to the mix will enable you to address some of those cutting-edge goals quickly. And because Sakai 3 integrates well with Sakai 2, you will be able to take those pilot projects and roll them out to the rest of the faculty through your existing infrastructure whenever you (and they) are ready.
- If your primary goal is to support new initiatives such as open education, PLEs, or the social academic web, then focus on Sakai 3. Sakai 3 will be the platform that will be ideal infrastructure for these sorts of initiatives. There are a lot of sharp minds from the community who have been attracted to work on Sakai 3 now precisely for that reason. Sakai 3 will provide you with both the technology and the peer network you need to raise the bar and really innovate.
- If you don’t need to conclude your search before 2012, then your options are open. Sakai 2 will certainly still be going strong. Sakai 3 will have matured considerably and will have been adopted and put into production by a number of institutions. There will be more experience in the community with hybrid strategies. You should take your time and look at your options.
There has never been a better time to adopt Sakai than right now. The community is growing and it is supporting and innovating on two complementary platforms. Sakai 2 is an excellent LMS that is only going to get better as adoption of it grows over the next several years. Sakai 3 is a next-generation learning and research collaboration environment, several years in the making, now being aggressively developed, that will break new ground and open up new horizons. Best of all, choosing Sakai 2 today is a good path to get to Sakai 3 tomorrow.
It’s all good.