Barnes & Noble Education (BNED) announced today that they have a deal with Unizin to provide predictive analytics services through the LoudSight platform to the consortium’s member universities. As covered by Inside Higher Ed:
BNED, as the company now likes to be called, operates nearly 1,500 bookstores, but has in recent years expanded beyond course materials. In March 2016, it acquired the software start-up LoudCloud, and it is through that company that BNED now will score a group of 22 potential new clients (or, in the cases where it already runs campus bookstores, form tighter connections with existing ones) that includes Indiana University, Pennsylvania State University and the State University System of Florida, among others.
The deal represents a new product focus for BNED’s LoudCloud – predictive analytics – and a new financial model for Unizin.
As seen in the IHE comments, the news itself is not that clear, with a description of one pilot at Colorado State University using Canvas learning management system (LMS) data, followed by the potential of other schools adopting, and plans for adding student information system (SIS) data, and possibilities of adding learning content application data in the future. We should unpack the news a little.
BNED LoudSight focuses on predictive analytics of the sort provided by Civitas, EAB, and Purdue University’s Course Signals. The platform identifies at-risk students and provides information to advisors to provide proactive interventions before students fail a course. Currently it is closest to Course Signals as it relies on LMS data with the possibility of adding more systems in the future.
Put another way – BNED LoudSight is not the Analytics Relay engine for Unizin. Amin Qazi, CEO of Unizin, described further:
The agreement is for the BNED Loudsight platform. I am certain the platform will mature and change, so it’s difficult to say exactly what capabilities the product will provide in the future.
I asked BNED in an interview what their differentiators are in the predictive analytics market, and they described the partnership model. Specifically that LoudSight’s algorithms are not black box and hidden from the institution, and that the company even works to add in a school’s pre-existing models and data to augment the predictions. That is a significant difference.
A Canvas – LoudSight partnership was announced at last year’s InstructureCon users conference in July 2016. For the Unizin deal this means that the Canvas – Loudsight integration has worked “out of the box” and has been tested at Colorado State.
While I have heard offhand mentions of BNED marketing LoudSight, this deal with Unizin is the first one I can find with a public win and therefore signals BNED’s entry into the predictive analytics market.
This deal is a new financial model for Unizin. With the Canvas LMS, Unizin negotiated pricing and a contract, and each member institution that adopts Canvas licenses and pays for the LMS directly with Instructure. With the Engage content platform, Unizin acquired Courseload and now owns the platform, providing it free to member institutions. Based on my interviews with BNED and Unizin, the LoudSight platform is licensed to Unizin itself, and:
members only pay for professional services related to the implementation and local enhancements of BNED Loudsight.
Amin Qazi said they do not know if they will use this financial model in the future, but it was the one that made sense for predictive analytics.
While there is a Unizin license and BNED win, it is not clear yet how many Unizin schools will adopt LoudSight as described in the IHE article.
The deal with Unizin doesn’t automatically bring 22 new clients to LoudCloud. [BNED chief operating officer of digital] Malhotra said member universities will come on board over time, and that their use cases will likely differ. Colorado State University has already piloted the software, while others have “expressed a strong desire to get going,” he said. Each university has to foot the bill for the LoudCloud services it uses. [snip]
The progress, [Unizin COO] Littleworth said, depends on several factors. For one, Unizin’s members are “all at different paces and places” of setting up the systems on their campuses. Some, like Ohio State University, have just completed the migration to the Canvas learning management system, which serves as the consortium’s foundational platform. Others, like Indiana University, have already collected years’ worth of student engagement data.
To be fair, BNED representatives did not agree with my comments at IHE:
In an interview Wednesday, Hill said the deal with Unizin suggests LoudCloud is focusing more intently on analytics after years of being “here, there and everywhere” in the ed-tech market.
BNED chief operating officer of digital Kanuj Malhotra believes they have a cohesive strategy and made it clear that they are still going after CBE platform market, OER courseware market, and learning analytics. The markets differ in terms of readiness for real growth, and right now analytics has the strongest need, if I understood correctly.
On the LMS front, which was the origin of LoudCloud Systems:
- LoudCloud continues to provide the LMS for Grand Canyon University (GCU) after its 2011/12 implementation, which is a real success story. GCU is the only large for-profit system that continues to grow, moving from 48,000 enrollment in 2012 to over 75,000 today.
- However, according to data from our partner LISTedTECH, we have seen no new LMS implementations since BNED acquired LoudCloud Systems in March 2016. And on BNED’s web site for LoudCloud, they no longer list LMS as a solution.
While not quoted 100% accurately (I insist my phone interview included the oxford comma), I maintain my statement about seeing some level of focus on analytics after being “here, there, and everywhere”. In fact, I would argue that BNED could benefit from more focus. CBE platform, predictive analytics, and OER courseware are very different markets; it might help to pick one, get some real traction and customers, build, and then expand.
In the meantime, it will be worth watching over time to see how many Unizin schools adopt LoudSight, whether this leads to real student outcome improvements, and if BNED can follow-up with additional predictive analytics wins.
Related: Our coverage of the BNED acquisition of LoudCloud Systems last year.