Education

Desire2Learn acquires massive open-learning database to bolster its Common Core offerings (exclusive)

The "ASN" provides online access to state-by-state learning objectives

Above: The "ASN" provides online access to state-by-state learning objectives

Canadian education technology giant Desire2Learn has acquired the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a massive online database of learning standards.

Desire2Learn will keep the ASN afloat, as thousands of educators rely on it to adapt their curriculums in line with changing government requirements.

In an exclusive interview, VentureBeat learned that both parties formalized the deal early last week. According to a Desire2Learn spokesperson, “No money has traded hands,” as the nonprofit JES & Co runs ASN.

Desire2Learn will assume all responsibility for operating the ASN public data infrastructure, so educators can continue to use it for free. Anyone can perform a search on the ASN website to access a trove of PDFs about the academic standards that schools are expected to meet.

Jeremy Auger

Above: Jeremy Auger of Desire2Learn

Image Credit: Desire2Learn

“We don’t have any immediate monetization plans for ASN, but we do expect that it will add value to our existing products,” said Jeremy Auger, Desire2Learn’s cofounder and chief strategy officer, in an interview. The company sells a course management system and other digital learning tools to over 600 K-12 and higher education institutions around the world.

Desire2Learn executives have stressed their commitment to manage ASN — otherwise, teachers would be up in arms. Learning standards are shifting, with all but four states agreeing to adopt the “Common Core,” a new set of national education standards designed to ensure that students graduate with a baseline of specific math and language skills.

“The education community is struggling to manage the volume of standards that differ from state to state, particularly with the conversion of materials to newer standards such as the Common Core for K-12,” said Rick Tanski, the principal of Academy Online High School in Colorado Springs, Colo. “A technology like ASN will be a great benefit and time-saver.”

Auger pointed out that the objectives of his company and ASN are deeply aligned. Both teams are committed to banishing paper-based processes in education and putting materials online.

Michelle R. Weise, a senior research fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute specializing in higher education, said the acquisition seems to “mesh well” with Desire2Learn’s overall strategy.

“Desire2Learn is making it easier for learning providers to access and curate content and now in this case, standards,” she said. Weise anticipates that Desire2Learn’s existing partners and customers will benefit from a ready access to this data, particularly if it’s more closely integrated into the core product.

Funds for ASN came from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Verizon Foundation, and other philanthropic groups. JES & Co. created ASN’s technology in conjunction with researchers at the information school of the University of Washington. Stuart Sutton, an associate professor emeritus at the University of Washington, is considered to be the father of the ASN project.

“These funding organizations were moving on to other projects and were looking for a new home to sustain the service,” said Auger. Desire2Learn will pay the salary of a few employees from the parent organization,JES & Co., and the chief developer tied to the product, who is currently based in Arizona.

This small team of developers and data scientists will focus on broadening the datasets available on the ASN to include “certifications and other professional designations,” according to Auger.

The Waterloo, Ontario-based Desire2Learn has plenty of money to burn for mergers and acquisitions. In September 2012, it secured $80 million in venture financing from OMERS Ventures and New Enterprise Associates. Desire2Learn is the second most well-funded private company in Canada.

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