"You had a decade where customers didn't have a lot of power. Now, there's a lot more power in the hands of higher-ed institutions," said Phil Hill, a partner at Mindwires Consulting in Los Gatos, Calif., and co-publisher of the e-Literate blog.
Much of that change is the blunting of the power of Blackboard, he says. Blackboard established its position on top of the market for learning management systems in part by buying its major opponents, and trying to sue a rival out of existence. But open-source alternatives such as Moodle, Sakai and Canvas, plus the rise of MOOC platforms such as Edx and Coursera, have diminished Blackboard's market power. Hill says it's also refocused the market on customer needs.
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In addition, traditional textbook publishers such as Cengage, McGraw-Hill and Pearson offer a variety of online tools, including learning management systems. The potential to have access to a variety of integrated content is one reason why California College of the Arts is piloting Pearson's learning management system, OpenClass, and its open-text library, Exchange.
Mara Hancock, CCA's CIO, says she thinks the ability to develop content for and gain access to open content in Exchange "will be really valuable."
Hancock said that because it is IMS compliant means the school should have more access to mixing open content with pieces of published texts. She hopes this will create less of a lock-in effect, a complaint that some CIOs have with higher-ed platform providers. But contracts and license fees are not the only ways to trap a customer. Hancock noted that the College of the Arts already uses Pearson's Equella Digital Repository. For now, she is piloting the Pearson LMS with a low-residency program where students earn a master of fine arts in comics.
The Pearson products span what had been different categories. Online learning software for schools had clumped into asynchronous tools, such as Blackboard Learn, and synchronous ones, such as Blackboard's Collaborate platform for teaching.