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Instructure: we know. we learn.

I’ve been using Instructure for several weeks for a course that I’m teaching with Tecnológico de Monterrey on networked and connected learning. I’ve used a large number of learning management systems over the last several years, and Instructure presents one of the more impressive educator and end-user experiences. It took me about two hours to setup and organize my first course in the platform.

Instructure is a newcomer to the LMS market, but they have done fairly well winning contracts over the past year or so. I can see why: setting up a course, adding content, assessment, etc. is a smooth process by the standars of any LMS. Moodle, an LMS with a low learning curve, feels very clunky in comparison. The interface is clean (image below is an administrator’s view) and adding/activating widgets is intuitive. The last time I’ve had a similar productive return on ability to do stuff with a new tool, with only limited time investment, was my first iphone. There may not be much new under the sun in the LMS space, but Instructure is a big leap forward in positive end user experience. My only complaint is the odd downtime. I had several minute downtimes twice over the first two weeks of the course. And even as I’m typing this looking for a link to a press release, their site is down.

I’ve had several interactions with Instructure and find that they are an organization that is fuelled by a combination of energy, ambition, and a touch of bravado/boldness/audacity. On the one hand, they are eager to learn from others…on the other hand, they are confident that they have the right answer.

Two illustrations of the dichotomy between “we know the answer” and “we are willing to learn”:

1. In response to a post on this site a few months ago looking at Blackboard’s entry into Moodle hosting, I received an email from Instructure offering to show me their product. After their presentation, I mentioned that I was considering using Instructure for a MOOC in fall – future of education (starting Oct 8, sponsored by Gates Foundation and, now, Desire2Learn) – but wanted to know if they could do some customizing to incorporate Stephen Downes’ grsshopper model. In my original blogpost, I stated: “btw, Instructure, if you’re really in a mood for something new, why not work with Stephen Downes and me in building the technical platform for MOOCs? We have ideas, but need good programmers!” I tried communicating what specifically we needed for MOOCs during our call based on our previous MOOCs. However, and this is a challenge I’ve had with other software vendors, the response was “oh, we can do that already”. In contrast, I received an email from John Baker (Desire2Learn) the next day saying, basically, “let us know what you want and we’ll assign programmers to it”. As a result, we are now running our fall MOOC with Desire2Learn. Young companies are often not that focused on listening because they have a vision that they feel others need to also adopt.

2. I met with a crew from Instructure when I was at Arizona State University for a conference. They were looking at rolling out a new analytics platform and wanted to chat about the kinds of analytics approaches that might be valuable. They started by presenting their vision of what they were doing and were very interested in finding ways to improve and extend planned functionality. We had a good conversation about the potential of analytics and the directions in which the field (if we can call it that) is moving. I left the meeting feeling that Instructure is an organization that knows its strengths and is willing to engage with others to address areas where it needs (wants) to learn.

5 Comments

  1. Curt Bonk wrote:

    A sat in demo of Canvas two weeks ago on another campus in the Big 10. I am trying to avoid naming names here since this is a public post. But the demo came from someone high up i the company (again, I am avoiding naming names…but he was about as high up as they get). It was a highly impressive demo. However, when people in the room asked him questions related to human learning, there was a lull. When asked how many of the people at Instructure (which has apparently quickly grown from 18 employees to 130 or so employees) were instructional designers, learning people, or educators, the answer was none…but that the computer programmers at Instructure were now becomming interested in instructional design and learning theory and were picking all that up on the side as they built Canvas. I have no real problem with that, though it does validate your pt that young start-up companies tend to be naive and think that they know the solutions that we need.

    Glad to see John Baker is supporting your programming needs. I like John a lot and I respect what he has done at Desire2Learn. Good luck George.

    Oh, and I should say great slide deck for your Saskatoon talk the other day. Impressive talk George. Learned a lot as always. Thanks. I heard you knocked em dead at the Defense Acquisition U (DAU) conference as well. Chris St. John is trying to get me to make a return visit next year but I will be on sabbatical.

    Saturday, June 16, 2012 at 10:36 am | Permalink
  2. Guillaume wrote:

    Thank you Georges for your article, I am also going to explore the potential of this platform

    Saturday, June 16, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Permalink
  3. gsiemens wrote:

    @Curt – thanks for your comments and for your active blogging about your mooc experience with Blackboard. I had a great time at DAU conf.

    In terms of instructure – I agree that the educational/learning theory is not explicit in their tools. I’d go further and say that many edtech startups have essentially turned their back, more more accurately, don’t know it exists, on established research in learning. it’s a bit of a step back…

    Hope you’re doing well, Curt!

    Tuesday, June 19, 2012 at 8:33 am | Permalink
  4. Jared Stein wrote:

    Hi all,

    I work for Instructure and want to clarify that we do have some ed folks and instuctional designers on staff (myself, for example!). We do explicitly frame ourselves as a technology company first and foremost, but–at least from my perspective–we also recognize and value ed tech research and theory, and the influence it can have to positively shape our tools.

    Tuesday, June 19, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Permalink
  5. Dawn Worley wrote:

    George, thank you for sharing information this LMS system. As an educator, I presently work with Moodle 2.1 and appreciate the ease of use that it provides for my students. I viewed the basic information on the Instructure Canvas and am curious about the time saving options this LMS provides. The ability to send Facebook messages and text messages is also appealing as our students spend the majority of their time on their cell phones. Since you have used Instructure, would you be willing to share your experiences with the Speed Grader feature?

    Sunday, June 24, 2012 at 11:04 am | Permalink