Category Archives: Future of Digital Content

Education is evolving from paper to digital content. Why are we not completely digital yet? How do we get there faster?

EDUCAUSE 2014 (#edu14): The beginning of alignment toward an “architecture for educational innovation”?

“Alignment” is especially challenging in the world of higher education. Alignment of interests and direction is very difficult to achieve within a university structure, which have evolved to what Clark Kerr termed as the “Multiversity” (a collection of diverse communities under one umbrella).

Alignment, it would appear, should be even more challenging across universities.  However, there are forces at work, for instance community interaction via organizations like EDUCAUSE. Indeed, some theorists have postulated that independent institutions evolve to very similar structures not through “top down” leadership but more through practitioner community effects (a theory known as institutional isomorphism). So, in practical terms, one of the reasons why most CIOs at colleges and universities seem focused on similar priorities is because they all talk to and influence each other via groups like EDUCAUSE.

For almost a year now IMS has been talking about something we call “an architecture for educational innovation.” What we mean by that is a community owned, developed and supported set of interoperability standards that make educational applications plug and play with each other and thus allow the focus/investment to be primarily on innovative apps rather than infrastructure. This concept started achieving clarity in the Abel, Brown, Suess EDUCAUSE Review article from October 2013, A New Architecture for Learning.

sdks

IMS Global does not bring all the things needed for the architecture to materialize: Far from it. IMS brings one small but absolutely critical piece, which is an organization via which institutions and suppliers can co-create, evolve and sustain the required interoperability (call them standards if you like – but ease of interoperability is what is required, versus standards per se). Organizations such as Internet 2 bring the cloud-based infrastructure that is so critical to offloading the infrastructure concerns. Organizations like EDUCAUSE Learning Institute and the larger EDUCAUSE bring the leadership needed to make it happen.

Here are my (admittedly subjective) take on some of the notables from EDUCAUSE in priority order (most important first), with the relevance to beginning alignment toward an architecture for educational innovation:

  • Unizin:  The first of it’s kind consortium among large R-1 universities to enable sharing of content and data announced adding several new members. This is a very serious effort, reflected by the $1 million membership fee for each university, and at the heart of this effort is reliable and efficient interoperability to enable the sharing regardless of what products are used.
  • EDUCAUSE Next Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE): A new, potentially well-funded effort (sponsored by the Gates Foundation) to envision and take tangible steps toward enabling a more comprehensive view of what today would be the learning management system (LMS).  It is clear from the focus group of 50+ leaders that occurred at #edu14 that interoperability  and the flexibility and access to data needed to improve instruction is clearly among the top three enablers for this effort. And, this interoperability will go well beyond the LMS (which despite its many detractors is typically the most open and interoperable system on campus today).
  • Diana  Oblinger: Diana received numerous well-deserved recognition at what will be her last EDUCAUSE as CEO per announced 2015 retirement. Diana has turned out to be a great fit for EDUCAUSE CEO, leading an enormous rise in stature over the last six years.  However, the real news item here is that during Diana’s tenure EDUCAUSE revenues of more than doubled to over $35 million annually. How many commercial product suppliers have had that level of success during the same period? As with the prior two bullets regarding Unizin and NGDLE this success can be interpreted as increasing leadership from the institutions in driving the direction of technology.
  • Campus Computing Survey: Once again “assisting faculty with the instructional integration of information technology” was ranked most important. The future of educational IT is not about “locking the faculty down” – it is about enabling better, more innovative instruction.
  • Kuali project:  There was hubbub at EDUCAUSE about this well-known open source ERP project adding a commercial spin-off which included questions about what would remain open source.  In the architecture for educational innovation diversity and innovation go hand-in-hand. This includes (very importantly) diversity of business models. We see the evolution of Kuali as just one more example of the need to find a path that leads to sustainable innovation. If you’d like everything with respect to education to be free, then please begin with your own salary.
  • Mobile-first products: In the last few weeks, including at EDUCAUSE, I’ve spoken with at least five suppliers relatively new to the education space, touting their “mobile-first” strategy – meaning the solutions were built from the ground up to support mobile devices as the primary interface with the ability to work well in the “consumer world” of diverse platforms, apps, etc.  How this consumer world interoperates with the more closed world of educational systems and institutions is a problem that requires agreed upon interoperability to address enable at scale. There is great opportunity for those organizations that can work with IMS to begin to plug some of these gaps – and it is beginning to happen.
  • Gartner Group:  Albeit not released at EDUCAUSE, Gartner’s July report on the Hype Cycle for Education covers something called “Exostructure Strategy” –  leveraging interoperability to enable more friction-less partnering – whose description includes several IMS standards as the enabling technology – as having transformational potential.  Since Gartner has had literally zero interaction directly with IMS, it is clear that this is a trend that their institutional and supplier members are telling them about.
  • University of Central Florida: We were blown away by UCF’s LTI app development work – and their leadership in getting the message out on how institutions can and should be realizing the architecture for innovation/exostructure strategy!

What do you think? Beginning of alignment toward an architecture for educational innovation?

Here are the intro slides from our IMS panel session on the topic.

 

Slide01 Slide02 Slide03 Slide04 Slide05 Slide06 Slide07 Slide08 Slide09 Slide10 Slide11 Slide12

 

Can the Education Sector Lead Learning Tech Impact (and Tech Stds)?

Many thanks to Michael Feldstein of the e-Literate Blog for the insightful post on IMS progress entitled The IMS Is More Important Than You Think It Is.

Michael and Phil Hill have been so successful with the e-Literate Blog because of their intimate understanding of the education technology sector.  The funny thing about the title of this recent blog post about IMS is that even I, as the guy sort of in charge over here at IMS, often have the same sentiment – namely that IMS may be more important than even I think it is!

To explain I will highlight a few statements from Michael’s writing and elaborate a bit – all under the category of sort of a teachable moment. The key foundation here is to understand that when we reorganized IMS beginning eight years ago we took a pretty radical approach (while trying not to appear radical) of turning a technical standards organization upside down. So, rather than focusing on standards for educational technology as the most important thing we took to heart that standards are only a means to an end. That end is what we termed “Learning Impact” which is the impact that technology can have on transforming/improving education and learning. If that seems a bit ethereal to you, it’s not: The event Michael wrote his impressions from is our annual meeting called the Learning Impact Leadership Institute. This is NOT a meeting of standards geeks (even though we all have a bit, or maybe a lot, of that in us) but rather a meeting of those wishing to lead educational transformation.

Michael: “I have long argued that the development of technical interoperability standards for education are absolutely critical for enabling innovation and personalized learning environments. Note that I usually avoid those sorts of buzzwords—”innovation” and “personalized learning”—so when I use them here, I really mean them.”

