Doing good is good business: How Lumen Learning is opening education for student savings and success

A mouse pad showing The Grand Challenge Equations: San Diego Supercomputer Center .

The Grand Challenge Equations: San Diego Supercomputer Center CC-BY Duncan Hull

There’s a gathering herd of startups focused on making education better, faster, cheaper: Startups selling to teachers and startups selling to learners and startups selling to parents and startups selling to colleges, universities and K12 schools. Whew!

What makes Lumen stand out in this crowd?

For starters: Lumen’s approach is getting strong validation from customers—we signed four statewide deals this year in MD, OR, VA and WA alongside all the other customers we are working with—and validation from investors—we were selected to receive round-sized funding from the Gates Foundation’s highly competitive $20 million Next Generation Courseware Challenge program (7 applicants will be funded out of 100+ invited).

A big part of Lumen’s success is a business model that is almost too good to be true: It seems like black magic, but it’s entirely real. It works like this:

Lumen curates and creates freely available, openly licensed educational resources to make ready-to-use “courseware”, focusing especially on the high-enrollment classes every student takes. Our customers—colleges and universities (and sometimes K12 schools and professional development programs)—adopt and adapt Lumen’s stewarded open courseware to replace commercial materials like textbooks that are so expensive, students all too often go without, or have to buy, beg, borrow, rent, or yes, even steal.

The results are simple and dramatic

A. Students save from 75-100% on textbook costs and get full access to the learning materials they need to succeed from the first day of class.

B. Faculty, teachers and instructors get greater control over learning materials and no longer have to worry that students are unprepared simply because they cannot afford textbooks.

C. Institutions lower the cost of education without spending more money, while also making it easier for their students to learn and earn degrees and credentials.

D. The courseware itself improves over time based on outcomes from real use in live classes.

In fact, the only losers are the proprietary textbook publishers that have been selling about $16 billion worth of textbooks to US undergraduates every year at prices that have outpaced the rate of inflation by 3x.

Founded by two folks with long pedigrees in open education: Portland’s own Kim Thanos and David Wiley, a prime actor in the open content movement, Lumen is making Portland its home. Here’s to the new equation where doing good is doing good business!

By |October 16th, 2014|About Us|0 Comments|

On Turning Two


Photo:  A♥ / Flickr

Two years ago, David Wiley and I took the confident step to found Lumen Learning. In the wake of phenomenal success with the first wave of NGLC-funded Kaleidoscope pilot projects, we saw ample demand for resources and expertise to support institutions through the transition to open educational resources. We saw the writing on the wall for the traditional textbook industry and the need for innovators to disrupt a broken system. Enter Lumen Learning.

Since that day in 2012, we have made steady strides towards strengthening student success through the widespread adoption of open educational resources. We aren’t there yet – not by a long shot. But we’re on the way, thanks to many progressive institutions, faculty members, academic leaders and a whole host of Lumen friends and supporters who help us along the way.

In the spirit of openness and sharing that inspired us to found Lumen, we are introducing this blog to share more visibly what we’re seeing, doing and learning as we advance our mission.

With that in mind, I am excited to share several Lumen Learning updates:

  • Our growing client community. Recently we began supporting our 65th client, providing “open courses” – pre-built, outcomes-based courses designed using open educational resources – to replace commercial textbooks in high-enrollment courses.
  • Our expanding course catalog. Lumen’s stated goal is to offer high quality open courseware that fully replaces textbooks in high-enrollment courses at colleges and universities. Today our course catalog has expanded to just over fifty courses across many disciplines and subjects. Cost effective general education, anyone?
  • Blending OER and competency-based education. The Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges is working with Lumen Learning to develop 18 online courses for a new self-paced, competency-based business transfer degree program. We are very excited about these new courses, which are designed with open educational resources and use embedded assessments to create personal learning pathways for each student based on their prior knowledge and where they need to develop mastery. See our recent announcement to learn more.
  • “Game Changer” grand prize. At this year’s EDUCAUSE 2014 Annual Conference, Lumen was selected as one of 12 start-up companies to participate in the Game Changers Business Competition. After giving the judges our best start-up pitch for OER-based supported courseware, Lumen Learning emerged victorious! Read the Chronicle’s take on stand-out start-ups at this year’s conference.
  • New grant funding through the Next Generation Courseware Challenge. The Gates Foundation selected Lumen Learning as one of seven organizations to receive funding through the Next Generation Courseware Challenge, a competitive grant program that aims to support the creation of exemplary, affordable digital course materials that improve student success among low-income and disadvantaged learners. Our courseware concept takes on the 2 Sigma Problem of Benjamin Bloom. Read more about this exciting project in our announcement.
  • Growing the Lumen Team (a.k.a. the “Lumenati”). Growth in demand has translated into growth in our organization. Since May we have welcomed three new team members: Tom Chapman, our chief financial officer; Julie Curtis, our VP of strategy and communications; and Nate Angell, our doorman. What’s a doorman, you ask? It’s someone who opens all kinds of doors.

Stay tuned on this front: we expect to share more staffing updates in the near future as our team continues to grow.

And last but not least:

  • Lumen Learning turns two. These past two years have been alternately exciting, exhausting, awe-inspiring, illuminating (no pun intended), and often all these things at once. While we are a company establishing its place in the world, we are also on a mission to impact student success through the effective use of open educational resources. This duality represents our guideposts as we take on the challenges and opportunities ahead.

If you’re reading this, it’s either because you’re interested in what we’re doing, or else because you’ve already joined us on this journey. Either way, we’re glad you’re here. Passing this momentous milestone, we look forward to the future we’re creating together.

Happy birthday indeed, Lumen Learning.


By |October 7th, 2014|About Us|4 Comments|