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Is Microsoft Opening up to the World of Blended Learning?

by Glynn Jung, Non-Executive Director

microsoft cloud imageIt amazes me to think how Microsoft has almost invisibly developed a role for itself in the cost-sensitive and occasionally technophobic world of learning, including collaborating with open source communities.

It first really clicked with me last year when I started counting the number of times that Sharepoint was included in Invitations to Tender (ITTs) and Statements of Requirements, often with open source attachments such as Liferay and SLK. And this was before SP2010 had become established with all its improvements over SP2007 and its Groove technology.

Just as sneakily the open source CMS application Umbraco (as used by Aurion Learning for portals and hubs) has become number 4 in the UK’s list of most popular .NET tools. Sharepoint is number 1.

The proprietary world is still prevalent of course with products such as SharePointLMS from ElearningForce serving the corporate market but there’s been a growing enthusiasm amongst open source suppliers and within Microsoft to make it easier for buyers to move on from the old thinking that “it’s either Microsoft or it’s open”.

So we see X-Box technology opening up to the e-learning community to experiment with developing training simulations based around body sensor technology and Sharepoint moving from being arguably the most derided Microsoft product to its most heartily championed … and all with the support of the open source and boutique development communities.

For the generic e-learning suppliers who’ve long believed MS Office End User e-learning to be their commercial bedrock Microsoft’s release of Office 365 must be a bit of a mixed blessing. CLOUD hosting means that once again VANILLA software is real world, justifying their catalogues of End User titles.

Unfortunately Microsoft’s offering destroys the financial case for buying libraries of materials based on total cost of ownership per end-user (including software licenses and IT overheads such as server farms and technical support teams).

For those who don’t know, Microsoft’s CLOUD offer for organisations with less than 25 staff costs around £4.00 per user per month. This includes webmail, IMS, Voice & Video Conferencing, WORD, Excel, PowerPoint and One Note and a Sharepoint 2010 Intranet. Meanwhile Microsoft’s enterprise offer includes Private CLOUD App-V, WORD, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook with Business Contact Manager, Publisher, Access, One Note, LYNC, InfoPath & SP workspace. It also includes Active Directory Integration. Price? – approximately £16.00 per user. It also includes access to a load of training & study materials.

With Windows 8 to be released in the near future we see the realisation of at least version 1 of Microsoft’s vision of a common MS platform across the “three screens”, i.e. PC/Laptop etc., smartphone/smartpad and digital TV, all integrated by LYNC.

So in some ways while the technical press is shouting about Apple versus the world, about patent infringement and misappropriation of IP and about winners and losers in the technology market, Microsoft is quietly doing what we always hoped they would and deliver technology to make things easier.

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