I’m exploring business models in my own work. I have been a full-time employee for most of my working career. Now I run my own consultancy and I am the director of education of a non-profit organisation, the Atlantic Wildlife Institute, which from time to time has opportunities for paid work. I am also affiliated with other individual knowledge workers, and we share in projects that we cannot do alone. The sub-contracting model, which I have also worked under, is much less satisfying – intellectually and financially. I’m not sure which business model will be best in the long-run, but if I did not work for myself, I would not be able to stay in this town. There are no “jobs” for me here.
Business models come in varying sizes. Rob Paterson explores open source as a potential new business model. He sees the need for a new metaphor to replace the old one of the corporation. For instance:
A corporation that had as its purpose the need to serve its physical community would I suspect be transformed immediately. For instance, what if we had a corporation on PEI whose goal was to supply all Islanders with renewable energy at prices that were competitive or better than fossil fuel? Imagine generations of Islanders working to truly serve our own society?
I’ve been thinking about business and organisational models as I watch our downtown core change. We have about five empty storefronts within a one block radius of the only street light. These are small businesses that have recently been forced to close. When I talk to people in town, the general feeling is that we need more companies to set up business in town. This seems like business planning through wishful thinking – “Let’s have a corporation move in and look after us”. People want corporations to move here, because corporations are what they know. No one is saying that we should create a commune, a co-operative, a node, or a network – because these are unknown. There are few models to create these, and fewer still that are recognised by the banks.
So maybe the problem is the corporate model that governments, individuals and corporations take for granted. Corporations have the access to financial capital that is necessary for new ventures. Most individuals do not. The problem may not be the economy, it may be the tools and models we use to make it work. As I have posted before – what if every individual had the rights of the Corporation? Would this help us to create more sustainable and community-friendly business models?
Stephen Downes recently attended the RIMA conference in Quebec where, among other things, he covered Seymour Papert’s presentation on learning environmentalism. It was wide ranging presentation, and here is an interesting statement on laptops in schools:
"Putting laptops in schools, he [Papert] noted, is not tantemount to educational change, but it’s the seed of educational change. It is the act of putting the change in motion. But it couldn’t have come from within. Ask educators what the proper ratio of computers to students is, and you may hear, %:1, 6:1 – but the proper answer is 1:1 – but that is something that can be said only outside the system."
So it’s not about the technology. It’s about planting seeds of change, and as any internal consultant can tell you, change from within is difficult. The kids want change, the parents want change, Governors and Premiers want change, but those in charge of the education system don’t think that radical change is necessary. Neither did the politburo.
Here is a list of some system evaluation tools and postings available on the web:
The Edutools site is a not-for-profit information resource, with a focus on academic course management systems, both open source and proprietary.
EdTechPost matrix with many links to EduTools.
The Commonwealth of Learning conducted an Evaluation of five Open Source LMS in mid-2003 (Moodle, LON-CAPA, ILIAS, dotLRN, Atutor). The two finalists were ATutor and ILIAS.
Xplana OpenSource Evaluations from May 2003, which groups systems by type (PHP, java, etc).
Simon Fraser University LMS selection committee website, with many resources.
Brandon-Hall offers some free resources and a number of reports for purchase.
Just to show that I don’t only write about open source products, take a look at Groove’s latest peer2peer offering. This is a product that allows for real-time file sharing. Pricing for Groove is not out of this world, and they say that they have academic and non-profit discounts, which I will be looking into for some of my clients. Groove is a unique product, filling a specific niche, not more of the same wrapped in new marketing hype.
Stowe Boyd gives a positive review of Groove 3.0 in Corante after blasting the last version. Make sure that you also read Robin Good’s comments on this review, because there’s always room for improvement.
The Premier of New Brunswick is trying to get a pilot laptop project going for Grade 7 students in one of our schools, but there has been much vocal resistance. His interest in the subject was sparked during a visit to Maine, where laptops were recently introduced into the school system. The initiative appears to be a success in Maine. I’ve already commented that I used to be against the idea of technology for technology’s sake, but laptops give students a wide range of opportunities that they wouldn’t otherwise have. These include access to courses online, connections with other schools in other countries, use of blogs and wikis for knowledge creation, and others.
Now there is non-profit organisation in Britain lobbying for laptops in all schools. The author of the Digital Equality report from Citizens Online stated, "The very process of education is dependent on technology and not having equal access to laptops is like some pupils using pen and paper while others use slate and chalk."
Human nature is funny. If you say you can’t have something, then everyone wants it. If you have something to give away, then no one wants it.
