Moodle 2.0 is due for official launch later this month and one of its key new features is called the Community Hub. Put simply, it allows for content sharing between learning management systems. "So what?", I hear you say.
Well, given that Moodle is THE dominant LMS in the corporate world with 25% market share (not to mention a monopoly in the education world with over 70% market share in higher/further education), it's pretty clear that the community hub feature has bags of potential to shake up the highly-priced, generic content market.
Always keen to take a look disruptive technologies in the learning space (Kineo literally means 'to stir things up'), we thought we'd take a closer look at the potential of this new and innovative LMS feature.
What's a community hub?
First, some explanation is in order, especially if you think you may have some content to share (which we wholeheartedly encourage you to do!). A Moodle community hub is simply a directory of courses for public use or private communities. At the centre sits the Moodle Hub Server which provides a list of courses that are either downloadable or enrollable.
If an organisation using Moodle wants to share their content they will have two options:
- They can make their course downloadable as a ZIP file, in which case they register on the hub as a 'publishing site' and the ZIP is copied to the hub where anyone can download and install it to their own Moodle site.
- Alternatively they can make their course enrollable, in which case they register on the hub as a 'community site' and users from other Moodle sites can simply enrol and take the course.
The disadvantage of being a community site is that bandwidth resources will be used up as public users access the site. We expect that offering the downloadable option will be preferable to most organisations as the ZIP file is copied to the hub site, so the resource usage on the organisation's server should be negligable. A search interface to hub sites can be placed on any Moodle 2.0 site. (For more technical info see http://docs.moodle.org/en/Community_hub).
A default hub will be provided at hub.moodle.org, however anyone will be able to set up their own content hub. This is where the shared content model could potentially become very disruptive to the off-the-shelf content market.
The rise of open content
Over the past five years, open content has increasingly gained recognition through high-profile sites such as MIT's OpenCourseWare, Open University's OpenLearn and Apple's iTunesU. The trend has been largely confined to the higher and further education sectors, which is also interestingly where Moodle has the greatest footprint. For example, with over 70% of UK HE and FE institutions using Moodle, the launch of community hubs should take open content over the tipping point in this space. If the model then filters through the sector to secondary and primary schools then it will have a major disruptive impact on content vendors like Research Machines.
The education sector has led innovation in learning technologies and the disruption that we see in that market provides an indicator of what could happen in the corporate sector within a few years. We've already seen Moodle dominating the education market and then taking over 25% of the corporate market due to feature innovation, rapid updates, customizable code and an immense self-supporting community.
In the learning platforms space, the incumbent corporate LMS vendors were caught napping so we'll have to see whether the dominant off-the-shelf content vendors do the same. In every market disrupted by open source the same pattern emerges. First the incumbent vendors spread FUD (fear, uncertaintly and doubt), so from the content vendors we will likely see arguments about content quality, subject matter expertise and assuring timely updates. These will be valid concerns in some areas, particularly for subjects exposed to legislative changes like health and safety and equality and diversity, but in softer areas such as business skills these arguments will be less relevent. Eventually, incumbent vendors are forced to innovate both their products and their business models in order to compete.
The off-the-shelf content market
So what are we likely to see in the content market? Skillsoft stands head and shoulders above the rest as the largest generic content vendor after acquiring their main competitor NetG some years ago. However, a number of innovative emerging companies have already been keeping Skillsoft on their toes in recent years so they are not necessarily in the position of being asleep at the wheel like some of the LMS vendors were when Moodle came along. Skillsoft will certainly have to provide an easy-to-use interface to their content from Moodle sites but this should not be an issue. The real problem for them will be business skills and IT content being openly shared around the enterprise market, which could hit their business hard since their elearning and online reference books are charged at premium rates.
Established, fast-moving and niche organisations like CrossKnowledge and Intellego may be well placed to take advantage of the disruption, and we will no doubt see an influx of new content and service providers with innovative new offerings. In much the same way that we've seen the open source model change other markets, we could see organisations offering free content supported by paid subscriptions for updates, legal warranties and other added-value services. Community hubs can be private as well as public, so we may see specialist sector-specific hubs being created for sharing content within particular industries.
The road ahead
It's certainly going to be interesting times ahead. There are few software markets left untouched by open source but generic elearning content (which is after all 'software') is one of them. We'll be keeping an eye on our market updates to see how the generic content vendors react, and to see who starts trying to monetise this new openness (remember, open source starts with sharing, but it's also a business model). One thing looks certain – Moodle 2.0 is not just about new features, it's about disrupting markets – and we're all for that.