Today Moodlerooms announced a partnership with Cambridge Global Grid for Learning that allows faculty and students to access content from Cambridge University Press, Reuters, Corbis, and other content providers from within Moodlerooms' Joule platform. As far as I can tell, this partnership is roughly similar to ones that Blackboard has previously announced with McGraw Hill and NBC. I expect to see more of these going forward, so it seems worthwhile to take a little time and look at the details of how these deals work for everybody.
Let's start with why these deals are happening. For the LMS providers, it's a revenue stream. They get to charge content providers for access to the students and teachers. At a Deutsche Bank conference last September, Blackboard CEO Michael Chasen said,
With the publishers that we have relationships with, if they teach or download a specific publisher pack from a publisher that we have a relationship with to have that content run within our class environment, we make money from the number of students or faculty that then adopt that content within their course environment.
The publishers are essentially paying for storefront access. The think they will sell more content if they can expose teachers and students to it through the LMS.
What does this integration look like? Blackboard and McGraw Hill have a demo video here. (Sorry; it's not embeddable.) The details are as follows:
- Students and teachers can search for and order publisher content through the LMS interface.
- There is single sign-on, so students can seamlessly move from the LMS to the publisher's hosted content assets and back.
- There is integration with the LMS assignments and grade book tools.
Blackboard and McGraw Hill advertise that their integration is accomplished through the IMS Basic Learning Tool Interoperability (BLTI) standard. Since grade return and assignments integration is not supported in BLTI, Blackboard and McGraw Hill are presumably using extensions. These are allowed within the specification. Furthermore, the full LTI spec, which will probably be completed by some time in the second half of 2012, will support grade integration.
At any rate, while I think the rough shape of these deals is likely to be around for a while, the specific nature of the integration is likely to change. To begin with, I am skeptical that purchasing content through an LMS interface is likely to enhance the shopping experience. Furthermore, the coming of the tablet to higher education is likely to disrupt this relationship. While LMS vendors are building tablet interfaces, the truth is that educational content eReaders are likely to become their own software category with substantial affordances that are different than those of a tablet-enabled LMS. I expect that the content providers themselves, rather than the LMS vendors, are more likely to develop these interfaces. And once they are in place, they will be a much better point of sale. This is a problem, since a major portion of the value that content providers are paying for when they pay the LMS vendors is increased sales through the LMS interface. If that value proposition fails, then the deals the content providers are willing to strike will change significantly.
On the other hand, the ability to integrate provided content with assignments and grading tools, as well as the ability to support single sign-on, may be more enduring integration points. Some content vendors do provide their own LMS-like grading and assignment tools (I'm looking at you, Pearson myLabs). It's not clear, however, whether or how quickly these are likely to displace the LMS tools that faculty are used to. Nothing is certain here. But if you just look at the transitional nature of these publisher/LMS vendor relationships and think through where the affordances are going, it really points to the fact that whole current educational technology ecosystem is at an inflection point right now. In a world where educational computing is largely PC-based and educational content is still mostly on dead trees, the LMS has dominant positioning. But in a world where educational computing is more tablet-based and educational content is mostly digital, the picture becomes more complicated.