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It will be us, it will be now

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In IMS Global we are coming off the high of our annual Learning Impact conference held this year in Toronto. This was the 6th annual Learning Impact conference and the 10th annual conference held by IMS (we changed the name and the focus to Learning Impact in 2007).

The conference has grown nicely over the years, but it is still an "intimate" group of about 300 or so industry leaders equally split among suppliers and institutions across K-20. A lot of really interesting things happen at the conference as it is as much or more a venue to work on IMS continuing initiatives as it is a "state of" the ed tech industry. This includes the annual Learning Impact global competition that is the only competition of its kind worldwide: an independently judged awards program that recognizes the achievement of technology in helping to improve education, particularly access, affordability and quality.

Most years I do a keynote in which I attempt to provide some details of the "big picture" on all things knowledge economy, education trends, tech trends and the role of interoperability. This year the main message was that the IMS community is clearly creating a major shift in the education landscape.  The change is as simple and yet as profound as the change around 1900 when electrical outlets started appearing in homes for the 1st time.

Most people alive today take the ease with which a wide variety of electrical appliances can be "plugged in" for granted. However, this was not very easy in 1900. The "killer app" for electricity to the home was the lightbulb.  As a result, early wiring of homes terminated in light bulb sockets - of which there were quite a few competing forms.  As a result, the "standard" for getting electricity to new categories of appliances was a light bulb screw that had an electrical wire coming out to the appliance (see collage).

So what?  Well, this is where we are in terms of the ability of educational institutions to adopt educational technology. Every vendor has their own integration APIs that are analogous to the variety of light bulb sockets. The "wiring" of integrations is complex and messy - and just not as easy as it should be (and in the case of electricity, eventually became). It was not such a great time to be selling appliances in 1900 as they were not easy to adopt.

The good news is that every industry eventually overcomes these barriers. The education segment has some unique challenges compared to some other industries which I will be discussing in this blog over time. But, the bottom-line is that the 3% of education expenditures that is spent on technology in education worldwide (see BCG report here) will eventually rise to the more normal 6% - but in order to get there, incorporation of technology will need to get easier and its value will need to be clearer.

Both of these issues - making adoption easier and getting clear on the Learning Impact of technology are key themes of IMS Global.

In this year's keynote I relayed some very good news.  I showed 75 major products or institutions that are actively involved in deploying IMS standards and directly involved in conformance certification. We are very sure that the real "market" is at least double this right now. This means that for the 1st time in its history, the educational community is in fact putting in place the "plug and play" infrastructure needed to take out unnecessary cost (think all that custom lightbulb wiring) and open up the market for greater innovation (think all those appliances available to you today in your home).

At the conference I learned of the progress of Instructure - the new entrant in the LMS segment in the last 1 year or so. Instructure has built an entire partner network around the IMS standards! If I am a venture capital investor in educational technology, I am jumping for joy right now!  Do you realize how much investment was saved by not having to develop and maintain their own proprietary integration scheme? This frees up capital for focus on higher value areas.

I also learned about Harvard Business Publishing using the IMS standards to more easily deploy their high quality simulations in a large variety of institutional integration configurations. This makes the use of technology more seamless for faculty and students and reduces unnecessary cost.

I could go on and on with these examples - which we do write up and capture on the IMS web site. But, to sum up, why are we only in 1900 with respect to the education segment? Well, the interoperability is getting where we need it to go, but not quite there yet. The people that are responsible for building the houses - the institutions - need to embrace interoperability as a key strategy. The suppliers need to adjust the culture of custom integrations further and embrace the strategy from the top to the bottom in their organizations.

I chose 1900 as the date not only because it shows the limitations, but also because it was an approximate turning point beyond which electrical outlets rapidly made their way into homes and appliances began flourishing. It is readily apparent  to me that the IMS and larger educational communities are ready to turn the corner or reach the tipping point on this. I see a tremendous cadre of leadership among our IMS community - who I think have the momentum and will make it happen. We need to understand that this change is inevitable and understand our role in the history of educational technology. So, I ask, why not us and why not now? And I conclude that it will be us and will be now!

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