March 30, 2011
I’m teaching in a strategic management class, starting next Monday. It’s the capstone strategy class in the MBA program at University of Maryland University College (UMUC). I’ll be teaching a “hybrid” section, which mean that it’ll be mostly e-learning, but with a few in-class meetings.
The learning management system (LMS) is WebTycho, which is well-established at UMUC, used at a few other institutions, but isn’t a generally-available or widely-used LMS. Having just completed an orientation course in WebTycho, I can give an opinion: it’s solid, and not often annoying.
Teaching at UMUC also involves using Microsoft Outlook, which is both widely-used and annoying.
That said, I’m excited about the 10-week strategy course that’s about to start.
February 1, 2011
The Learning Management System (LMS) market is a crowded one, but that isn’t deterring entry. Michael Arrington considers the launch of Canvas to be post-worthy. Its worthiness seems to stem from two aspects of Canvas: the founder, Josh Coates; and the video, which features a flamethrower.
Canvas is in some ways similar to Totara, which I covered about a month ago. The code is free/open source, and the intention is make profit from services, including hosting and support. In the case of Canvas, the for-profit organization is Instructure.
Canvas differs from Totara in that it’s for the academy, while Totara is for the enterprise. As you’ll know if you watched the video, Canvas has a very specific target. That would be (as Mike puts it) “the entrenched player in the University LMS space, Blackboard, and… its $377 million or so in revenue.”
One set of challenges arises from the difficulty of being an entrant into a segment that includes a large gorilla, as well as other incumbents. Canvas/Instructure has certainly made a bold, aggressive, and well-funded entry.
Another set of challenges relates to that fact of student life, social media. A quick look at Canvas suggests that it provides integration with Facebook (to name a social gorilla) rather than building social networking into the Canvas LMS itself. If so, I think that’s the way to go.
I tried to start using the Canvas in the early hours of this (Tuesday) morning. I submitted a support request shortly after signing up. I’ll post again, or update this post, when I’ve received a response to my support ticket and/or signup.
January 4, 2011
Interesting LMS sounds like an oxymoron. A Learning Management System (LMS) is often a teaching administration system, used to keep track of courses, students, and class assignments. That might be necessary, but it doesn’t excite many of us.
So what might make an LMS interesting? How about social media? Schoology launched its LMS plus social net last year. I’ve posted about Schoology previously, although the most recent post identifies a set of challenges I think it will be hard for Schoology to overcome.
Now there’s Totara: “designed to meet the learning management needs of busy enterprises and to deliver the benefits of open source software.” Totara is a distribution of the free/open source LMS Moodle.
Here are some questions about Totara, most of them with answers. I hope to be able to fill in the missing answers soon. The first question may well be the most critical, in terms of providing the kind of credibility and supporting services that enterprise clients will look for in a provider.
Who is behind Totara? Kineo and Catalyst, the former specializing in e-learning and the latter in open source. That said, neither firm is a stranger to the intersection of learning and open source: each had previously worked with Moodle. Totara was founded as a joint venture between Kineo, Catalyst, and Flexible Learning Network. FLN has since become Kineo Pacific.
What’s the difference between Moodle and Totara in terms of software features? There’s a handy (PDF) comparison table. Not surprisingly, most of the differences take are extensions of Moodle for the enterprise. For example, Totara seems to allow far richer individual development plans than does Moodle 2.0.
Do I download Totara, or is it a hosted service? Up to you, the client.
So can I get started right now? It doesn’t look like it, but it shouldn’t be long (January 2011 – hey, that’s this month), and there are demo webinars and recordings thereof.
Does Totara have social networking features? Now this I’m not sure of. Moodle, and hence Totara, does have some social media features, in that it includes blogs and wikis.
Anyone care to comment on Totara and social networks, or about any other aspect of Totara?
January 1, 2011
I’ve posted before on Schoology, a Learning Management System (LMS) with social networking features. This post follows up by identifying some of the challenges facing the new LMS, and the startup behind it. I focus on Schoology as an LMS for educational clients (as opposed to enterprise clients) on the basis of its current testimonials.
The first challenge is awareness. Decision-makers, such as university information technology officers, need to be aware that there is an LMS called Schoology and that it offers social networking features. The LMS market is crowded enough that achieving awareness may not be easy.
The second challenge is articulating the importance of social media in an LMS. Students already have access to social media, in the form of Facebook, Twitter, etc. Is the LMS enhanced by including another set of social media tools?
