Monthly Archives: November 2011

Why Sakai Rocks!

Joshua Kim of Dartmouth University had a provocative post in Inside Higher Education that has provoked a lot of great comments:

I’m hoping that the Desire2Learn (D2L) and Sakai folks among our IHE community will tell me that I don’t know what I’m talking about. When it comes to the LMS (or really anything in life), where you stand is where you sit. I’ve been on Blackboard for 10 years now (across 2 different institutions and in roles ranging from instructor to learning designer to program manager), so naturally I’m biased toward what I know best. I tend to see the LMS race as falling out between 3 competitors (and 3 models): Blackboard, Moodle and Instructure.

There are lots of great comments and I encourage you to read them all.

Here is my comment:

Fun discussion and fun comments.

I would say that Sakai is different and distinct from all the other products mentioned in terms of the amount of choice you are offered.   With Sakai you can choose self-hosted or cloud hosted.   With Sakai you can be involved with the community anywhere from becoming a core contributor (takes some effort and commitment) to silently downloading and using the product or even purchasing a branded version that barely calls itself “Sakai”. 

Sakai is by far the most customizable LMS in the marketplace because the primary developers are from higher education institutions that need unique solutions based on how different schools, different countries, and different cultures teach.    Sakai can be highly customized and still upgraded.  If you looked at the University of Michigan Sakai and then looked at the Oxford University Sakai, you might be amazed that under the highly customized navigation and authorization these two LMS’s share 99.5% of their code.  We are *not* just talking skins, images and color here – we are talking about different functionality and philosophy matching the pedagogy of each school.  This flexibility overwhelms small schools that want to have one way to do things and that is OK – those schools should buy a cloud hosted version of something generic and leave the upgrades and choice of functionality, look and feel to some cloud-hosted product manager somewhere.

But perhaps the most important difference is that the core people moving Sakai forward are not motivated by money or profits.  There are over 20 commercial vendors in the Sakai ecosystem that do want to make money.   But the core leadership of Sakai and its product direction and contribution is overwhelmingly led by Higher Education.  There are great contributions from some of our commercial partners, but when they participate in core activities, they participate as individuals and not members of their companies.  There are meetings where decisions get made in Sakai by a core set of great people – but the people making the decisions are mostly the *customers/adopters of the product*.  There is no separation between those who make the product and those who use the product – they are the same people.   No other LMS in the marketplace is as open in its governance than Sakai.

One of the advantages of Sakai not being venture capital funded or dominated by commercial concerns is that if the marketplace changes dramatically, Sakai will still be there for you even if you never invested a minute of your time or a penny of your money.  Venture Capitalists can pull the plug if a company does not progress to profitability rapidly enough.  A company can have a giant VC-paid-for Educause booth one year and then sold for pennies on the dollar a year later.   A product that is making money and paying its development and sales team is vulnerable to market shifts.  If OpenClass is successful or Instructure gets significant market share, that market share comes from someone else.   If there is too much of a market shift and revenues drop, then companies need to cut their development teams and then the product kind of deflates.  I won’t mention any names, but there is one product in the marketplace that seems likely to me to have a lower market share this time next year because of some combination of Instructure and OpenClass taking business away.   If the market share drop and revenue drop is significant, that might be a little scary to a product that has enjoyed a number of years of very solid and increasing revenue.

If of course you were at a Sakai school, you could sit back and smile, knowing that you controlled your own destiny and that while the world of Sakai is not rolling in cash to do tons of stuff for you, we have passion, heart, dedication, and you are working arm-in-arm with people from some of the most brilliant schools in the world in the form of Oxford, Cambridge, Capetown, ANU, Rutgers, Michigan, Indiana, Stanford, Duke, UNC, Berkeley, Nagoya, Georgia-Tech, and many others large and small.  And our commercial ecosystem is rich and competitive and does not rely on sweetheart deals, proprietary IP, trademark licensing, or revenue sharing to keep somebody’s business model propped up.

As I try to point out in my book, Sakai is about freedom, not low price.   And in particular, whether you or Dartmouth contributes or not, we are as committed to *your* freedom as much as we are committed to our own freedom.

So sit back and relax in your cloud-hosted, vanilla-flavoured, revenue driven, product-manager controlled LMS and smile knowing that you have traded freedom for having no responsibility.   Like in the Matrix, the real world is a little more raw.  When/If your organization decides to take the the steering wheel of the LMS and decides to be a driver instead of a rider, Sakai will be here waiting with open arms.   We miss you, where have you been?  :)