2012 started with off with a $5 million funding round for Coursekit, a New York based startup founded by Joe Cohen, Dan Getelman, and Jim Grandpre. The three University of Pennsylvania students were not happy with the LMS technology (Learning Management System) and hence decided to build their own.
Fueled by a $1 million seed round in May 2011 Coursekit has been piloting the LMS at 30 universities and came out of beta in November 2011. The Coursekit team takes a grassroots approach to bring their LMS to market. Other than targeting university administrators, Coursekit get in touch with individual professors.
The second difference to established players like, of course, Blackboard is the focus on social interaction rather than on administration.
Needless to say, there are the features one would expect from a classic LMS like grading, calendar and resources, but Coursekit is clearly focusing on social interaction. Earlier this year Joe Cohen stated that "Our goal is to turn courses into communities online."
Another important aspect is the fresh and elegant design that especially attracts the student side. No one wants to use a software that looks like it is still from the 90es these days. Even if there is nothing wrong with the product itself a user interface that is not up to today’s standards won’t make students want to use it.
Coursekit is free to use. The plan is to add e-commerce functions to the site as soon as the userbase hits critical mass, offering textbooks and other education related products.
Throughout 2011 we saw a lot of LMS systems enter the market to take on Blackboard. LearnBoost, another free LMS that is based on Google Apps, Edmodo which is also free and focused on classroom communities just raised another $15 million. Instructure started with a bang by adapting Apple’s famous 1984 commercial to their launch of Canvas.
I was talking with Christopher Dawson, Contributing Editor at ZDNet about the LMS space in the 2011 wrap-up episode of review:ed the other day. Chris is watching this space very closely and he thinks that at least in the near future those new competitors will most likely be successful as niche solutions for smaller colleges or K12 schools. And the biggest challenge will be to get the instructors on board and make them feel comfortable using those new systems as they need to drive instruction with those tools.
For students it is not a problem to quickly adapt to a LMS centered around social interaction similar to Facebook or Twitter. Instructors who are used to work with the more enterprise-centric software approach of Blackboard and not used to socialize with their students outside of the classroom hours the change might be too abrupt.
Nevertheless, Chris predicts an ongoing leave from Blackboard as it is still very expensive which is a strong argument for cheaper or free alternatives like Instructure, Moodle being the darling of educators and other competitors in times of economic uncertainty and ongoing budget cuts.
Picture: Coursekit Founder Team