Recently I posted about how many new, relatively small ventures and efforts seem to be bypassing the big Learning Management Systems and building something that exactly suits the need at hand. (My previous post). Now comes some very interesting news about one of these on a much larger scale... an arrangement that will allow users of a particular LMS to search, and use, New York Times archival content going back to 1851. That's over 150 years of quality subject matter that could relate to history, arts, science, technology, and political science--not to mention English and journalism. The Gray Lady has been mashed up with an LMS.
The project and associated relationships were announced by Sun Gard Higher Ed just today (here's their press release). The Times is a part-owner of Epsilen, the LMS in question, so this is a natural, but still surprising, step. Sun Gard's role, apparently, is to do the mashing.
The Chronicle of Higher Education's article today reports that Michael Chasen of Blackboard has already said he's not worried about this being directly competitive with his vast suite of capabilities. I guess as the head of a company that crested a wave at 80% market share, and is now riding down the other side at 56%, there's not much else he could say.
But I'll say something. I think this is the future. The NYT has been paying attention to Pearson and its eCollege acquisition, and learned that an LMS can be a channel for content. But this is different. This is a big consumer content company that has discovered a path to consumers that requires no textbook publisher to play middle-man. Just graft a digital database into an LMS. How will it make money? I'm guessing the Gray Lady will not be hiring herself out for pocket change in digital rights, but will be using her exclusivity to bring dollars in through the Epsilen Environment. Or maybe with a blanket license add-on. We'll see.
But the thing Mr. Chasen needs to be worried about is not this one upstart, but the whole crumbling edifice of the one-stop shop, the mammoth enterprise for learning services. The field is being fragmented even while it is being regenerated with new fusions, from cool little apps to major efforts like this one. Big or small, such efforts will, I think, continue to pop up everywhere, asking to be used for unique purposes--and they'll get traction because they'll be better than anything that wasn't designed for that unique purpose or audience. The fact that right now it takes a Sun Gard to manage a project of this scale only speaks to the scale. Moms and Pops can do the same or similar with mashups on smaller scales, delivering high value at relatively low cost, and with much more open technologies.
The ride, I believe, is just beginning.