Rob’s elaboration: Michael gets that IMS is all about innovation, but lot’s of folks misunderstand what goes on in a standards organization like IMS. Some standards are about picking one of several options of a technology already developed. My favorite example is picking a gauge to standardize railroad tracks. However, IMS standards are for technology that is new. These type of standards are all about enabling distribution of innovative practices and technologies. Thus, some will fail but others will enable wider innovation.  Working in IMS is as much or more about defining the innovation and enabling it as it is about locking down a potential standard.

Michael:  “But arriving at those standards often feels . . . painful, frustratingly slow, and often lacking a feeling of accomplishment. It’s easy to give up on the process. Having recently returned from the IMS Learning Impact Leadership Institute, I must say that the feeling was different this time.”

Rob’s elaboration: We’ve figured out a few things over the years that have helped improve the process of developing standards. First we try to separate the participants into groups that emphasize different things. Some folks like to work on developing specifications. Most, however, prefer to implement. Others, especially institutional types, like to work on reviewing to understand and ensure the benefits and resulting policies. The trick is to create some separate spaces and bring them together at the appropriate times. IMS is far from perfect at orchestrating all of this – but we are constantly working at it.  When it all comes together and you have the institutions and suppliers all working together toward the same end it is truly a beautiful thing. I think probably Michael sensed some of that at the meeting.

Michael: “The first indicator that things are different at the IMS these days is the health of the community.  Membership has quadrupled. Interestingly, there was also a very strong K12 contingent at the meeting this year, which is new. This trend is accelerating. According to Rob, the IMS has averaged adding about 20 new members a year for the last eight years but has added 25 so far in 2014. Implementations of IMS standards is also way up.”

Rob’s elaboration: To us IMS is an organization that enables the education sector to collaborate in the leadership of educational and learning technology. Seems like a strange thing to say, but as I pointed out in a 2007 EDUCAUSE Review article (see Innovation, Adoption and Learning Impact: Creating the Future of IT), the education segment does not invest much R&D compared to other segments and without collaboration every institution (all very small businesses – even the largest) spend most of the time and effort they do invest in reinventing what their colleagues at other institutions are doing. This is still a lesson that we are all learning. But, our approach to IMS has been to lay this out to the sector and basically say, “Hey, we can give you a platform for collaboration, but it’s up to you to fund it and make it succeed.” If you’re not supportive it will fail, if you are it will succeed. So far, IMS has grown from a very small standards activity to being on par with the largest and most stable in the world including horizontal and vertical standards organizations.

Michael: “The IMS is just knocking the cover off the ball in terms of its current and near-term prospective impact. This is not your father’s standards body. But I think the IMS is still just warming up.”

Rob’s elaboration: One does get the sense that despite very strong growth the last eight years that IMS may be accelerating.  My personal view is that there is an enormous opportunity for institutions and suppliers in the segment to shape the future right now as digital support for learning and education is accelerating. The concept that is the foundation of IMS, namely that true cross-platform plug and play apps, content and data in support of greater personalization, more distinctive educational programs and more effective educational programs, is a game changer. And, this is truly a charge that educational institutions can and should lead.  After all, who should be inventing the future of education? And, I also expect that much of this IMS work is going to make its way into more horizontal application across other industries (not education only) and the general web.

Critical Milestone Met: Conformance Certification by Leading e-Assessment Product Suppliers

Today’s IMS announcement of the first group of winning products and organizations to undergo conformance certifications for QTI and APIP is a very, very big step for e-assessment interoperability worldwide. IMS certification seal

For years, no decades, the majority of e-assessment suppliers worldwide have been riding for free on the back of the IMS Question & Test Interoperability TM (QTI TM) specification. QTI has been a labor of love and importance within IMS and led by organizations such as SURF, JISC, University of Cambridge, ETS, BPS Bildungsportal Sachsen (BPS) and University of Pierre & Marie Curie.

These organizations, other than ETS, are not household names in most of U.S. education sector. But they tirelessly carried the load of developing really the world’s only viable interoperability standard for digital interoperability of tests, test items and associated results.

About two years ago the U.S. decided to invest in the Common Core learning standards for K-12 and also launched the Race-to-the-Top Assessment program to encourage states to cooperate on designing and delivering new electronic assessments in conjunction with the Common Core. Shortly ahead of that IMS collaborated with a group of U.S. states to define an evolution of QTI called APIP TM (Accessible Portable Item Protocol TM)which consists of QTI plus some new features to address requirements for special needs students. And, the Netherlands also began partnering with IMS to develop a countrywide initiative to evolve to e-assessment starting with one particular test (similar to the U.S. SAT or college entrance).

These investments in e-assessment have led to a dramatic rise in participation in QTI and APIP in IMS. If you look at the IMS membership list today it is arguably the who’s who of leading assessment organizations, certainly in the U.S. but also perhaps worldwide. The IMS APIP/QTI work over the last 2 years has been co-chaired by Measured Progress, ETS and Pearson with heavy involvement from McGraw-Hill CTB, ACT, Pacific Metrics, NWEA, Data Recognition Corporation and a variety of other assessment industry heavy weights. And in the Netherlands CITO has been leading the charge.

Life has been good. But market development and adoption of standards is always a kind of “chicken and egg” sort of thing.  As mentioned at the very beginning of this post worldwide assessment suppliers of many stripes had been talking up QTI for a very long time. Problem was that every supplier had their own version of QTI and therefore very little interoperability ensued. As we have discussed in other posts, this type of standardization does not deliver on the actual cost and time reduction that standards need to deliver on in the digital world. If conformance to a standard still requires lots of custom programming to get interoperability, well, then it isn’t a very good standard.

Thus, realizing this issues of “loose standards” running rampant in the ed tech sector the IMS members decided to get serious – and also save themselves lots of time and money in redoing integrations – by implementing IMS conformance certification. As we have discussed elsewhere, IMS conformance certification is not a marketing program (although those that go through it obviously do have the right to market that fact) but more of a “UL certified” designation of getting through a testing program. The conformance certification is much more than a “final test to the specification.” The conformance certification program is actually critical to evolving to the best possible specification for the needs of the marketplace. Typically only by going through the testing can the specification be refined and improved.  IMS has seen this process work over and over again with all our specifications the last several years.

The problem is that many vendors often kind of “hope for a miracle” many times with specifications. They hope that even without going through implementation and testing that magically a specification will work.  I think anyone that has ever developed software and does a little projecting of that experience on to a specification – that essentially must bring together the development process/experience of numerous software products – will realize that a good specification requires development participation and feedback from multiple vendors. The IMS conformance certification process – and ongoing developer community and related specification evolution (we call it an APMG: Accredited Profile Management Group) – is that “hub” where the development experience of the multiple suppliers comes together into a great specification.

It’s really a very simple concept but it is greatly complicated by the realities of new markets and new product development where suppliers are challenged to respond to the needs of their project deliverables and the needs to cooperate on the standards testing and evolution.