The third is making the case that a new LMS is required in order to integrate learning management and social media. If those making the LMS purchase decision consider social media important, they are likely to communicate this to Blackboard and other incumbents. Schoology already includes social features, and hence has a head start, but the lead may not be insurmountable.
A fourth challenge relates to Schoology’s credibility. There are two aspects to this. Is Schoology, a new LMS, as well-developed in terms of features and robustness as established solutions such as Blackboard? Does it execute the basics, such as setting up courses and enrolling students, as smoothly as systems that have been used for these basics for many years at many institutions?
The other aspect of Schoology’s credibility challenge relates to Schoology, the startup, rather than to the LMS it offers. It is a fact of entrepreneurial life that many startups fail. Even startups that succeed often do so by being acquired, thus making their founders and investors money. But will the firm that did the acquiring continue to support the product, or did it make the acquisition in order to reduce competition or redeploy the talent of the acquired company? This is a concern often raised in the LMS market, especially in the light of acquisitions by Blackboard.
The above is rather unbalanced, as a list of challenges without discussion of how Schoology intends to overcome them. Rather than make this post longer by adding what I think Schoology is doing, or should do, in the light of these challenges, I’ll contact the Schoology folks to see what they have to say.
December 14, 2010
Schoology is a learning management system (LMS) with social media features. My wish to kick the tires was quickly granted, in the form of the verification of my signing up as a teacher.
I created a course on Schoology. I should clarify that. Do I mean I created a course about Schoology, or that I created a course at schoology.com? Yes, to both. What I created is very much a first version.
You can check out Schoology and the course by going to schoology.com and using access code GT24N-XBSBF. Hope to see some of you there. Since I need to approve registrations using that code, feel free to email me (andrew at changingway dot org) so that I can respond to your registration request promptly.
November 10, 2010
I’ve long been an admirer of 37signals. Today, Jason Fried announced the 37signals suite. The suite comprises 4 web apps: Basecamp, Highrise, Backpack, and Campfire. The last of these is for online chatting, the first three for managing, respectively, projects, contacts, and stuff.
There are three pricing options, starting at $99/month. It’ll be interesting to see how and if that changes. 37signals like to keep things simple, while some of their clients will have “but I want more of this and less of that with price more like that” comments.
It’s interesting to see that this is not a freemium offering. There is no $0 small-scale or trial version of the suite.
37signals is the best example I know of a firm with a strategy. By strategy, I mean propensity to respond to requests with: No, that’s not what we do. In particular:
- 37s does not believe in losing money to gain clients. It has always priced for profit. There are $0 versions of the apps, but they are intended for trial, not for extended free-of-charge use.
In terms of my own use, I like the first of these things a lot more than I like the second. One of the reasons I stopped using Backpack was because my use outgrew the $0, but my inclination to pay didn’t. I do currently use Highrise.
What should 37s do next? Well, what I’d like them to do is a Learning Management System (LMS). A ruthlessly uncluttered LMS would allow focus on learning from the course, without wasting cycles navigating the LMS. But I don’t think that an LMS is on the 37s radar, and so I’ll keep on writing about other LMSs.
November 3, 2010
Totara is a distribution of the free/open source LMS Moodle, aimed at Kineo’s corporate clients: I’m sure that it’s aimed to attract new clients, as well as to serve current clients.
Since Moodle is under the GPL, so is Totara. That means that when you get Totara, you get its source code, and are free to modify and redistribute your modifications. (It means more than that, but that’s enough about the GPL for this post.)
I plan to try out Totara when it becomes available. It looks as though that means January 2011. The LMS I’m trying out right now is Schoology, about which I posted last week.
October 28, 2010
If you ask most students and instructors what they think of Learning Management Systems (LMS), you’re probably going to get one of two responses: “What’s a Learning Management System?” or “I really hate the system we have to use.” (Typically, there’s a company name attached.)
Blackboard is the typically-attached company/LMS name. It’s the LMS I’ve had to use as teacher and as student, and the above paragraph reflects my experience. The paragraph by Audrey Watters at RWW. It opens an post about Schoology, “a startup that seeks to address many of the pain points of the LMS.”
Schoology apparently has the look and feel of the social networking sites with which students are familiar. That sounded interesting, so I signed up. I wanted to kick the tires right away. I signed up as a teacher, and went into verification limbo. I hope to be able to get going soon. It would be possible to start learning about Schoology right now, through relatively passive means such as reading blog posts (such as the recent post on updates to the service). But, as usual, I prefer more active learning.
I’m hoping that Schoology is a real LMS, focused on learning and on the student. Blackboard always felt to me like a TMS – a teaching management system – focused as much on the teacher as on the students.