Just over a year and a half ago, Devlin Daley left Instructure, the company he co-founded. It turns out that both founders have made changes as Brian Whitmer, the other company co-founder, left his operational role in 2014 but is still on the board of directors. For some context from the 2013 post:
Instructure was founded in 2008 by Brian Whitmer and Devlin Daley. At the time Brian and Devlin were graduate students at BYU who had just taken a class taught by Josh Coates, where their assignment was to come up with a product and business model to address a specific challenge. Brian and Devlin chose the LMS market based on the poor designs and older architectures dominating the market. This design led to the founding of Instructure, with Josh eventually providing seed funding and becoming CEO by 2010.
Brian had a lead role until last year for Instructure’s usability design and for it’s open architecture and support for LTI standards.
The reason for Brian’s departure (based on both Brian’s comments and comments from Instructure statements) is based on his family. Brian’s daughter has Rett Syndrome:
Rett syndrome is a rare non-inherited genetic postnatal neurological disorder that occurs almost exclusively in girls and leads to severe impairments, affecting nearly every aspect of the child’s life: their ability to speak, walk, eat, and even breathe easily.
As Instructure grew, Devlin became the road show guy while Brian stayed mostly at home, largely due to family. Brian’s personal experiences have led him to create a new company: CoughDrop.
Some people are hard to hear — through no fault of their own. Disabilities like autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, Angelman syndrome and Rett syndrome make it harder for many individuals to communicate on their own. Many people use Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) tools in order to help make their voices heard.
We work to help bring out the voices of those with complex communication needs through good tech that actually makes things easier and supports everyone in helping the individual succeed.
This work sounds a lot like early Instructure, as Brian related to me this week.
Augmentative Communication is a lot like LMS space was, in need of a reminder of how things can be better.
By the middle of 2014, Brian left all operational duties although he remains on the board (and he plans to remain on the board and acting as an adviser).
How will this affect Instructure? I would look at Brian’s key roles in usability and open platform to see if Instructure keeps up his vision. From my view the usability is just baked into the company’s DNA1 and will likely not suffer. The question is more on the open side. Brian led the initiative for the App Center as I described in 2013:
The key idea is that the platform is built to easily add and support multiple applications. The apps themselves will come from EduAppCenter, a website that launched this past week. There are already more than 100 apps available, with the apps built on top of the Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) specification from IMS global learning consortium. There are educational apps available (e.g. Khan Academy, CourseSmart, Piazza, the big publishers, Merlot) as well as general-purpose tools (e.g. YouTube, Dropbox, WordPress, Wikipedia).
The apps themselves are wrappers that pre-integrate and give structure access to each of these tools. Since LTI is the most far-reaching ed tech specification, most of the apps should work on other LMS systems. The concept is that other LMS vendors will also sign on the edu-apps site, truly making them interoperable. Whether that happens in reality remains to be seen.
What the App Center will bring once it is released is the simple ability for Canvas end-users to add the apps themselves. If a faculty adds an app, it will be available for their courses, independent of whether any other faculty use that set up. The same applies for students who might, for example, prefer to use Dropbox to organize and share files rather than native LMS capabilities.
The actual adoption by faculty and institutions of this capability takes far longer than people writing about it (myself included) would desire. It takes time and persistence to keep up the faith. The biggest risk that Instructure faces by losing Brian’s operational role is whether they will keep this vision and maintain their support for open standards and third-party apps – opening up the walled garden, in other words.
Melissa Loble, Senior Director of Partners & Programs at Instructure2, will play a key role in keeping this open vision alive. I have not heard anything indicating that Instructure is changing, but this is a risk from losing a founder who internally ‘owned’ this vision.
I plan to share some other HR news from the ed tech market in future posts, but for now I wish Brian the best with his new venture – he is one of the truly good guys in ed tech.
Update: I should have given credit to Audrey Watters, who prompted me to get a clear answer on this subject.