All that background so that you know that what IMS announced today, that five leading organizations have now completed conformance certification for APIP/QTI across a range of product types, is a huge step forward for the e-assessment community. By “community” we mean the suppliers and the states and end-users of e-assessments.  In addition to the leadership shown by the suppliers listed in this post, this milestone has required exemplary leadership from the end-user organizations that have been key partners in this, namely Maryland, Minnesota, WIDA, Smarter Balanced and the College Voor Examens Netherlands.

http://www.imsglobal.org/apip/alliance.html

We are still relatively early in the adoption of high quality e-assessment worldwide. But what today’s announcement proves is that leading supplier and end-user organizations can come together to enable all the many benefits of interoperable assessments (for a more detailed discussion of these benefits see What You Need to Know About e-Assessment).

It is now time for those organizations that have either gathered around the IMS QTI/APIP table or been long claiming that they are “conforming” to these standards, to contribute to the community by participating in the conformance certification process.

Today’s announced winners were:

APIP:

Platinum:Educational Testing Service/Computerized Assessments and Learning TOMS v3.0.0.0 PNP system (APIP v1.0 PNP Core Compliant) and Sample Students’ Instances v1.0 (APIP v1.0 PNP Content Core Compliant)

Gold:Pacific Metrics Unity v1.9 (APIP v1.0 PNP Core Compliant, APIP v1.0 Item Test Bank Import Compliant)

Silver:Computerized Assessments and Learning Test Delivery system v2.3 (APIP v1.0 Delivery Entry Compliant)

QTI:

Platinum:BPS Bildungsportal Sachsen GmbH ONYX Testsuite v5.3.1 (QTIv2.1 Authoring Compliant, QTIv2.1 Delivery Compliant, QTIv2.1 Item Test Bank Compliant)

Gold:Northwest Evaluation Association Formative Assessment Item Bank v14.1 (QTI v2.1 Item Test Bank Compliant) and NWEA SCIP v14.1 (QTI v2.1 Content Compliant)

The winners will be honored and presented with their awards during the Learning Impact Awards ceremony at the 2014 Learning Impact Leadership Institute 5-8 May 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA www.imsglobal.org/learningimpact2014/.

Here are some links to addition press releases regarding this important milestone:

ETS Assessment Management System Provides Standardized Platform to Manage Statewide Assessments

Pacific Metrics’ Unity Platform Earns IMS Global Learning Consortium Assessment Conformance Certification

http://www.imsglobal.org/apip/alliance.html

Why Does IMS Global Learning Consortium Publish an Annual Report?

Today IMS released our annual report for the calendar and fiscal year 2013.   See the press release.  See the annual report.

IMS annual report 2013 cover

Producing an annual report is a lot of work – and these days when it seems like very few people have time to read one might ask why do we take the time and effort to do this?

We first published an annual report for the year 2009 – so 2013 is the fifth edition.

IMS annual report 2009 cover

I think there were really two catalysts that got us to publish the report.

The first was that after I came into IMS as the CEO in 2006 it became obvious that not even the Board of Directors much less all stakeholders in IMS were getting accurate financial data and other metrics on the organization. First we corrected the situation for the Board but then the Board also vowed that we should be providing this information to the members and the stakeholders.

The second catalyst was Jan Posten Day, who at the time was with Blackboard, and is now with Pearson. As a member of one of our leadership committees in IMS Jan was adamant that IMS should have an annual report. At the time Jan suggested this we were struggling to keep the organization afloat and I pushed back on the idea because it just seemed like we could not pull it off.  But Jan’s insistence made an impression on myself and the other staff – and I think it was within a year or so that we dug deep and got out the 2009 report.

As you will see in this year’s report, IMS has been growing nicely now for eight consecutive years.

ims growth through 2013

 

In fact, even though there has been quite a bit of churn in the member base over that time, the consistency in the net growth has been a little scary. It’s scary because we have looked long and hard and have not found any other similar growth pattern in organizations similar to IMS. Indeed during this same period most other organizations classified as “standards consortia” have generally been flat to declining. And, if you look at the historical patterns for standards consortia they tend to grow very rapidly when first originated and then flatten or tail off.

So, IMS is an organization in unchartered territory. In my mind it is all about leadership in terms of which way it will go. IMS has provided a viable organization for those organizations, institutions and suppliers, who wish to evolve an unprecedented collaboration to new heights. Or, those afraid of the disruption that IMS is enabling may slow it down. Everyday I see forces on both sides of that equation and think it’s going to be very interesting indeed as we go forward.

However, I assure you that, means willing, IMS will be publishing the report whether or not the results are as rosy as they have been.  Indeed when we began publishing the report we had no idea that the chart data would keep going up for the next 5 years!

But, here’s why I think the report is useful and why you should give it a look:

  1. In one relatively short document you get a full view of the work of IMS – which is not easy to see if you are focused on one or a few IMS initiatives.
  2. You can see how the organization is doing in terms of building momentum and in terms of financial strength.
  3. You can get a great a very summary of the major thrust of IMS and the key initiatives – and a concise commentary on why we are doing what we do.
  4. You can see the individuals and organizations that are leading IMS.
  5. It is a format that can be easily shared with someone else whom you might want to introduce the organization to or update on IMS progress.

IMS architectiure

Hopefully the experience of perusing the report should give you a sense that IMS is indeed a non-profit organization worthy of your support because IMS is changing the education and learning sectors for the better.  And, if you look at the range of initiatives that IMS is undertaking you can feel pride in that your support has made this progress possible. I assure you that without your support this work would not have happened – not only not have happened in IMS, but most likely would not have happened anywhere. IMS is that unique in the leadership and collaboration for progress to the education and learning sectors.

As with most “things IMS” the annual report is a testament to leadership. Not the leadership of the IMS staff, but the leadership of the IMS members, both organizations and individuals (like Jan Day above) who are insistent that we must do better in enabling the next generation of education and learning!

IMS community

 

Does IMS Have a Strategy?

Please excuse the long time since the last blog folks.  IMS is adding a lot of new members and staff supporting an unprecedented array of exciting initiatives – which has kept yours truly very busy the last few months.

We are now in the final push toward our annual Learning Impact event, May 5-8 in New Orleans, USA. While this is also a busy time we’ve got a great chance at the event and before to be talking about where we are and where we are going in IMS. We hope you will join the conversation! Consider this a first installment.

The (perhaps) provocative title of this post is actually one that we are sometimes asked. After all, IMS is very much a “bottoms-up” meritocracy, like many other organizations that develop interoperability standards. Most of the ideas in IMS, and certainly the best ideas, come from the individuals that are participating on behalf of their member organizations.  And, IMS is a true membership organization (legally organized as such) that provides a level playing field for organizations of all sizes – a construct that we think provides a very good structure for what we do as previously described here. So, when the members speak – we listen – and usually act.

