MOOCs, LMSs, Publishers, et. al.

In response to the not-so-surprising announcement that Blackboard is joining the MOOC fray.

I just read (here) that Blackboard has decided that they’ve been on the sideline long enough and will be offering support for MOOCs.  This should come as no surprise to anyone who’s paid any attention to the changes going on in higher education.  The latest indicators were the agreements that Coursera signed with various universities to provide the Coursera software for use in the university’s courses. With a MOOC selling itself as a learning management system (LMS) (or as a publisher), it wouldn’t take long for the LMSs (like Blackboard) to find a way to get involved with MOOCs.  It probably won’t be long before all the different service parties try to gain a foothold in each other’s areas. We already have text-book publishers already involved in building their own mini-LMSs and MOOC providers acting as text-book publishers where their course materials (videos, quizzes, etc.) are used as the source for a traditional course. Will it be long before an LMS starts providing their own material?

As Blackboard has many detractors, I’m sure the web will soon be full of reasons why Blackboard supporting MOOCs is a bad idea, but I’d like to offer a reason why this (and all the other conglomerations of learning services) might turn out to be good. It could cause the ‘7-11 phenomenon’1 to occur for all sorts of smaller, focused learner service providers. Some companies like Piazza, that focuses on discussion boards with nice support for mathematics, or Canvas, that offers an alternative LMS experience, or any of the open-source LMS, MOOC, Publisher, … could find more success as professors seek specific solutions to instructional problems and don’t want or need the expanse of the current LMS+MOOC+Publisher entities.  Of course the 7-11 analogy is weakened by the fact that universities will be heavily investing in these L+M+Ps and thus will encourage/force instructors to use those resources rather than the smaller focused ones. It is also possible that the L+M+Ps will just buy up and absorb (or eliminate) these smaller entities.

The learning service landscape is not even close to being settled, so stay tuned to many more changes.

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1When I was in college many years ago, I took a mandatory course in political science (really a US government course), and one day we were talking about the different political parties.  The discussion came around to wondering why there were 3rd parties, when the two major parties were dominating all the action.  The professor’s response was that it was the ‘7-11 phenomenon’: as in cities where bigger and bigger grocery stores are opened that provide all sorts of services, it can actually make it more profitable to open up small convenience stores in between the big stores, rather than drive them out of business.

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