Analysis: Build vs Buy vs Open edX

By Miguel Amigot II & Zoe Mackay

The initial process for learning innovators aiming to launch a large-scale online learning initiative may seem daunting, as there are many paths to getting started. This post offers information to help clarify best practices for learning initiatives supporting a significant number of students (above 10k) that expect to provide added value with innovative software and exceptional online learning solutions.

The classic dilemma is “build vs. buy” when launching an online learning ecosystem – should you build a proprietary platform from scratch or buy/license an existing platform?

  • Building a proprietary platform allows your team to design the platform end-to-end, and control all integrations and intimate knowledge of your process.
  • There is also the added benefit of no vendor lock-in, which gives you the ability to modify the platform in the future.

Building a platform will have a longer production timeline, in comparison to buying or licensing an existing one, and would also require the assembly of a dedicated team as an engineering organization: product, designers, frontend, backend, and devops. Depending on your organization, this could prove costly when factoring in salaries and staff opportunity costs.

Another consideration is that developing proprietary platforms is difficult. It must be extensible in order to incorporate future features (minimal technical debt). It must also be well-documented for the purpose of incorporating and training new staff on your proprietary solution. The level of difficulty will depend on the culture of your organization, the mindset of your engineers and any deadlines and short-term incentives to ship code.

Buying or licensing an existing platform comes with its own host of considerations. They offer immediate deployments and are reliable, given that you will most likely not be their only client. However, unlike the flexibility offered in building a platform, buying or licensing will include vendor lock-in — you will be unable to incorporate new features to the platform, unless the vendor decides that it’s worth it to include additional features unless you pay top-dollar to get them. In terms of cost, there will be expensive licensing fees, especially for a non-negligible number of students. Realistically, your organization could end up paying $100k – $220k per year to host 10k students.

 

Case Study: Global Knowledge

Global Knowledge, the largest private IT training company in the world, offers an interesting case study for this build vs. buy dilemma. About four years ago, Global Knowledge realized they needed a new learning platform that would support classroom, virtual and on-demand training. Their primary approach was to build the platform themselves. However, a year in, they realized their path of innovation was moving too slowly. Too much time was being spent shipping their needed features that were already available across a plethora of platforms, and they came to the realization that they would end up developing rudimentary features like multiple choice problems, rather than developing value-added features like custom labs or analytics.

Global Knowledge found that building their own proprietary platform offered too few features to start with, and an innovation timeline that was too long, so they chose not to build from the ground up an LMS for delivering on-demand training. They realized it would only make sense to build non-LMS capabilities, and developed a student portal, MyGK, that allows learners to access their courses, irrespective of their modality.

Global Knowledge’s second approach was to acquire an LMS startup to radically increase the features provided “out of the box.” This approach came equipped with staff to accelerate innovation. However, it was still too slow in comparison to its competitors and the at-large market of learning platforms. Although there were more features to begin with, the innovation was at a slightly higher slope but still unsatisfactory. Global Knowledge decided to make an acquisition in this space to accelerate the delivery of their learning platform, especially around digital asset management and jump-starting their team.

Finally, Global Knowledge’s third approach started in the winter of 2017-2018 under the new management of their Director of Engineer, Paul Tocatlian. The ask was simple: deliver a better solution that allows Global Knowledge to come out with a superior learning experience, cost-effectively, that allows faster innovation and can integrate with their existing backend systems.

For the reasons mentioned above, building their platform was not feasible. Neither was licensing a solution, as it would be inflexible and cost-prohibitive to license a learning platform with hundreds of thousands of users, costing Global Knowledge tens of millions per year. They had plans to innovate, and needed a cost-effective and flexible solution.

Given these considerations, Paul Tocatlian recommended using open source technology, and specifically Open edX. It comes equipped with most features, has the highest rate of innovation, extensibility, and integration. Open edX is also proven, built by MIT and Harvard for edx.org’s 11M+ learners.

 

More About Open edX

 

        Miguel Amigot II is the CTO at IBL Education (Open edX)            

Opinion: Modularize and Repurpose Your Learning Content

Producing non-credit MOOCs by using grants which cover costs has been the norm in many top universities.

But this model is unsustainable.

“My view is to modularize all of the MOOCs production for multiple purposes and dissemination channels”– explained to me by a visionary online learning manager.

That’s right. Modularize, repurpose and disseminate the learning content through multiple channels.

The focus is to design for revenue-generating professional programs.

Choose the right subjects and engaging instructors. Always produce with the learner in mind, following a specific business plan for every MOOC.

Let’s pursue a modular future.

 

        Mikel Amigot is the Founder of IBL News and IBL Education (Open edX)         

Opinion: Education as a Marketing Tool for Software Companies

By Miguel Amigot II

Education is a genius and growing form of marketing for software companies, especially those with developer communities.

Lower the learning barriers for newcomers and deepen the expertise of those who are already familiar with your platform.

If you can also provide micro credentials with your courses, then you’ll generate leads as people share them on social media in order to advance their careers.

You’ll also be able to drive up usage at your client companies as more team members understand your platform (thereby achieving internal network effects).

Databricks follows this strategy by issuing Apache Spark certifications, Microsoft with Azure and NVIDIA via its Deep Learning Institute at https://courses.nvidia.com

 

        Miguel Amigot II is the CTO at IBL Education (Open edX)         

Opinion: Artificial Intelligence Will Reshape Education

By Mikel Amigot

We are walking into an AI-empowered era. And not only self-driving cars and robots are performing repetitive tasks.