IMS does have a strategy. IMS has an elected Board of Directors that helps formulate the strategy. But, the strategy is very organic, flowing and dynamic. New ideas brought forward by the members go through a certain “due diligence” that occurs by putting the idea in front of key stakeholders – those most motivated to act – and adjusting accordingly (including sometimes putting on the shelf until further interest). Having much experience in the venture capital world I will tell you that it is much like the funneling of ideas/business plans that every VC firm goes through in terms of the process of looking at the risks and opportunities involved.

So, the resulting IMS strategy is a function of bubbling up, testing (against the critical concepts of adoption and learning impact) and organizing into something as coherent as we can make it given what is actually happening in the sector and various sub-segments.  And occasionally adding some key missing pieces that for whatever reason have not bubbled up – like for instance members not willing to share in an area that is actually good for them to share.

For several years past this process unfolded into an IMS strategy centered on what we have called the “Digital Learning Services” standards, focused on (but not limited to) Common Cartridge, Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) and Learning Information Services (LIS).

The strategic theory behind the DLS focus was that together these standards would solve a very large percentage of the integration challenges in/with the education enterprise.  And, in fact, while different pieces have evolved and been adopted at differing rates, we think this thesis has largely turned out to be on target.  See the accompanying charts on growth in IMS membership during this strategy and growth more recently in the conformance certifications that are the market adoption proof point.  Notice the 97 certifications in 2013 – almost 2 a week. So far in 2014 we are averaging close to 3 a week. In other words, this strategy is still taking hold, but clearly it is taking hold in a big way!

IMSmembergrowth

 

IMScertgrowth

 

IMSpackagegrowth

 

However, the IMS strategy has definitely shifted beyond DLS in the last year or so. First of all, e-assessment, an area IMS has had some activity in for a long while via QTI (and a subset of which is covered in Common Cartridge) became a hot area. The very simple idea that electronic assessments if done right are much more affordable and scalable than paper assessments coupled with the very obvious idea that there should be open formats to enable the e-assessment ecosystem of suppliers and states has come of age (both in the U.S. and other nations such as the Netherlands). Second, now that the IMS DLS standards are working – radically reducing cost, time, complexity of seamless integration – our attention is naturally now turning to what can be enabled with the standards.

While there may not be complete agreement in the IMS community (given its size and diverse nature) over what we should be enabling with the standards, here are the current thoughts – and thus, the strategy going forward:

  1. The power of LTI (first v1 and now v2) to reduce cost and time of achieving seamless integration by 10-1000x will soon lead to 1-click integration.  IMS-enabled applications will be auto negotiating which IMS services are supported – thus revolutionizing the ease with which standards-based applications will be incorporated into the teaching and learning process.
  2. #1 enabling a very diverse open ecosystem of new types of learning platforms and applications and potentially rearranging the ordering of  integrations – very much an “app to app”  model of cooperation with or without a learning management “system” in the middle.
  3. Merging LTI with the IMS work on student information (LIS) and course planning and scheduling (CPS) exchange to continue to open up the educational enterprise via easy to use standards.
  4. Establishing and growing the “educational app community” – like an open source community on steroids that builds things that work across platforms (the “things” may be open source or not, but there should be tools to enable this that are open source). This is a remarkable new type of community indeed – suppliers and institutions working together across platform – kind of like the worldwide web but focused on the education vertical.
  5. Enabling what most refer to as e-books or e-texts as a highly interoperable format across a wide variety of e-readers/mobile devices for the needs of learning and education.  See EDUPUB.
  6. Making instrumentation / measurement of learning activities easy to enable collection of analytics – big and small data. See Caliper Analytics.
  7. Including everything we’ve learned and are learning about e-assessment across #4-6, meaning that we’ve got the standards to enable innovative assessment apps, enable assessment in e-text and the enable easy instrumentation of assessment in learning platforms and apps (via Caliper and the outcomes standards developed on QTI/APIP).
  8. Utilize the standards to create an open source reference implementation for a peer-to-peer app sharing framework that can be used to do, well, what it says – share apps with trusted partners and encourage using standards to do this – thus, the enabling of a standards-based “app store” or “app sharing” equivalent to iTunes, etc. See CASA.

Perhaps though, most importantly, IMS is making great progress with our end-user/institutional led groups to ensure that all of these initiatives are in fact getting them where they want to go.  Our K-12 district advisory board (I3LC) continues to grow and our new HED connected learning advisory board is shepherding the app community, the app sharing architecture, analytics and competency-based learning initiatives.

Hopefully you will see the evolution of the IMS strategy in the above. The IMS community is making change happen in some very substantial ways and I invite you to partake at the May 5-8 Learning Impact event – where the breakout tracks mirror the strategy areas above and the plenary sessions undertake the broader discussion  of “why” we are doing this in terms of the emergent models of education that we wish to enable.

IMSLearningImpact

IMS: Enabling innovative new products

One of the great things about the annual EDUCAUSE conference is hearing the many stories about how IMS standards have enabled innovative new software applications to easily integrate into the educational enterprise. You might think that IMS knows everything about every application of IMS standards. I’d estimate that we typically know about 1/3 of what is actually occurring “out there” – just based on some off the cuff measurement by how often we are surprised or not surprised by something we hear about.  The very weird thing is that sometimes the things we don’t hear about are really big adoptions of IMS.

Anyway, please let us know what you are doing so we can help get the word out!

Ray Henderson has recently posted this blog: My Investment Thesis for IN THE TELLING about a start-up he has invested in called “In the Telling.” As you can “tell” by the name the product has something to do with “stories.”  The more mundane name for what is being offered here is “flipped classroom” – use the out of class time to watch the lectures, use the in the class time for more meaningful interaction.

Problem is that getting students to do anything out of class is a challenge these days. So, In the Telling provides a unique approach that helps the instructor create a story with narration. In essence they are creating a documentary of sorts that is more compelling than a simple lecture.

I have not seen any of the output of In the Telling yet – but the idea is very intriguing.  As someone who has bought more than my share of “great lectures” on various media in which I never made it past the first 30 minutes . . . well, I think better ways to teach is what we need to be investing in.

But, the crowning achievement with respect to IMS comes in the following words from Ray’s blog:

COMPATIBLE WITH ALL MODERN LEARNING MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS: The Company designed their solution assuming that the launch point for most learner experiences would begin within an LMS. This is, after all, the way most assignments are made. The platform is built using the IMS Global’s open standard for systems integration—Learning Tool Interoperability or “LTI”—which most modern LMS platforms now natively support. Students can initiate sessions with the platform just as they might with any other assignment, and the same basic usage statistics recorded by the LMS are preserved.

IMS is very proud to be a part of enabling the rapid rise of innovation in the edtech community!

 

IMS: from 10-100x Revolution to Connected Learning Innovation Challenge!

