Is an institutional version of an educational “app store” in your future?

Printer-friendly version

We hope so! And we hope many universities, school districts and suppliers will collaborate on developing it!

See today’s announcement about the launch of a new collaboration to do just that.

Well, we know that the higher ed market seems to want to keep talking about the LMS, last week’s announcement from MIT and Stanford not withstanding. But, some of us are moving on. For those of us that have been attending Learning Impact the last several years (and, yes, don’t forget to sign up right now for this year’s because space is getting short!), we already know what the future of the “LMS” is (and that the term LMS is a bad name for what it has been or what it will be).  We also know what the general roadmap for digital learning resources is and how this evolution is intertwined with the evolution of the LMS. That’s because the LMS is evolving into a disaggregation of features and resources that come together easily and seamlessly for the needs of teachers and students.

The last few years have popularized, in the consumer world, the app store model. The app store in the consumer context is as much, or more, about controlling purchasing paths and revenue distribution as it is about software that the user interacts with (like iTunes). I have about eight Apple computers in my home and have been a user of Apple since the Lisa. What a stroke of genius Steve Jobs had in envisioning Apple computers at the center of home entertainment/personal digital lifestyle! And, iTunes was the delivery mechanism to make getting the digital resources easy. And, as we know, the 1-click buying, downloading, installing experience has evolved from computer to mobile devices of all shapes and sizes. Hooray!

Success of this model has lead to a lot of imitation by other large consumer-oriented companies and creating similarly vertically integrated buying experiences. To succeed at this you’ve got to have a massive point of sale presence. Amazon became the leader in e-Books. And, Google has the primary competitor to iTunes for mobile devices.

Ease of use/convenience in getting digital resources, evolving to the very popular apps (software applications) has made these vertical stores very appealing. Problem is that they also tend to lock the buyer in to a specific device or family of devices. If I want to switch from iPhone to Samsung Galaxy Note II – which I recently did – I have to start over again with the apps (Yes, the Galaxy Note II is a much better phone than the iPhone - sorry Apple!).

Of course, there are now mobile applications focused on the education segment: as our friend Robbie Kendall Melton from Tennessee Board of Regents has probably the best collection! Problem is that these vertical app stores have created a nightmare for teachers and students who generally need something that cut across many different types of devices (think BYOT). And, in order to make the user experience seamless and productive, educational apps typically require exchange of information (think user data and/or analytics) with other software in the educational enterprise (yes, like an LMS or whatever the LMS evolves to).

So, IMS finds ourselves in an interesting position in that we are going to need to enable a model in education that is not Apple, Google, Amazon (or any proprietary vertical marketplace approach) centric.  The app store project is, at it’s beginning, a collection of universities that are working to define and build a reference implementation of an app store based on open standards, that any content provider can participate in.  The advantage of building apps that utilize the open standards (think APIs – but vendor neutral) is that they will be easily integrated into a seamless teacher and student experience (yes, think 1-click). Now, will it be a gigantic app store with zillions of resources? Probably a smaller set of resources that are much more manageable for each course (while some are in love with the “learning objects in the sky” concept it is not what most faculty have time for).

The IMS educational app store project is in a top-level design phase now – with the expectation that there will be mock-ups and wireframes to discuss at the upcoming Learning Impact. From there we will herd the cats and begin building. The idea is NOT that IMS would maintain some sort of app store.  The idea is that institutions and/or suppliers will collaborate as they see fit in providing institutional or supplier-specific versions that may or may not be coordinated with peer implementations. Contact us if you'd like to get involved.

Briefly back to Apple, Amazon, Google – sorry to have to pick on you guys. But, for education it’s time to move to the next logical phase of the app store concept. The good news is that you can utilize the open app store APIs (or others can) to link the proprietary applications built for your stores into the open educational app store should the educational community wish to do so. It would be much nicer if you would spend a little bit of time and effort to engage or even contribute to the project – but we realize you are very busy making money with your vertical platform strategies and probably won’t help out the education segment.