Being THE (not a) Technology Platform for an Education Program

In a previous post on unbundled apps, I promised a post on tools and platforms in EdTech.  Tools often get defined as “not a platform”, and platforms get enough attention in blog posts, Marketing and Communications, and other channels to confuse the concept.  Education is different, as we all know, and the demands of its programs alter and narrow the definition.

Briefly, let’s review a few perspectives on technology platforms and what K12 school authorities and Higher Ed institutions need from these solutions.

Here is a basic technical definition from Technopedia:

“A platform is a group of technologies that are used as a base upon which other applications, processes or technologies are developed.” 

Simple enough:  a platform is a stage.  Technologists see it as one for managing identify, access, assets, and services in support of an implementation’s business goals (e.g. learning, commerce, entertainment).   People who use the platform see it as the place to work, play, interact, create, discover and/or learn.

That last verb is our focus.  To learn on a platform, from the perspective of programs, is to engage learners, educators, support professionals, administrators, and others in support of learning and in search of evidence of learning.  People with these roles bring instruction, content, policies, apps, collaborations, evaluations, and so on to articulate the program in the platform.  

Gartner uses a term that represents this need to assemble and deliver these program experiences and pegs it to an emerging trend and market:  the User Experience Platform or UXP.  Functionally, what Gartner describes with the UXP is essentially a presentation layer that provides a cohesive experience for people as they interact with a variety of apps (i.e. tools or other platforms), data sources, and logic.  These interactions need to be seamless from the user’s perspective, representing the program’s cohesion.

BlackBoard Learn’s evolution over recent years is an example of the UXP mindset, emphasizing mobile device support and attractive user experience design.   Luminis and Liferay, a portal provider, work in tandem to provide a UXP solution in support of Western Governors University.  Publishers like McGraw-Hill enable UXPs delivering student experiences to any device while integrating with Learning Management Systems.

Again, education is different.  To support learning with good and cohesive experiences is not enough to be THE platform for a program.   To gain evidence of learning and convert it into reports, predictions, and recommendations entails an integration with or possession of a roster database (generally known as a Student Information System or SIS), or the store of record for tracking students.  BlackBoard and Luminis, obviously, clear this bar.  McGraw-Hill’s Campus has the technical capacity to be THE platform, but that is not the publisher’s business model.   However, McGraw-Hill recently acquired Engrade and its course administration features.  So you just never know.

In fact, there are many platforms in Ed Tech that are not meant to be THE platform for a program.  Solutions for authoring digital curriculum, ePortfolio offerings, and social networks are a few examples of products that are technology platforms without being program platforms.

Can Google Classroom be THE platform?  Not yet at least, not if a program has a SIS and expects to keep using it.  

There are several Pandora’s Boxes on the margins of this blog post.  Options for integration and interoperability and their impact on programs, the ever increasing appetites of reporting and analytics providers for data on learning and learners, the future of the SIS and the nature of ERP in learning programs… 

I look forward to going deeper on these fronts as we keep digging into platforms, tools, and how programs make sense of all these choices.

Thanks for reading.