Today, in preparation for EDUCAUSE 2013 in Anaheim next week IMS has announced the Connected Learning Innovation Challenge!

The Connected Learning Innovation Challenge will feature IMS’s first ever “app challenge” and the establishment of a community of institutional and industry leaders that want to be at the forefront of encouraging a much more diverse and innovative future for educational technology – in real practice at real institutions – not as hype, but as tools that support what teachers and students want to do within the academic enterprise. Note: Kudos and salutations to Instructure Canvas to organizing the first ever LTI app challenge last May-June!

The motivation for the Connected Learning Innovation Challenge is described in a just released EDUCAUSE Review article, A New Architecture for Learning,  that I was fortunate enough to be able to collaborate on with Malcolm Brown, head of the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative and Jack Suess, VP of IT and CIO at University of Maryland Baltimore County. The article talks about what we as an educational community need to do to enable greater innovation in the connected age and introduces an unprecedented commitment of cooperation among some of education’s leading associations to help make it happen.

1 of 3 IMS Revolution Banners at EDUCAUSE 12

IMS Revolution Banner at EDUCAUSE 12

Last year at EDUCAUSE 2012 we introduced the IMS 10-100x Open Digital Innovation Revolution.  Is the revolution over? Just the opposite my friends – the revolution is burning like wildfire across K-20 education.  As of EDUCAUSE 2012 there were a cumulative 126 IMS conformance certifications. Going into EDUCAUSE 2013 that number is 210! Holy Toledo!  All conformance certifications are listed on IMSCERT.org.  It took roughly 3 years to achieve 126, but in the last year 84 new conformance certifications were achieved! And, the LTI catalog keeps growing – there are about 20 certified platforms now and a myriad of tools/apps.

So, how does the Connected Learning Innovation Challenge relate to the IMS Revolution? The “revolution” is like the paving of the road. As more platforms and applications are based on open standards and can work together with 10-100x less integration cost and time than before, well, then a lot more attention can be put into innovative vehicles to use the roads!  So, the Connected Learning Innovation Challenge – CLIC – is the logical evolution of the revolution –  focusing on what most people care about: great technology that can support or enhance teaching and learning.

To help understand CLIC, or to explain it to your colleagues, I’d like to provide the following talking points from my perspective (you can also visit the CLIC web pages here):

1. CLIC is about institutions working together to figure out how to enable and sustain support for a diverse set of teaching and learning applications (or non-educational apps favored by faculty and students) that can no longer take 6 months to happen. Thus, CLIC is a collaboration to make something happen that many are institutions currently trying to do on their own – but makes more sense to work on collectively.

2. CLIC will accomplish #1 through a few very targeted outputs/activities:

  • Competitions to identify and financially reward innovative apps and platforms supporting connected learning
  • Open source sharing community for sharing things that submitters and/or institutions wish to share, such as tools, frameworks, apps, app gateways, etc. Open source “things” built on standards can be utilized cross platform – so, this is the first ever cross-platform open source initiative anywhere!
  • A facilitated leadership community via listservs and newsletters to keep all interested parties abreast of the happenings, organize the core advocacy/leadership and enable organic growth. There will be app evaluation activities and other community milestones. As an example of organic growth, whereas IMS will be conducting large-scale challenges we will encourage regional/institutional level challenges in conjunction with tech fairs institutions or others may already be conducting.

3. CLIC is NOT an IMS membership program. To lead, support or follow CLIC your organization does not need to be an IMS member. I’m sure lots of IMS member organizations will be supporting CLIC, and, of course the IMS members made all this possible. But, think of CLIC more like the original IMS initiative organized by EDUCAUSE back in the mid-1990’s. CLIC is a collaboration to make something happen without having a whole lot of formality behind it at the start other than the activities themselves. IMS has the chops to facilitate this, but we want it to go in the direction that the institutional leaders who get involved want to take it in terms of something more formal (or not).

Now, I’m going to say right now, from day one, that getting the most out of CLIC for the educational community will take leadership from institutions. Educators and their institutions are going to transform education with innovative technologies – and the CLIC community should be very productive for those wanting to help lead that charge. IMS can facilitate CLIC and put some legs underneath it – but we need institutional leadership, guidance, ideas and resources in terms of time and even financial contributions for those institutions that can. The other nice thing that IMS can bring is a way to sustain and continue the progress that CLIC makes.  IMS is a solid organization that has a track record of sustaining and evolving innovative technical work even as leadership is handed off and evolved among institutions and suppliers. If you represent an institutional interest in CLIC, I hope you will consider becoming an institutional advocate as some of your peers are – and we are very thankful indeed – we should really be able to get 100 institutional advocates for CLIC!

Finally, if you have not had a chance yet to view the short 3-minute video compilation of comments from Dr. Charles Severance of University of Michigan describing some of the motivations behind CLIC I highly encourage you to go to the CLIC landing page and view the video in the top left corner!

What You Need to Know About e-Assessment

With IMS’s recent announcement of the upcoming e-assessment interoperability challenge we thought it would be a good time to discuss electronic assessment. Here is a Q&A with Rob Abel of IMS Global. Feel free to post additional questions and Rob will answer them (if he can)!

Q1: Is it time for electronic assessment in education?

A1: Yes, paper tests are more difficult to administer, take longer to process, are more prone to error and are not able to provide timely data to help improve instruction. Compared to a situation where paper textbooks may still have some usability advantages over digital e-books, paper assessments have no advantage at all over e-assessment.

Q2: Can e-assessment be used for summative or formative testing?

A2: Both.  E-assessment can be used for pure “high stakes test taking” scenarios as well as intermingled throughout other learning activities for formative assessment.

Q3: Is interoperability of assessment items important?

A3: Yes – very. In general digital assessment enables new forms of collaboration. For instance, in various countries around the world there is a desire to enable school organizations to collaborate on item development – since many schools are testing on the same subjects. Standard formats for assessment items enables collaboration on/exchange of items without every organization needing to use the same software platform for item creation and/or delivery. It is becoming pretty clear with historic collaborations such as the U.S. states on the Race to the Top Assessment initiative that the era of the “single delivery platform that outputs pdf” is coming to an end. With interoperability of assessment items enabled by standards there is no reason to be locked into a single vendor solution. Across the assessment community replication of effort goes down, investment in proprietary solutions ends and more investment is focused on innovation.

Q4: Does IMS have standards and a community focused on assessment interoperability?

A4: Yes.  IMS has two related standards that the assessment community worldwide should be making use of. The first is QTI (Question and Test Interoperability) and the second is APIP (Accessible Portable Item Protocol). QTI enables interoperability of assessment items and tests. The latest version is v2.1 which is the one that the assessment community is rallying around. A subset (profile) of an older version of QTI, v1.2, is used in Common Cartridge, which is a format for importing and exporting content into/out of learning platforms. APIP adds accessibility constructs to QTI to enable electronic delivery of a variety of accessible assessments.

