Last Wednesday I made a very early morning trip to Kitchener for a Communitech breakfast lecture and networking event. It was well worth the drive on a number of levels. The speaker was John Baker, Founder and CEO of Desire2Learn. John is yet another brilliant graduate of the University of Waterloo and the reason why Microsoft recruits from this university on a regular basis. John has built a technology business focused on customized e- teaching and education which now services 5 Millon learners world wide. They have been voted in the top 50 by Deloitte’s Fast 50 since 2006 and intend to win a position again this year! So they should, for in spite of the intense patent litigation that has undergone for years now they have remained focused, garnered the support of the tech commmunity in Kitchener and beyond and retained all their top clients and staff!
John’s intention from the start has been to transform the teaching and learning process. A McLuhan version of the classroom without walls, no doubt. In order to achieve these kinds of outcomes, John recommended “hiring the most TALENTED people you can find”. (Proving again, of course, the reason for this blog – talent makes captital dance)
His team is works on solutions that turn courseware into software, use instant messaging as well as whiteboards and chat. Success is achieved by the Google formula of putting the user at the centre, capturing the learning experience and allowing for sharing with others. Analytics are used to track outcomes and mobile technology will soon be incorporated. For example, while in class a student can take a picture, make notes and share it instantly thru their “e-portfolio”. http://www.desire2learn.com/ePortfolio/
One question that John asked himself in developing this platform was “How do we break down all barriers to high quality education?” This includes geography and disabilities like blindness. A heavy question, for sure, but if Desire2Learn is working on mobile solutions, over time this, 7th media, which is accessible to even the poorest, will go along way in helping to deliver the answer. Desire2Learn spends 43% on R&D, always looking for ways to innovate and create a BIG impact on human potential, aka, talent & creativity. With 99% of their revenue generated from outside Canada’s Silicon Valley, and 80% outside of Canada they are well on their way to achieving this goal!
Of course with transformation, creativity and talent comes change. Change always shakes up the status quo and the established standards and companies. The establishment never likes change and they strike back thru various tactics and strategies. Big American companies favour legal means if possible. Desire2Learn was soon competing and wining big accounts in the US from a huge education technology company called Blackboard who decided to take them to task on 138 patents. John joked that if the experience were a book it would be called: How to Survive a US Patent Litigation.
The first suit was filed in Texas. Apparently everyone who is any kind of tech successful technology company eventually “gets sued in Texas” – RIM, Microsoft and Google. At least they were in good company. In response however, John assembled his team and came up with a strategy and of course, being a web 2.0 type of company, came up with a “social strategy” that approached litigation in a new way. This included
1. Tell the Staff
2. Tell clients
3. Tell Public
about the details of the case. A blog was started and research was conducted to really understand from whence they had come. A complete review of the history of Virtual Learning Environments which dated back to the 1700’s revealed insights. Of course, obtaining expert legal counsel was key in presenting their side of the story…
Thanks to the support of staff, community, clients and expert legal counsel John and Desire2Learn won. Now John is able to stand back and examine the benefits of litigation which include, he says, an incredible bonding with staff for as John says, “Steel forged in the hottest fires is the strongest”. John knows for a fact that his team has a dedication and “stick-to-it-ness” par excellence . Brand awareness was increased expotentially – as the word spread thru networks and on the web and they were perceived to be the good guys who were taking the high road and standing up for all of education.
For a complete video playback on John’s talk check out this link over the next few weeks at Waterloo Tech TV. They were present and recording and although it is not posted now, it should be soon. http://bit.ly/LBbuG.
Posted below is the e-porfolio visual explaination which I am sure can also be applied to litigation 2.0 …..lol….