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Friday, December 9, 2011

Guest Post - Education Technology's Hidden Ticking Time Bomb

This is a guest post from Rafael Corrales, CEO of LearnBoost. LearnBoost has been an advertiser on Free Technology for Teachers for the last ten months. Prior to them becoming an advertiser, I had written about LearnBoost a couple of times including this post that Rafael references below.

Freemium looks like the future for education technology companies. Yet there’s another side of free education apps and there’s a big, overlooked trend in this space that I want to shine a spotlight on.

With the proliferation of freemium services, educators aren’t fully realizing how their data is completely locked up. Richard emailed me over a year ago and he mentioned how some free services have shut down without warning to their users.

In fact, that awful free/paid back and forth situation with Ning is going to happen more frequently unless educators become aware of this ticking time bomb, get realistic about their data, and demand that education companies start unlocking their data from the very beginning.

If you only take away one thing from this post, it would be this helpful rule of thumb – if you aren’t paying with dollars for a service, then you’re paying with your data.

Look, even really well-funded companies can fail educators. Ning raised $119 million dollars, was started by the co-founder of Netscape, and had support from top institutional investors. Ning had everything going for it, including initial breakout growth around the world. But they didn’t have export or download functionality, so educators suffered when Ning made sudden changes. If a company in education is pointing exclusively to their investors, amount raised, or initial traction, you can’t bank on that - the inevitable truth is that they’re still locking your data. Plus even paid services shut down all the time in education, so you should at least rest assured that you are able to get your data out.

I’d like to see every education company open up and make data freely available. That means some export functionality, data download functionality, and future “open” related innovations. In fact, if data were truly free then education companies would have to compete on product-quality, instead of how much they can lock-in teachers, administrators, and so on.

Making data more freely available happens to be good for business. When we released our export feature and our data download feature, both times we saw a clear uptick in user adoption – and I believe other companies are starting to realize this. But hopefully educators themselves can drive a spotlight on this issue so that they force all education companies to be accountable for building the best possible products, instead of the best possible lock-in (which causes stagnation on product development, total control over users, and more).

If data could become more freely available then all education companies, whether they offer free or paid products, would be fully accountable for building the best possible products. This would be a huge win for everyone in education and ultimately benefit the most important stakeholders - students.

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