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January 21, 2005

Sakai: not a "VLE of the future". Yet.

Sakai has been mentioned a fair amount lately, and in particular some people have asked how what we've been up to in the JISC e-learning development programme relates to Sakai. Well, I'm not an authority here, but I can give you my opinion on Sakai for what its worth.

Sakai was destined to be a success, I think in large part because of its having established a serious level of commitment from its supporting institutions, who placed the new system on their critical business path. Barring major catastrophe (see UKEU) this pretty much guarantees something is going to get delivered!

The team at Sakai were also very converative about scope, quite wisely prioritising the known needs of their stakeholders over any interest in exploring potentially risky new technologies.

This means that Sakai have delivered a pretty comprehensive and robust LMS that competes with commercial systems almost feature-for-feature, and has a substantial level of support and engagement across the community. If Blackboard is the "MS Word" of e-Learning, then Sakai is the "OpenOffice". Its more mainstream in its appeal than "Moodle" (the "SubEthaEdit" of e-Learning?).

But is it a "VLE of the future" here today? Well actually I don't think it is, not according to my "vision" anyway.

Sakai may eventually evolve into something more technically and socially interesting, but that's not what its focus is on right now. Its big selling point is that it appeals to the very same people in institutions who buy commercial LMSs, but has open-source code, and a "free" (well, not really, as we all should know by now) price tag, and a community involved in pushing it forward.

Sakai is not a "VLE of the future"; it's very much a "VLE of the present".

Looking forward, I've heard some very interesting things from Chuck Severance and Jim Farmer over the course of the project so far regarding some of the possibilities for the future of Sakai, so perhaps "Sakai 2" will deliver some surprises.

I hope so - they've certainly done a great job at building the level of support and investment needed to make things happen. So perhaps this is how the groundwork we're laying in of libraries and proof-of-concept for web services, e-portfolios, Atom/RSS/FOAF/RDF and so on will eventually be exploited and got out into the world.

Or perhaps the smaller projects and companies will come up with the goods and take the big boys by surprise yet :-)

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