A recent report by the Rand Corporation The 21st Century at Work: Forces Shaping the Future Workforce and Workplace in the United States is available for +300 PDF pages of reading pleasure. In the report, three factors affecting work are discussed ?¢‚Ç¨‚Äú demographic trends, technological advances and globalisation. The US workforce [read Canadian too] will not grow as quickly as it has in the past. Technology will continue to reshape production, jobs and organisations. There is a worldwide marketplace for goods, services and labour.
This is a comprehensive look at forces affecting labour, organisations, the nature of work and technology. This report combines what a lot of other reports have already mentioned and should be a good reference for the next year or two.
Some interesting extracts:
?¢‚Ç¨?ìJust as individualized medicine is envisioned as an outgrowth of biotechnology, individualized learning programs that are optimized for a given person?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s knowledge base and learning style are expected for the future. Such learning programs will become increasingly sophisticated over time with advances in hardware and software, including artificial intelligence, voice recognition and natural language comprehension.?¢‚Ç¨¬ù
?¢‚Ç¨?ìThese workers and others who increasingly interact in a global marketplace and participate in global work teams will also require the skills needed to collaborate and interact in diverse cultural and linguistic settings (Marquardt and Horvath, 2001). Individuals who can exploit diversity to generate new knowledge about customers, suppliers, products, and services will be more likely to succeed in a competitive global environment.?¢‚Ç¨¬ù
Un syst?É¬®me de gestion de contenu disponible en fran?É¬ßais.
Nuxeo CPS is a collaborative web content management system based on Zope, which is written in Python. According to the originators, users can create and manage content in Workgroups and publish them in Publications spaces through a dedicated workflow. Nuxeo CPS also features: office document integration, versioning; attached comments; etc.
The commercial version of Nuxeo is available in French only.
Rob Paterson is preparing a presentation discussing the state of food production on PEI. Doesn’t sound of interest to a learning technologies guy, but Rob is looking at systems and business models. Most businesses fail because they don’t have the right business model.
Rob talks about the need to understand the systems at play, and the changing business models in other sectors. I have just finished a project for the NB learning industry, where I was asked to analyse the current industry and make some recommendations about future efforts. There are many parallels in Rob’s post, which I encourage you to read. Rob cites e-Bay as a successful business, along with Southwest Airlines, StarBucks, Dell and Wal*Mart. He states that all of these companies started in small towns, of which New Brunswick has many, and that they have created open systems focused on a community of customers.
How could the NB Learning Industry succesfully use this kind of business model? First, connect with small communities, because we understand their needs. Get away from the idea of making the big sale to a multinational corporation. Sell to other rural communities, because your customer support staff will relate to them. Create a sense of community, through open source software (another success), which is what many small organisations are using already. All of our companies are small, so let’s focus on small markets – lots of them. This doesn’t mean that we sell to small markets so that we can grow and then sell to “real” markets. It means that we stay focused on our core values and strengths, and relate to our markets one conversation at a time. We can become the e-Bay of learning opportunities by creating a real sense of community of small businesses, organisations and countries.
This post from the Shifted Librarian says it all, "We’re drowning in draconian copyright laws – help!"
From Scott Leslie; Dokeos is a private Belgian company using the open source Claroline LMS. This company offers training, services and hosting, based on an open source system. I will be interested to see if this business and its model survive. I think that open source in a commercial education venture is not only viable, but that it’s a stronger model. With open source, the vendor can’t hide the system’s weaknesses, but will work with clients to improve the system.
I had previously written about one of my projects last year and discussed this kind of business model.
Oct 2003: I was evaluating LCMS’s for a client and it had been a few years since I’d done this. I saw how much the market had changed. I had conducted some evaluations in 1999 and 2000 for Industry Canada, while I was at Mount Allison University’s Centre for Learning Technologies. The Centre no longer exists, but one of our reports is still available on theTeleEducationNewBrunswick site. We also helped the Centre for Curriculum and Technology Transfer develop the "landonline" LMS evaluation site, which has since become Edutools.
Three years ago there were many choices, or so it seemed. Now the commercial vendors are fewer, and there are even less in the academic market. There are a lot of Open Source systems available, but my clients were uneasy about these, and I understand why. It’s hard to sell your board of directors on technology that has been "cooked-up" by a worldwide network of part-timers. They wanted some kind of insurance.
I believe the next great business model for an elearning entrepreneur is to provide high quality installation and support services for a select group of open source learning systems. Your customers will soon realize that you are not trying to sell them the next upgrade to get more cash, because the software is free. You will be selling your knowledge, experience, and customer service. Many IT departments would be more apt to use open source if they knew that it was strongly supported. Also, there is a lot less conflict of interest when you remove the vendor from the ongoing support.
Having lived through the dot com era, I believe that the marketplace is ready for this new business model.