Q5: What about other types of interoperability that might enable more effective use of e-assessment?

A5: Yes. There is a very compelling need to use interoperability standards to enable assessment software platforms to “plug into” or connect with other software systems. So, this is the “assessment software product” as an LTI (Learning Tools Interoperability) tool provider, enabling the assessment platform to be seamlessly “launched” from a host system (like a learning management system). This type of “plugging in” can be useful in both formative and summative scenarios (depending on how the later is administered). We see at least four types of assessment products beyond the state level large-scale assessment that will benefit from this type of interoperability:

  • Standard quizzing/test authoring and delivery software that are typically used already with learning platforms
  • The increasingly popular “homework applications” or “adaptive tutoring applications” can be also be viewed as formative assessment platforms.
  • Classroom test creation and scoring systems – yes, including those using paper and pencil
  • Assessment tools used for competency-based degree programs, such as those used by Western Governors University.

Q6: What about interoperability of assessment data?

A6: This of course is also very important. QTI describes formats for item data – which describes how test takers answer questions. The latest IMS work on analytics – the IMS Caliper Learning Analytics Framework (see blog Q&A) – will leverage the QTI data formats as well as other assessment-related formats (e.g. gradebook data). Thus, assessment data can be provided “back” to a learning platform, an assessment delivery platform or to an analytics store.

Q7: What about authentic assessment in the classroom or project-based learning?

A7: Any type of educational assessment, including e-assessment, is just a tool. It is one source of input. In our opinion assessment should be used to improve teaching and to improve learning. Thus, e-assessment plays an important role because it can provide real-time or near real-time feedback in a very transparent way – on a question by question basis (QTI enables such feedback), for computer adaptive testing or simply faster processing of an entire quiz or test. And that feedback can go to teachers, students, parents, etc – whatever makes the most sense. And, initiatives like Race to the Top Assessment are folding teacher evaluation of various “performance events” into the assessment mix. Mobile platforms and interoperable apps could obviously have an very important and innovative role to play in that regard as well as all types of assessment wrapped into apps or otherwise. We’ve already seen some fascinating use of QTI in the mobile setting via the Learning Impact Awards.

Q8: Why has IMS announced a Worldwide Assessment Interoperability Challenge?

A8: Use of interoperability standards such as QTI in the past has been rather flakey in that each supplier implemented different versions and different subsets of functionality. Very few assessment product providers provided feedback to IMS to enable the issues to be resolved.  As a result, interoperability was limited.  Things have turned around radically in the last few years in that IMS now has some 25 or so world-leading providers of assessment products actively involved in implementing QTI and/or APIP. As a result, IMS has been able to finalize these specifications and conformance certification tests that will result in high levels of interoperability. The “challenge” is our way of saying to the world that we have a very strong core set of suppliers who have agreed to achieve conformance certification together over the next few months. Please come and join in for the good of your product development efforts and the good of your customers who desire interoperability that really works.  The extra added “bonus” for participating is entry into the annual IMS Learning Impact Awards under special assessment product categories. Details on the “challenge” are here: http://apip.imsglobal.org/challenge.html

Q9: What if a region of the world wants to work with IMS on a regional profile of QTI or APIP?

A9: Yes, IMS is set up to facilitate that and is in fact in partnership in the Netherlands for the last two years on such an effort regarding national exams.  Feel free to send us an email at assessmentchallenge@imsglobal.org

Q10: What do you see for the future of e-assessment?

A10: We are at the very beginning of a long road ahead filled with many exciting product opportunities.  As with many of the other IMS standards, like Common Cartridge and LTI, we are going to see a very dynamic evolution based on market needs of QTI and APIP. For instance, one of the other application areas we are working on at the moment is QTI application to e-textbooks. E-assessment will permeate every aspect of digital learning materials and activities – with an emphasis on adaptive testing to help pinpoint where additional alternative materials and activities are needed. And, with the undeniable trend toward competency-based learning paths and credentialing the need for better assessment is increasing. As with all of the IMS focus areas the key will be for the technology of assessment to “get out of the way” and be simple and easy to use and benefit from.

 

Q&A w/ Rob Abel: IMS Analytics Interoperability Framework

This blog post is an interview with IMS’s Rob Abel to get to the bottom of IMS’s recent announcement of its Caliper Analytics Framework.

See related post on “small data”.

Feel free to post additional questions and Rob will answer them (we hope)!

Q1: Is this project/announcement a big deal?

A1: We’ve got a lot of very impactful stuff going on in IMS these days, but enabling widespread adoption of analytics is one of the top priorities of IMS – with a mandate coming right from the IMS Board of Directors. But, perhaps more importantly, if we want to gain the full potential benefit of analytics and dashboards in education we need to make sure it is relatively easy to enable the transmission of data from any applications that can provide useful data. Interoperability standards, if done correctly, can help enable this.

Q2: There is lots of work going on in analytics, dashboards, etc.  Why is this a credible entry into the analytics space by IMS?

A2: Several reasons. IMS has had a relatively unique focus on one of the potentially more fruitful but challenging data collection areas of learning applications and platforms. IMS knows this turf well and brings a large critical mass of members that cover a wide range of product categories and institutional needs. IMS also has a large installed base of applications already using its core standards, such as LTI (Learning Tools Interoperability), Common Cartridge, LIS (Learning Information Services)  and QTI (Question and Test Interoperability). In other words, data is already flowing via these specifications, which are providing conduits upon which more data can ride.

Q3: What is the focus of the analytics initiative versus other IMS specification work?

A3: IMS has a bunch of fast moving task forces and leadership groups that work on applications of standards. This analytics work is coming from such a group that has been in existence about a year, but leveraging off of years of work by IMS in specifications for outcomes data for a variety of purposes – ranging from scores to gradebooks to assessment item data.  The purpose of the analytics effort is to actualize many implementations of analytics feeds in as many products as rapidly as possible, adding a few new bits and pieces, but largely leveraging existing work. In fact, the first proof of concept demonstrations will come very soon – at the next IMS quarterly meeting the week of November 4.  There will be a Summit day there, Thursday, November 7, that will also focus on analytics – both the institutional and supplier perspectives.

Q4: What is the relationship with IMS LTI (Learning Tools Interoperability)?

A4: There’s a short answer and a longer answer.  The short answer is that we expect this analytics work to finalize some work on outcomes (namely a very robust gradebook) that has been proposed for LTI & LIS for awhile but not officially released yet and that we expect the proliferation of LTI-enabled apps and learning platforms to be a natural starting point for data exchange. The longer term has two components. The first is that we are leveraging the work of IMS members in specific LTI app/product categories to help develop the Learning Metric Profiles referenced in the Caliper whitepaper. The second is that we will be introducing a variety of LTI Services that will enable data to go to many different destinations from many sources whether or not LTI was used as the launch mechanism for an app. So, for instance, enabling apps to send data to an analytics storage, dashboard or personal data vault whether or not it was launched by an LMS/learning platform.

