eThink Education Acquired By Open LMS — Exclusive Interview With Leaders Brian Carlson, Phill Miller

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Updated in January, 2021: eThink Education and eCreators, until 2020 the largest Moodle Partners in terms of contributions, are no longer in partnership with Moodle.

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The sudden announcement —it even surprised us— by Open LMS and eThink Education was long in the making. eThink Education, the largest provider of Open Source Moodle and Totara, has become a member of Learning Technologies Group, and will join its elearning platform Open LMS, the largest Moodle operation worldwide.

The reality is, the move makes perfect sense for Phill Miller, Managing Director of Open LMS, who along with eThink’s Co-Founder and CEO, Brian Carlson, now Open LMS’ Head of Sales, orchestrated the operation:

«We want to create the world leader in professional Moodle services. Somebody that can compete on a global scale with the Blackboards and the Canvases.»

At the front lines of making Moodle competitive in the bigger leagues, where due diligence beats groundbreaking features every time, is Carlson, who along with his hundreds of clients is thrilled about the development, as it gives the free and open source platform a better fighting chance:

«There are tremendous opportunities… but there have also been tremendous challenges. Anybody who’s been in the market for a long time knows that there was a time when Moodle came into the scene to become the dominant LMS, for a short period of time. That did not last very long. They filled up a vacuum, but it was better filled out by products like Instructure Canvas. Moodle was always very close, and many times it was better. The problem came by how small we were [as eThink].»

Within the first hours after the announcement, messages from clients started to pour into Carlson’s inbox. eThink’s customers are excited because they have new opportunities. Even the top Moodle provider on earth is not big enough to get the elearning business of Disney or those with similar levels of scrutiny required.

Making Moodle achieving this level is something both Carlson and Miller have work towards; and by joining the forces of some of the top talent available, the most widely used LMS in the world has a unique opportunity to reach new heights.

First of all, the culture

Despite the inevitable rivalry, particularly in the U.S. space, Carlson and Miller have been friends for a long time, exemplary of the camaraderie found in the Open EdTech space. Ideas about joining forces, or even switching teams, have been up in the air ever since.

The recent acquisition of eCreators by Open LMS was a first attempt to experience and address the challenges of aligning different teams and languages. With eThink, the former rivalries could add a layer of complexity, but the reality is that people and leaders see each other with respect, admiration and —possibly a singularity from the open source world— affection.

For Miller, the goal is to provide “the best of both worlds” while continuing to support the development of a best-in-class LMS that is free for everyone. Moodle and open source EdTech is the tool of choice for tinkerers, specialists and compulsive customizers. Now, those of us who struggled with a less flexible LMS by a robust supplier no longer have to compromise. Furthermore, large corporations stand to enjoy a refreshing new model of doing business they could not enjoy before, with unprecedented levels of freedom, flexibility, control and privacy. Bringing the benefits of open source to a greater stage is arguably one of the greatest efforts ever made to keep Moodle’s culture alive.

Relationships with Moodle and Totara: Reasserting a commitment to Open EdTech

Compared to the recent history of “break-ups” between Moodle HQ, the software development team, and the Partners, who provide customization, support and other necessary services to organizations, Carlson is emphatic in eThink’s commitment to remain a Premium Partner, and a provider of Moodle and Moodle Workplace to its customers:

«One of the most important things to me was making sure we stayed part of the [Moodle] community. Not only Phill, but every single executive at LTG had personal conversations with me committing and wanting to partner with Moodle.»

Amidst the conflicting nature of the relationship between open source and commercial interests, there lies a deeper understanding: It is in the best interest of everyone in the open EdTech space to make sure the development roadmaps are sustainable, which highlights the symbiotic relationship at work, and the importance of strengthening it in competitive environments. The quality of the software and the commercial teams become equally vital for the survival of both.

‘Total Cost of Ownership

As laudable as Totara or Moodle are, there are realities in the industry the players can no longer avoid. While the LMS could still be considered the epicenter, it becomes increasingly clear that it might not be the whole answer customers are looking for. Moodle and the most of the top developers in the “LMS Space Race” knew enough to make their platforms extensible through plugins and add-ons, or compatible with LTI and other interoperability standards. Unfortunately, this often meant that when it came to evaluating, procuring, testing and optimizing an integration, organizations were left to their own devices.

Carlson sentences: «What clients want is not an LMS anymore. They want a solution. We call it the elearning ecosystem. We did not have it, no Moodle Partner has it. But LTG does.»

Miller reiterates once again his vision, last told at a recent eLearning Podcast interview: «I do want to be really clear. We believe that there absolutely should be a free, open source LMS that anybody can download, tinker with, play and run on their own if they want to. That’s an important part of the space. And what Moodle has done is nothing short of phenomenal, in bringing a great LMS at extremely low costs to parts of the world and people that would have never been able to get it otherwise.»

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