James Farmer has a bee in his bonnet about the fact that WebCT is integrating Open Source components such as PHPWiki into the LMS. he writes,
…[T]he essence is that WebCT, as far as I can tell, are now ‘integrating’ and are planning to integrate a huge swathe of open source tools essentially into WebCT so you can kiss your independent sandpit / development goodbye�. why would you want it when the ‘One Great Solution’ can provide it for everyone.
I guess I see it a little differently.First, keep in mind where WebCT is within the competitive landscape. Blackboard is eating their lunch. Angel and Desire2Learn are coming on strong. They’ve just invested a bundle in re-engineering their product from the inside out and have had to massively jack up their prices on a product that is losing market share. And above all–above all–Sakai and Moodle are getting more and more attention and adoption.
Here’s the thing: If there are more and more quality learning tools available as Open Source, what’s a big monolithic LMS vendor to do? Their business model is history. In the long run, they have three choices if they want to stay in business. First, Open Source their tools and sell services. But to do this, they’d have to compete with other OSS LMS’s that already have strong developer communities. Second, provide an integration framework that makes it easy to tie in quality OSS components to some unified administration and university back end stuff. Whatever James may think, the mundane IT integration is important in terms of schools being able to provide quality learning experiences to students on a consistent basis, especially in larger institutions. If, for example, you don’t have integration between your LMS and your student registration system, and if you really expect to get widespread adoption of blended and distance learning…well, you just can’t without that integration. The administrative overhead is way too high.
The third business model available to the soon-to-be-dying monoliths is to create a handful of high-quality closed source components that can be purchased to plug into, say, a Moodle (or Sakai, or dotLRN, or ATutor, or whatever). My read is that WebCT is going to try to do some combination of these things while nursing their monolithic LMS sales for as long as they can.
WebCT is just the first to see the handwriting on the wall because they’re the most vulnerable from a business perspective. The monolithic closed source LMS is dead meat. Most of the competitors just don’t realize it yet. What we’ll have is an Open Source Learning Management Operating System–a service-oriented integration framework that lets schools–and individual faculty members–plug in the components (whether Open or closed) that are best for them. Within five years or so, rather than destroying the independent sandpit, as James fears, the logical end to all of this is, in fact, the facilitation of independent sandpits through the disintegration of the monolithic LMS.
In my view, the fact that WebCT is going to play well with OSS is a good thing. I’d like to see more of it in the industry. And I fully expect that we will.
[Found via OLDaily.]
Sam O says
Nice post and yes, the commercial providers were very much in attendance at the Sakai conference in Baltimore last week. I usually don’t think much about open source licenses as we contribute everything back and have no plans to distribute proprietary distributes of open source software. But your post brings up the importance of licensing. I imagine that the vendor-friendly, BSD-style licenses that uPortal and Sakai use are much more appealing to a company like WebCT than Moodle’s GPL.
Michael Feldstein says
Yes, license does matter, although I’m not sure that even the GPL would preclude, say, integrating with a clean WSRP producer.