Q5: Why is this project developing and releasing the Sensor API?

A5: APIs can make implementation a little easier – especially if a large number of suppliers use the same APIs. IMS is now releasing APIs as best practices with many of its specifications now. Please note that an “API” is by definition programming language specific and a good standard is not.  The standard is the underlying guts – that’s the hard part.

Q6: What if a product company has already developed an API for some category of data transmission – can that still be used with Caliper?

A6: Maybe. One of the cool things about the IMS specs and the development process behind them is that we can work with leading suppliers who already have services/APIs to see if we can “map them” on top of the IMS specifications. You may have developed some APIs that are now experiencing good market adoption for a specific type of service. IMS can potentially work with your organization to harmonize that with Caliper and the LTI services. Please contact us at: CaliperFramework@imsglobal.org

Q7: What if IMS can’t get suppliers to agree on the Learning Metric Profiles?

A7: Well, we wouldn’t be doing this if we were not already seeing some excellent convergence. But, we also want to encourage and fully expect there to be extensions, both public and private, that IMS will capture in a registry.  Thus we can have the stuff that everyone agrees on and the stuff that is new, above and beyond that is either publically sharable or not. That’s how innovation in data and analytics is enabled by all of this.

Q8: What about applications that are kind of out of the learning domain, like CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems?

A8: We see absolutely no reason why Caliper cannot add Metric Profiles for classes of systems like this and add into the mix. The Caliper Framework should be applicable to almost any type of system.

Q9: What if my analytics product wants to suck in every possible data and user interaction possible?

A9: Yes, big data. If you want to do that across more than one system you still need an agreed upon analytics feed. Caliper will cover that, even if a private solution is needed at first (see A7 above).

Q10: Will U.S. K-12 initiatives such as InBloom or Ed-Fi benefit from this work?

A10:  Yes, they certainly could! Caliper data can go to/from anywhere.

 

What is Disruptive Innovation in Education?

At the 2013 Learning Impact conference I presented a keynote “Innovation, Disruption, Revolution – Oh My!”  I chose this topic because the degree of hype about “disruption” in education seems to be at an all time high right now. BTW it’s amazing how well the Gartner Hype Cycle fits the Wizard of Oz!

From Rob Abel's Learning Impact Keynote: Innovation, Disruption, Revolution Oh My!

From Rob Abel’s Learning Impact Keynote: Innovation, Disruption, Revolution Oh My!

Excitement about the role of technology in improving education is a good thing as far as I’m concerned. Education is a segment that needs disruptive innovation. To me the hype around things like MOOCs represents a longing by many for “a better educational future” – presumably involving lower costs to students and better career/life fulfillment, not to mention better global citizens needed to solve our global challenges. Let’s face it – there is a general sense that the current education system is not up to the challenges of the future. And, it’s not clear how we get from “here” to “there.”

But, as leaders in the education segment we do need to get better at understanding where we have been and where we are going, what constitutes innovation and/or disruption that is worthy of investment?  Are you an investor? I would argue that any individual that is putting time into educational technology leadership at any level is an investor, but certainly institutions that are spending on innovation, and yes, venture capital investors (investors in this segment, including some pretty big names, are making some bad decisions right now about where they are putting their money – but this post is more about how institutions should decide to invest their resources).

In IMS we try to ferret out “winners” by looking at criteria for something we call “Learning Impact” – which is defined by a set of judging criteria we use in our annual Learning Impact Awards (LIAs). You can think of it as evidence that the application of technology in an educational setting has had a clear impact on access, affordability and/or quality. We’re pretty proud of this program because there is simply no way to win with hype. But, in general the whole annual Learning Impact event is about understanding where the innovation really is.

Right now there are quite a few over-hyped activities in the education segment.  I would include in these MOOCs, Common Core State Standards, analytics, badges and open educational resources (OER). Sorry if I tipped over one of your sacred cows there!  Over-hyped does not mean that something good will not come from these developments. It just means that they are being portrayed as more significant in terms of ability to “disrupt” education than they will be capable of delivering on. As with most hyped innovations, eventually some aspects of the innovation “survive,” crossing the chasm to productive advancement of the industry. The challenge for innovators and investors is to utilize critical thinking to rationalize what will sustain and what the real Impact will be.

MOOCs are perhaps everyone’s favorite example of hype right now. It’s difficult to imagine how something could have achieved more hype in the higher education segment – and they are very clearly striking a nerve for being potentially highly disruptive. Literally every day MOOCs are in the headlines – and smart marketers are trying to jump on the MOOC bandwagon even as that bandwagon morphs continually to address the glaring deficits of the MOOC model and quite frankly, more failures than successes at this point.

Clayton Christensen, the leading expert on “disruptive innovation,” has written at least two books specifically focused on education. According to Christensen’s disruptive innovation theory markets are disrupted when new entrants figure out an innovative way to provide a “simpler” product to a wider set of buyers at a more affordable price.  Since the simpler product is actually what the broader market prefers (simpler means more usable, more effective for the desired purposes) the product is highly disruptive – better product at lower price point.  And thus, these new entrants change the market behavior substantially.  Jim Farmer does a very thorough job of digging into the theories as applied to MOOCs here.

While I, like many other silicon valley entrepreneurs, have found Christensen’s original formulations on disruptive innovation descriptive of what is generally seen in the high tech world, and a useful thought framework, well, the problem is that these formulations have not been at all predictive for education – and that is the acid test for using theory for strategic gain – is it predictive?  Writing about what happened in the past and putting a framework around it is great – but if it doesn’t help predict the future it doesn’t especially help entrepreneurs or us “investors.”

The innovators in the education segment have NOT disrupted the status quo significantly so far. While Christensen predicted in 2008’s Disrupting Class great disruptions in the segment from online learning, the reality so far is that greater adoption of online learning has continued as expected but not very disruptive: price points for education continue to rise ahead of inflation and while online education continues to grow it is largely seen as reflecting traditional models rather than a disruption.  And, while online/blended models have certainly improved access – well, the percentage of the population that has achieved credentials has been very level.  I wrote a paper about what the technology impact in higher education back in 2005-7 – and the situation is not significantly different today.

Christensen was recently quoted in an interview as stating that higher education institutions are going to be in real trouble 5 years from now. However, he has not made it clear why things will be different in the next 5 years versus the last 5 years since Disrupting Class was published. I do agree that “buyers” (students/parents) are in fact getting smarter about looking for lower cost options as well as attempting to understand the value of a higher education degree.  But I would argue that we are nowhere near a true disruption (rise) in the number of participants in higher education.