Nearly all industries, including education, will eventually be affected by AI (Artificial Intelligence).

Today we are seeing the impact on customer attention, where machine learning algorithms using data are making decisions.

Machine learning, a subset of AI, is the new weapon in education, too. Personalized learning, adaptive pathways, and predictive analytics will be the most visible outcome.

We’re already seeing how data is helping to track student knowledge and recommend next steps.

We all know IBM Watson, ALEKS, and Knewton. Even us, at IBL Education, we’ve implemented these algorithms in some online lessons, and we’ve deployed predictive analytics on the Open edX platform.

However, we need much more data to improve our algorithms.

Machine learning in education is in the early stages.

Students, parents, and advisors will continue to make decisions about learning pathways, but data will play an increasing role in guiding recommendations.

In a way, the AI tsunami has not even started.

 

        Mikel Amigot is the CEO of IBL Education (Open edX) and IBL News        

 

Opinion: Why is Blockchain So Important? A 1-Min Reading for Beginners

By Mikel Amigot

It’s not just a buzzword. Blockchain is a true technological advancement that will transform the financial, medical, legal, and software services industries.

This week I attended the 2018 Finovate conference in New York and noticed how many high-profile banking and supply-chain executives were paying extreme attention.

For sure, blockchain-based networks, decentralized apps, and distributed ledgers are quietly changing the world. When the concept was introduced in 2008 by Satoshi Nakamoto, an unknown person or people who later developed the bitcoin digital currency, no one predicted this upcoming revolution.

Why is this so relevant?

A blockchain is a secure and distributed database, which maintains a growing list of ordered and encrypted records, called blocks. Each block has a link to a previous block, a timestamp –the date and time when the record was created– and the history of every file. Users can only edit the parts of the encrypted blocks that they “own”, as they possess the needed, cryptographically created private keys to write to it (obviously, these private keys, which are a few lines of data, can be stolen; but also they can be secured at almost no expense).

In addition to this immutable ledger that the network maintains, a blockchain has another primary component: a decentralized, autonomously managed, peer-to-peer network. This makes blockchain excellent for recording every digital transaction, exchange of goods and services, medical records, contracts, electoral voting, identity management, and private data. Naturally, it opens the possibility of mass disintermediation of transaction and trade processing, eliminating any “middleman”. Also, the usefulness of blockchain extends to storing any kind of digital information, including software.

In other words, it’s a new Internet of value, a transformative technology of the second digital age.

[Disclosure: at IBL we are creating self-paced and adaptive Blockchain for Business courses for organizations]

        Mikel Amigot is the Founder of IBL News and IBL Education (Open edX)         

Opinion: A Surprisingly Powerful Teaching Tool

By Mikel Amigot

Jupyter Notebook is a surprisingly powerful teaching tool.

If you are an educator, engineer or scientist and haven’t heard about Jupyter, you should take the time to learn about it.

Tim O’Reilly said that Jupyter is “the next big thing.”

This technology has received the 2017 ACM Software System Award.

Essentially, Jupyter Notebook is an open-source web application to create and share documents with live code, equations, visualizations, and text.

Currently, it is mostly used for Data Science and Machine Learning, but it goes far beyond. Its tools are easily extensible – e.g., you can play mp4 movie files.

In education, Jupyter opens a new pedagogical model. It is also a new genre of OER.

 

        Mikel Amigot is the Founder of IBL News and IBL Education (Open edX)         

Opinion: The Time of Micro-Credentials

By Mikel Amigot

In parallel with the need for continuous learning, we need to showcase our new knowledge to employers. This is the time of digital micro-credentials.

For a fraction of the price of a classic Master’s degree, a growing number of institutions and schools are starting to offer short-form certificate programs.

These offerings are an opportunity to learn and help update specific, career-enhancing skills.

Beyond traditional colleges, Coursera, edX, Udacity and Pluralsight are convenient educational platforms to acquire micro-credentials.

To grant non-credit certificates, Coursera offers Specializations; edX, MicroMasters; Udacity, Nanodegrees; and Pluralsight, certificates of completion.

        Mikel Amigot is the Founder of IBL News and IBL Education (Open edX)         

Opinion: Who Has the Time to Enroll in College Programs?

By Mikel Amigot

With the job market changing so rapidly, our current knowledge is becoming outdated more quickly.

Innovation in AI, data sciences and technology requires refreshed skills.

When you work 60 hours per week, who has the time and energy to enroll in traditional college programs?

Taking well-designed, learner-oriented online courses is the answer – throughout our lifetime.

Stanford University’s vision for Higher Education in 2025 points to an interesting model: students take a few courses to gain skills and fill a job, and later return to school to add needed skills, following a continuous cycle until retirement.

We will subscribe to college like we access Netflix or Amazon Prime.

 

        Mikel Amigot is the Founder of IBL News and IBL Education (Open edX)         

Opinion: Knowledge with Expiration Date

By Mikel Amigot

Our technical knowledge has as an expiration date. To secure our competitive advantage, we must focus on continuous learning.

Past success doesn’t guarantee future achievement. We need to set a learning mindset and drive towards change. Market transformation is speeding up, alongside our competitors.

Experts suggest that 40-60 percent of jobs will be lost by 2030 due to automation and new technologies. And by 2020, 40 percent of the workforce will be independent contractors, according to Harry Elam, Senior Vice Provost for Education at Stanford University.

In this scenario, we are required to be life-long learners.

 

        Mikel Amigot is the Founder of IBL News and IBL Education (Open edX)         

+