December 28, 2013
Last month, Blackboard opened a new office in Boston – just another in a collection of branches across four continents (Asia, North America, Europe, and Australia). The Washington, DC-based company is renown for its early role in the e-learning space, and has since become the dominant player in providing learning and education software for schools and enterprises. Currently, the company boasts over 37,000 clients across the world – but are those clients happy? That’s debatable. While the company has many organizations as its clientèle, such a reliance on Blackboard may merely be out of necessity rather than actual choice – that, maybe, they haven’t found any similar platforms available that could replace Blackboard; LearnerNation is trying to fill that void.
LearnerNation is a Miami-based startup that offers a Cloud-based learning platform to enable any user to instantly develop and share online learning, training, and performance management programs. The company is currently serving individuals, schools, and businesses that are looking at e-learning as a valuable and essential tool for teaching important skills.
“The whole goal of online education is to get people off the computer – not to keep people on it,” according to Michael McCord, the founder and managing director of LearnerNation. Indeed in terms of productivity in the workplace and even in education in the classroom, the ideal is to get people to learn things quickly and efficiently on the computer, and then apply that knowledge effectively in the real world. I mean, if you’re running a company that’s looking into creating a training program for your employees, wouldn’t you want to decrease the amount of time they spend in training? Isn’t the goal to have them learn things quickly and effectively so that they can get back to being productive at their jobs?
The LearnerNation platform was designed with this goal in mind: ease and effectiveness. It allows users to easily (and quickly) publish media-rich content for their desired audience and helps them to design a curriculum based on their learning, training, or performance management needs. Additionally, what’s made the SaaS platform so popular is its adaptive technology that adapts to any user’s learning style – teacher or student – ultimately reducing the amount of time needed for users to go through a course via LearnerNation. While the company has grown rapidly since its founding in January 2012 (adding clients like LG, MasterCard and Cartier), it has yet to steer away from a focus on its key software – and it shouldn’t, if it wants to avoid one of the pitfalls that has affected Blackboard.
For years (since when even I used Blackboard in high school), Blackboard has been notorious for its terrible user experience and hasn’t actually done much to improve its core Learning Management System (LMS) software. “It may not be correct to say that Blackboard’s push beyond [the] learning management system market took its focus completely away from its core LMS platform, but whatever degree of focus remained on Blackboard’s LMS, it wasn’t the right kind,” reports Rip Empson, in a highly critical piece written last year for TechCrunch. With its growth, Blackboard shifted more of its focus on acquisitions rather than actually developing its core software in a way that’s responsive to modern users: no, it doesn’t have adaptive technology, but here’s a new and relatively useless tool that will take you a few weeks to get used to. If the positive reviews and rate of growth are of any telling, then LearnerNation has the potential to become a leading competitor to Blackboard in a few short years.
One of the determining factors of whether LearnerNation can actually become competitive – and indeed maybe one of its weaknesses -is its location. The company is currently headquartered in Miami – while the city is certainly one of the US’s growing startup ecosystems, it isn’t exactly a beacon attracting education firms or organizations that could support the company’s goals. Blackboard, on the other hand, has its roots in DC, where education remains a primary sector/industry and has arguably helped to develop the company into what it is today. Could LearnerNation change the direction of the online learning/training platform industry from its sunny corner of the world? If Miami provides a tech environment that is supportive enough (in terms of advising and capital), then that possibility could become more of a certainty. Or, maybe, we may just encounter LearnerNation occupying an additional office in DC’s Chinatown in a year or two? I guess we’ll just have wait and see what the company will do next.
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