A first look at Sakai 3

I’ve been reflecting on John Norman’s presentation which he made at the eLearning Network event New models for learning management on September 25. John is from Cambridge University where he has been engaged in the development on the virtual learning environment Sakai 3. I’ve worked for many years with Moodle and Blackboard, but have had absolutely no contact with Sakai, so what he had to show us was interesting:

  • In the development of version 3, they have borrowed ideas from social media sites and built these ideas into the VLE, rather than "going out into the wild."
  • The VLE can appear anywhere through gadgets and applications appearing in other software environments (iGoogle, Facebook, etc.) and on different devices such as smart phones.
  • The system includes a variety of widgets, such as polls, which can be built into content pages.
  • It is possible to create new ‘sites’ simply by searching for members with certain characteristics.

Let me quote you from the Sakai 3 whitepaper:

"In summary, our ambition is not merely an incremental improvement of Sakai nor is it to copy Google. Our goal is not simply to create a better and cheaper version of Blackboard. It is time to arrive at a clearer understanding of the capabilities that represent needs unique to education and for the Sakai community to focus its development effort on providing these capabilities while taking advantage of established open‐source efforts to provide more generic capabilities. We should, in short, strive to create a different type of academic collaboration system. Institutions that choose Sakai 3 will be choosing to run a qualitatively different type of system. This is the kind choice we should provide to the educational community. Not just a choice between open source and proprietary."

Now my perspective is work-based learning, not education, so it would be very easy to be put off by the academic orientation of Sakai. However, as we have seen with Moodle, VLEs can cross over into enterprise use and do a very fine job. I’m certainly interested in seeing whether Sakai 3 will take us on a generation beyond Moodle.

Incidentally, at the same eLN event, Martin Belton from LMS provider e2train was eager to explain how, as far as the LMS is concerned, “the report of my death has been greatly exaggerated”. On the contrary, statistics from Bersin & Associates show the LMS marketplace growing solidly every year from 2005, with 2009 revenues forecast to be in the region of $900m, an increase of 8.4%. Now surely there must be some profit in revenues of that scale.

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