Joining Longsight

March 17, 2014 was my first day as a Longsight employee. I of course am not leaving my full-time faculty position at the University of Michigan School of Information and I will continue to teach my on-campus and Coursera courses. I am joining Longsight as a part-time employee with the title of “Sakai Strategist”. I will also continue doing consulting work for the IMS Global Learning consortium as I have done since 2008.

Being part of Longsight has a number of wonderful benefits for me. First I have financial support to participate in the Sakai community. While the result of free and open source efforts is freedom for the users and adopters of the resulting products, it still costs money to build high-quality open source software like Sakai. My new support will help underwrite a portion of my time working on Sakai as well as cover travel and support costs for my community activities. The second benefit to being part of Longsight is working closely with my new Longsight colleagues. Longsight has emerged as one of the strongest Sakai Commercial Affiliates (SCAs) and Longsight staff are a critical part of the leadership of the Sakai. Even though my efforts will be as a part-time employee, by being part of Longsight, I will be part of a coordinated effort to both improve Sakai and expand its reach.

I think that the LMS marketplace is at an important inflection point. Much like in 2004 when Sakai and Moodle became the disruptive force in the market that ultimately made the commercial providers better, stronger, and more responsive to customer needs, I think that the market is primed to take its next leap forward.

It is time for all the products in the marketplace to move toward a disaggregated architecture for learning platforms and learning tools. The single monolithic LMS will simply not meet the needs of teachers and learners any more. But all of the major products in the marketplace including Sakai, Moodle, Blackboard, Desire2Learn, Canvas and others have been dedicated to building the world’s greatest monolithic LMS. And frankly, what we have all really been doing for the last 15 years is trying to “out do” Blackboard Learn to one degree or another. Learn was the first and most successful product in this market and in many ways established and continues to be the definition of “learning technology”.

I think that Sakai is the only major LMS activity in the marketplace willing to take a risky step backwards to enable a transformative leap forwards. Sakai is the only effort that is supported by a diverse group of commercial and academic participants. This diversity has its challenges – we cannot raise $60 million from venture capitalists on a whim because we won’t surrender our intellectual property to them. But at the same time, we can collectively take risks.

We are a band of committed friends, colleagues and volunteers spread around the world. We work for a diverse set of organizations. Yet we have found a way to develop a product that has garnered between six and ten percent of worldwide market share. Sakai has been able to compete with well-funded enterprises and hold its own with almost no “centrally controlled” resources (we employ a single dedicated full-time employee). It is a testament to how much more efficient the open source model is than any other model of software development and group coordination. It also points out how much more effective each of us can be when we are doing something that we love.

So what is next? You actually don’t have to look much further than the 18-month roadmap for Sakai-11 that was developed by the community in January this year:

https://confluence.sakaiproject.org/display/REL/Sakai+11+straw+man

This is the first time we have engaged in a collective planning process with an 18-month horizon. We were scoping the release of Sakai-11 six months before we finish Sakai-10. The Sakai-11 goals are bold and will require a lot of work. My support from Longsight will ensure that I can invest the time I need to contribute to that exciting vision of Sakai-11 and beyond.

In addition to the Sakai-11 roadmap, I will be spending time working on other Apereo open source efforts like building a portfolio system completely outside of *any* LMS and integrating it through standard connections. I also plan to be involved in the Apereo effort to build an open source tool for Learning Analytics that will work with *any* LMS and integrate using standards like LTI, xAPI, and IMS Caliper. And there has not been any mention of an open source Apereo learning object repository or App Store projects – but I think that is only a matter of time.

I am running out of space so I will just mention offhand the flight of LMS users to mobile, the emergence of the EPUB3 standard and its impact on learning, the increasing growth of enhanced e-books as the “Entry Point to Learning”. LMS vendors are not likely to have the agility needed to truly explore these complex and emerging trends fully. But since Sakai has so many people and schools already “playing” with these ideas at the edge – it is completely natural for us to be front and center in these transformative trends.

