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[school-discuss] Group touts free eLearning platform / Cara Branigan, Associate Editor,eSchool News
Contents Copyright 2004 eSchool News. All rights reserved.
Group touts free eLearning platform
By Cara Branigan, Associate Editor, eSchool News
November 5, 2004
A handful of leading universities have developed a new consortium to
raise awareness and increase the use of a free, open-source software
platform for managing courses, content, collaboration, and online learning.
The software, known as .LRN ("dot-learn"), was originally developed for
use at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). It is a
completely free, open-source application suite and development platform
reportedly capable of: managing course syllabi, calendars, and class
lists; offering community support tools such as surveys, polls, bulletin
boards, and file storage; and managing learning and content with
assessment tools and testing modules.
"Any institution, whether a K-12 school or institution of higher
education, that is unable to get or unable to afford what it needs from
a commercial [product] should look at .LRN," said Cesar Brea, a member
of the board of directors for the .LRN Consortium.
MIT's Sloan School of Management embraced the open-source .LRN platform,
which has been used to enroll more than 10,000 students.
Through a largely grassroots effort, 25 major universities and 250,000
students worldwide use .LRN so far to support the learning process.
"The consortium is a formal, not-for-profit program to raise awareness
and to raise money to develop the software faster than a pure grassroots
process," Brea said. By establishing a formal consortium, organizers
hope to reach more people sooner.
The MIT Sloan School of Management, which has been using .LRN since
2001, runs nearly all of its classes and clubs on .LRN under a project
known as SloanSpace. SloanSpace has become Sloan School's primary means
of providing class management and community support. It receives about
1,250 log-ins per day and has enrolled more than 10,000 student and
Although MIT has spent roughly $500,000 to deploy and maintain .LRN, the
project reportedly has cost only one-quarter of the total price that
would have been charged by a commercial software provider.
"We have benefited tremendously by utilizing .LRN as a central element
of our educational technology infrastructure in the MIT Sloan School,"
said Steven D. Eppinger, a professor, deputy dean, and chair of the
Educational Technology Task Force at the MIT Sloan School.
"It integrates course management with collaboration support for online
communities. We have been pleased with the flexibility and
cost-effectiveness that .LRN has afforded us so far," Eppinger said. "We
look forward to seeing its further innovations."
In addition to the online communities, Sloan's professors use .LRN as
their platform for publishing course content, posting events,
collaborating in team areas, and running simulations.
Cost and flexibility are the top reasons schools should consider using
.LRN, said Al Essa, chief of the information office at MIT Sloan School
".LRN provides tools and capability to meet the needs of an entire
community. Equivalent commercial systems are cost-prohibitive. .LRN is
the largest and most successful open-source project that delivers
[community learning]," Essa said.
Nearly 40 application modules of the .LRN system are reportedly deployed
at two dozen universities and research organizations on five continents.
Some of these applications include content aggregation, content
syndication among universities, learning simulations, bulletin-board
discussion groups, assessment, web logs, and class notes.
The University of Bergen in Norway, for example, uses .LRN to power its
student portal--an online place where students can access their
schedules, store files, and read and post messages for their courses.
Galileo University, in Guatemala, chose .LRN for its ability to scale
and grow with the school's needs. At Galileo, .LRN handles all aspects
of assignments, grading, discussion groups, bulk eMail, and calendaring.
Built on OpenACS (Open Architecture Community System), .LRN runs on
Linux, but it could also run on a number of applications, Brea said.
Schools can change and adapt the software specifically to their
needs--and it's also available and used in multiple languages.
Enterprise versions of .LRN, such as those made by WebCT Inc. and
Blackboard Inc., tend to be more expensive because they have to balance
profits with development costs. "Institutions here are not trying to
make a buck. They are trying to develop what they need," Brea said.
.LRN is an initiative separate from another MIT-related eLearning
program that eSchool News reported on in April. (See "MIT develops free
course-management platform.") There are some small firms that offer
support for .LRN in the same way RedHat and other firms support Linux,
MIT's Sloan School of Management http://mitsloan.mit.edu
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