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Lore Announcement Shows Promise of Cloud-Based Platforms: Low Cost of Design

This article was originally posted at e-Literate

You have to give credit where it’s due – Lore is a fast-moving ed tech startup that is not resting on its laurels. The New York based learning platform company has already rebranded (changing its name from Coursekit to Lore) and rewritten its core platform from the ground up. All in its first year.

In their latest press release:

Since launching seven months ago, instructors at over 600 schools—including Harvard, Stanford, and Princeton—have adopted the platform. Lore gives courses a home online, providing management tools like a gradebook, and a Facebook-like environment for students to communicate with each other. [snip]

“We’ve completely re-designed the platform in the new version,” said 21-year-old CEO, Joe Cohen. “It’s an order of magnitude more beautiful, easy to use, and powerful. ”A highlight of the new version, instructors now have the ability to make their courses available for the public to “audit.” Additionally, Lore now provides all students and instructors with individual profiles to showcase their background, academic achievements, and aspirations.

Product Redesign

In an interview with Joseph Cohen this weekend, he indicated that the genesis of the platform redesign came from observing usage patterns from the first semester of courses. The original Lore platform has 5 core pages for each course – social stream, calendar, people, grade book and resources – but they observed that the overwhelming majority of usage came in the social stream page and calendar page. After two months of usage, the team decided to redesign the platform based on feedback and analytics from current users, and creating a new design was judged a better choice than simply modifying and extending the current design.

Unlike most legacy LMS systems, Lore is not organized on tools or content types. Rather, Lore sees a course as a series of events and discussions occurring in time – thus the calendar is the context for viewing upcoming assignments, tests, discussions. Scrolling through the calendar page gives a student or faculty member a time-based view of the course, both past and future.

Lore’s social page is the location for interaction among real people – discussions, sharing, following, etc. Scrolling backwards through time gives a time-based view of current and past discussions.

Lore’s insight was that the vast majority of activity occurs in the social and calendar pages, which could both be viewed as views of academic activity through time. The new platform design builds on this insight and combines social streams with calendar views into one page that allows scrolling forwards or backwards through course time. Discussions among students and even faculty can now occur in the same context as the course events, and views of the past and future can occur in a seamless modeling of the course.

Course Auditor and Profile Enhancements

There are other design changes for the new Lore platform, and the second most important one in my opinion is the ability to audit courses. With the current platform, classes could be made public at the faculty member’s discretion – in fact, half of all classes appear to be public. However, it is hard to keep track of class locations. With the new audit feature, people can be invited to observe, but not participate, in a class in an organized manner.

This improvement appears to be targeted at the growing importance of open education and the momentum behind MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses).

The system also offers enhanced profiles, and described by Kirsten Winkler, who gives a good summary of the feature:

Let’s start with the new member profiles. Instructors and students alike now get a personal profile which allows them to showcase their background, academic achievements, and aspirations.

The new profiles look like a mix between an about.me page and popular social media profiles like Facebook, LinkedIn or Google+. People can add their resume, links to websites or blogs and the profile also showcases what the person is teaching or learning. I can imagine that this kind of profile will work pretty well for students who are looking for an internship or job. They can simply add their profile URL to the CV or, in some cases, replace the entire CV with the Lore profile.

The current emphasis of the platform is to augment face-to-face courses, rather than supporting fully-online courses. Joseph Cohen stated that the company wants Lore to underpin the hybridized future that he sees in education.

Low Cost of Design

Hidden in this announcement is a significant issue relating to online tools and cloud-based services. Lore has raised $6M thus far and developed two similar platforms, meaning that the product redesign was done in roughly half a year, at a cost of less than $3M (I’m using very rough numbers here to make a point).

Think about the implications – largely due to cloud technologies such as Amazon web services (which underpins Lore as well as Instructure and LoudCloud), a new learning platform can be designed in less than a year for a few million dollars. The current generation of enterprise LMS solutions often cost tens of millions of dollars (for example, WebCT raised $30M prior to 2000 to create its original LMS and scale to a solid market position, and raised a further $95M in 2000 alone), or product redesigns take many years to be released (for example, Sakai OAE took 3 years to go from concept to release 1.0). It no longer takes such large investments to create a learning platform.

Cloud technologies are enabling a rapid escalation in the pace of innovation, and they are lowering the barriers to entry for markets such as learning platforms. Lore’s redesign in such a short timeframe gives a concrete example of how quickly systems can now be developed.

I have more thoughts on the business model of free, direct-to-faculty platform adoption, but I’ll save that for another post.

Update: I should clarify that Sakai OAE is not a legacy LMS, but a next-generation learning platform; however, it is based on an enterprise software model rather than on cloud-based services

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