One established player in the online education market is Pearson Learning Technologies. In response to new online education trends, it launched Pearson OpenClass, which is a free learning management system (known in the trade as an LMS) and runs on Amazon Web Services (AWS).

There’s a revolution brewing in education. The rise of new online education from companies like Coursera and Udemy, as well as free online education from entities like Khan Academy, challenges established education providers like Blackboard and Phoenix University.

LMS systems are used to organize classes, with student tracking, class resources (like videos and documents), and collaboration support commonly offered as part of the LMS application. In the past, LMS software has typically been tied to institutions because of their complexity and high cost.

Pearson’s offering is designed to give anyone access to LMS functionality, whether a large education institution or an individual managing a weekend pottery class. Pearson’s business strategy with OpenClass is to provide the base platform for free, and allow third-party providers (including Pearson itself) to offer commercial add-ons that plug into OpenClass.

OpenClass leverages open source software, like Cassandra, Node.js, and MongoDB, as well as online resources, like Google Apps, to support its freemium strategy. In addition to the OpenClass portal, Pearson offers the free RESTful API for content upload and external application integration.

Because OpenClass is provided at no cost and offers APIs to support anyone integrating OpenClass into another application, its potential user load is orders of magnitude larger than any other LMS in the market: Pearson’s planning envisions a user base of over 30 million people, making it crucial for Pearson to use a computing environment that is inexpensive and highly scalable. Based on its research, the company chose AWS to provide the OpenClass infrastructure.

OpenClass runs on approximately 1,500 EC2 instances at any given time. In addition to EC2, Pearson uses VPC, as well as direct, hardware-based VPN connectivity from its data center to AWS. By leveraging EC2 and complementary AWS services, Pearson ensures that no matter how popular OpenClass becomes, sufficient computing resources are available to support the application.