I see amazing synergy between building new standards in IMS, building reference implementations for those standards into Sakai and then building Apereo learning tools outside of Sakai integrated using those standards.

I think that the combination of Apereo/Sakai/IMS will be energizing to the entire marketplace in very good ways. People, companies, and universities need to realize that an investment in Apereo is an investment in the future architecture of the teaching and learning marketplace. I would love to see Blackboard, Canvas, Moodle, and Desire2Learn join the Apereo community and contribute to various Apereo efforts. One way or another we are all in this together.

I am looking forward to seeing you all in New Orleans at IMS Learning Impact – May 5-8 and in Miami at the Open Apereo 2014 – June 1-4.

2 Comments

  1. Hi Chuck,

    I take issue with you saying that *everyone* else is just trying to build a monolithic LMS. That’s not fair for Canvas, anyway. We didn’t push for the standardization of deeper LTI hooks into the LMS because we wanted to own all the pieces. That’s not what the app competitions we’ve run have been about. Nor the fact that we don’t even offer integration options other than via industry standards (with some of the best documentation and training), or the open standards-based API we’ve got that we let both customers and vendors use. Or the internal mandate from three years ago that any new features in Canvas must only use open API endpoints. I’ll be the first to admit that when ideals collide with customer demands you end up somewhere in the middle, but I’d say your generalization is unfair.

    Anyway, I agree with the idea of a learning platform, that’s something Devlin and I talked about before we even had a company name. When I was at LearnLaunch a few weeks ago I was telling some folks that in my opinion the *right* LMS should have less features, not more. There are core things that an LMS (or whatever we’ll call it) should handle, and it will probably always be the hub and aggregator, but other than that components should be swappable. The point, in my mind, is to make it possible for enough people to collectively *or* independently come up with innovative solutions in a way that doesn’t destroy the user experience. It’s by lowering the barriers to creation, not by building bigger companies and organizations, that we’ll see cool new things emerge.

  2. Thanks for your comments. Perhaps I would have been clearer if I said “monolithic product suite”. The traditional monolithic LMS efforts (and I include Sakai effort to date in that list) tend to want to build all the bits that customers are willing to pay for. Analytics is a perfect example. Canvas, Blackboard, Sakai, and Desire2Learn all have tightly connected analytic platforms. They may not exactly be “the same LMS” – but they are the same “product” coming from the same company (or community) – which means that to innovate for the users both “sub-products” must evolve – which means that innovation is slower. What I am talking about in terms of what I hope to see as a future Sakai direction is completely giving up on built-in / bundled products like a Portfolio System, Analytics Package, Learning Object Repository, or App Store. I hope that new open-source efforts grow under the Apereo with different groups doing the creating and working with different stakeholders. These new efforts will not be a “piece of Sakai” and “governed within the Sakai governance structures” – these efforts will be true peers of Sakai and hopefully will have as good a relationship with Canvas as they do with Sakai. And then I would hope and dream that they would perhaps get some love and investment from D2L, Canvas, or Blackboard *in addition* to some investment from traditional Sakai contributors like Longsight, AsahiNet, Unicon, and higher education.

    Of course wrapped up in all that “pretty diagram” is the need for lots of really rich standards that don’t yet exist. The lack of products and lack of standards is a chicken and egg problem. If you don’t have products then you don’t need standards. I hope to solve both sides of that equation – but to achieve the vision we need some resources beyond my own personal nights, weekends, and summer vacation that Longsight is now graciously supporting.

    I would further add that while I see Sakai as having the “guts” to leap into the “separate but equal” strategy – I don’t see Canvas sitting on the sideline too long once it looks like a good idea. Like I said in my blog post – I don’t think this transformation is going to leave anyone behind. Some will adapt/adopt quicker than others. I believe Sakai will be first. Canvas is a pretty good candidate to be second to the new architecture because Canvas has already done such a great job in building out LTI and Common Cartridge rather than proprietary integrations/formats. I think that we will come back in five years and the end users will barely care “who was first” because the pioneers will have blazed a trail that will have transformed every product in the marketplace.

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