While it is very valuable to have any great thinker on business strategy analyzing education and providing insights from other industries that might apply (like Christensen), education leaders need to do their own critical thinking about these formulations of “disruptive innovation” in the education segment.

I’d like to provide three key factors that IMHO are needed to be understood if to  understand disruption in education. While these factors may be relevant to understanding MOOCs, they can be applied to other hype areas as well. Hold on to your hat here as these are things that we don’t hear much talk about in the education space – especially when you go to meetings on one of the hyped topics or even to investor conferences!

  1. Education is a complex services business in which quality is difficult to define. Disruption in the education space requires better service models that are built around improved educational program quality. Comparison of education to the disruption of the steel industry by mini-mills (a connection some have made because Christensen uses this as a classic example of disruption) is not a valid comparison. Disruption in education is not about replacing the low end of a well-defined product. It’s about redefining quality in a much more complex world of knowledge than that from which most current educational models were designed.  So, for instance, a true disruption in education would be highly desirable/effective K-masters degree in 15-16 years versus the current 19 years (ideally that meets the needs of under performing populations as well as traditionally successful populations).
  2. The next phase of true progress will be to come out of the current era of massification into a new era of more real world relevant and personalized educational pathways.  Massification of educational experiences will not be the ticket to success in the next wave of educational models. It seems that many of the entrepreneurs and investors in the education space fail to realize that we have already been in the era of massification of education for the last 30 years or so in developed countries. The disruption in terms of content will need to be content that enables educational experiences that are up-to-date (read “relevant”), adaptive to the interests of the learner, easily adaptable by teachers and yet thorough in terms of teaching the educational foundation that are defined via #1.  No offense to our friends at Coursera (one of the growing number of MOOC providers), but “course era” is an especially off the mark name for describing the future IMHO.  It is NOT a course era now in education nor will it be in the future. It is the same era that it has been: which is one in which a distinctive program of high quality education will be highly valued. It’s just that we need to do a better job getting such distinctive programs to the currently underserved populations at a better price point. Yes, there will be different sources of supporting digital resources that will help enable the redesign of educational delivery (potentially a role for MOOC courses). As discussed in other LI blog posts (here & here) digital resources will need to be in a form of a highly usable toolkit for faculty and learners.  But, these supporting resources have a VERY long way to go to meet the needs of learners. And, the more available (i.e. free, open, massive, etc) a course or content becomes the faster it will become commoditized.
  3. Education is the ultimate “long tail” market with a growing proliferation of high value niche providers and boutique programs. This is only going to increase in the future. Contrary to other recent online phenomena like facebook or twitter, education is not a “winner take all” market. I was at an education investor conference earlier this year where a leading investment advisor made the statement that education is the “ultimate winner take all market.” Education, if done correctly, is life success enabling. The more unique and distinctive your educational experience is, the more valuable it is. The ability to produce knowledge is the key currency in the current and future global economy. There is no distinctiveness to attending “Massified University.” And, a credential from a massive provider will most likely be such a commodity that most will prefer not to waste their time on it (other than for pure fun or reference). We need many more niche-oriented institutions that provide specialized, career-enabling and life-enabling education. Note that even large public institutions, while having many students, can engage this philosophy to create a large number of differentiated programs of study.   Therefore, the “disruptive technology platforms” for education will need to enable great diversity. Diversity in terms of delivery models and blending of high touch with personalized self-service.  Disruptive platforms will also need to enable seamless integration among cooperating providers of the various components of a solution – meaning close partnership among institutions as well as innovative learning tools.  Old style Web 2.0 thinking of the single pervasive platform or the single way of analyzing data will not work for the future of education. Education is not that simple (sorry!).

Are MOOCs potentially promising innovations? Yes. They are clearly an evolution of the trend toward pervasive online/blended/more flexible educational models/flipping the classroom. Will they disrupt education?  Not on the current trajectory. They pretty much fly in the face of the three tenants above.

But, there are some potential ways in which MOOCs could be disruptive in a more limited way.

I think MOOCs have the potential to be disruptive on the low end of the education market as a new model for delivering “open university style education.”  For example, today’s MOOCs could be an appealing alternative to the content portion of massive open universities around the world, featuring star professors from highly ranked universities. And, such populations of learners could probably support an advertising/low course fee model of consumption. So, open university providers get a “pay per use” version of content (versus the larger investments they must make today for tuition) that is likely better than what they are offering today, which if subsidized by advertising (net revenue equals small pay per use from open university provider coupled with advertising revenues) could equate to substantial revenues over a large numbers of users with similar interests (as indicated by the topic of study).

In such a model MOOCs could also double as a new type of “tutorial” reference materials. Very much like Kahn Academy, which is often referred to as a MOOC now even though it existed for a few years prior to the term.

Would this application of MOOCs be disruptive? Well, if you consider displacement of open universities and/or a new business model for them disruptive, then yes.  This approach could potentially disrupt the open university market worldwide and create a much larger interest in open university derivative models as a way to learn more about a particular topic and/or as preparation for entry to other universities.  Will they substitute for those universities – no. Such a disruption will not radically change the efficiency of higher education segment at all.

Is there a strong motivation for current providers of education to engage in this model? Unclear. As previously discussed the more you commoditize an educational experience the less valuable the education is. As discussed above the next stage in education is greater diversification, not massification. Personally I would like to see existing institutions respond to the three factors above by rolling out new “institutes” with new types of degree programs that meet the evolving needs of society.

Should open universities or other new entrants that wish to compete in that space try a MOOC/advertising/low course fee supported model?  I hope so.  That would be a good fit with the “course-focused” strength of MOOCs.  It would also provide a potential revenue producing and marketing outlet for institutions and their “star teachers.” Of course there are the normal challenges of achieving accreditation from the countries/states as needed to prove value to the potential students.

So, hooray for the MOOC phenomena in terms of making claims about needed innovations such as scale, analytics and the potential power of star teachers that will help accelerate the innovation trend toward online/blended that we are already on! And, congratulations to the leading institutions willing to make a space to try out the MOOC innovations as another set of tools that might be leveraged in the quest for improved education.

However, I would say that if you don’t know at this point why you are investing (in terms of what impact you expect will sustain at your institution, and therefore what the return on your investment is likely to be) then you are not applying the level of critical thinking you need to. Personally I would be asking MOOC providers to take the risk in terms of proving the validity of the market/business model (such as the ideas around open university displacement) – and not taking on that risk for my university. 

[Note: In a future blog post I will take a whack at what I think will be the sustainable innovations that might cross the chasm coming out of some of the hype items mentioned above: MOOCs, Common Core State Standards, analytics, badges and open educational resources (OER).]

See more of Rob Abel’s views on educational innovation throughout the Learning Impact blog as well as this feature interview with Anthony Salcito of Microsoft.