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Arms Race or Innovation Ecosystem?

IMS Global CEO Rob AbelRob Abel, Ed.D. | February 2019

In a recent annual review of 2018, from a leading technology industry analyst group specializing in education, there was a summary chart of the “Technology Platform Arms Race” focused on the consumer technology sector.

One of the topics that's always on my mind is, “Does IMS have the best possible model for accelerating and sustaining innovation in educational technology?”

It’s a question whose answer needs to evolve in concert with all the larger goals of the education sector, which are far from resolved despite decades of discussion regarding “education reform.” But we also need to evolve a stable foundation for the future regardless of the current mantra.

IMS is an organization of leaders that are willing to work together to create and shape the future. We’ve become really good at “standards” because this is such a fundamentally missing piece to effective collaboration and return on investment for all stakeholders. The challenge to us as education sector stakeholders is whether we can get beyond the normal reactionary focus on the many shiny objects that are the trees.

The “forest” to me is the goal of enabling institutional leaders to enable what I think of as “Achievement with Distinction.” My own personal opinion is that we are clearly at the beginning of a macro trend that will evolve educational systems from emphasizing “sorting/ranking” to emphasizing “talent development.” I don’t know how long this transition will take—probably at least a couple of decades. But I really don’t see any other direction for education to go to address the inequity, personalization and societal needs that are very clear as we sit here today.

From a technological perspective, the IMS Global view is that it is the full range of education sector stakeholders that “owns” the evolution of the forest, i.e. the educational technology ecosystem. However, much of the tech world is instead caught up in a platform arms race in which each platform, with their own ecosystem of partners, are the combatants. In this world, the customer gets to make stark choices about which ecosystem to go with and get locked in to. “Standards” in this world are more about enabling a marketplace with walled gardens and “winner takes all” dynamics.

This is not the kind of arms/ecosystem race that we need in the education sector. Best put by one of IMS’s institutional leaders: “It’s the vendor’s job to fit into our ecosystem and not the other way around.” The obvious corollary from this is that a critical mass of cooperating organizations can set the tone for the forest, shaping both it and the trees.

This is what IMS Global Learning Consortium is all about—creating an effective collaboration and investment vehicle that focuses on enabling and accelerating innovation across a very diverse educational sector. It is “our ecosystem” and we are the ones stepping up to shape it for the educational needs of today and the future. In this ecosystem, we are enabling a marketplace where opportunity is created for products that work well with many other products in order to enable the innovative teaching and learning that educational leaders seek. As we enter 2019 let us all recommit our leadership to this very simple but powerful idea.

To help us achieve this focus, IMS is re-orienting the evaluation criteria for the annual Learning Impact Awards competition to a simpler set lf "forest" shaping criteria, namely impact on personalization, impact on institutional performance and impact on ecosystem development. 

Nominations are now open. Finalists will be featured at our annual Learning Impact Leadership Institute May 20-23 in San Diego.