September 09, 2010

Education Secretary on the realities of learning platforms: Facebook is your competition

Mike Russell
It's heartening to see Mike Russell, the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Education, cited in the latest Connected Magazine with something that's more akin to what one might have expected to see on this blog. He shares the white elephant in the room for most "education content providers" or platform-makers: you're all in competition with Facebook:

"Our young people are Glow's most demanding customers [Glow is the Scottish Schools national intranet]. They already use tools, such as Facebook, that are better than Glow [ed: insert any virtual learning environment here], so Learning and Teaching Scotland [ed: or any VLE provider or Local Authority] has a big challenge to face. It must strive to ensure that Glow is as good as anything else in the market, and do so with substantially less resources than its competitors. Great imagination is required but by continuing to listen to users and to grow and adapt, Glow will retain its relevance."

Russell gets this. He's a prolific and interesting Facebook user himself, and really knows what it does (and Glow doesn't, yet). I also know that Andrew Brown, Glow's Director, is one of the best equipped to face the challenge of developing this platform in true competition with Facebook (although he needs to brush down his blog into action again ;-)

Listening to users is vital, and something Glow could actually end up doing a lot better than Facebook. It's got to listen to more young people, every day, and share all this user group and user feedback publicly.

But, if we're to take Russell's sentiment seriously, and I do, it's also got to change attitude quite publicly from the market leader (first in the world, largest intranet etc etc) to the underdog of Facebook, an attacker. It's got to aim for global domination of its space or it might as well give up and go home. It's got to, basically, act more like a startup.

Budget-wise it's a Round C startup, rich, but not out of the starting blocks yet and burning through a lot of cash quickly. It's got about one more funding round (18 months) to explode out there. We need to see the numbers that show it's exploding, too: how many new signups every day? how many unique visitors this month and how much more is that since last month? what is that incredible dwell time people have in the service? what are the exit points (is Glow, without realising it, actually an invisible 'partner' of Facebook?)?

Now, for many reading this post, I'm guessing there will be an 'uh?' or 'eh?' moment. For a few, a few that I hope see it, it will be an "uh-huh" post. There's a ton of work to be done, but I think with the leadership of Russell indicated in this article, Glow might just be entering its most exciting stage yet.

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is a teacher, speaker and investor, regarded as one of Europe’s foremost experts in digital media for public services.

His company, NoTosh Limited, invests in tech startups and film on behalf of public and private investors, works with those companies to build their creative businesses, and takes the lessons learnt from the way these people work back into schools and universities across the world.

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