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Blackboard. Omnibus. Pathwright?

The fleet of available learning management systems is broad so broad that a novel entry in 2012 seems about as original as a new photo-sharing app. So what’s the deal with Pathwright, and how do its founders intend to differentiate it from the herd of similar services?

Centrally, though they’d like to see the service gain traction at all levels and styles of education, the team’s intended market seems to be entrepreneurial would-be educators, not affiliated with a college or university, who feel they have material worth sharing.

“Success to us looks like all types of educators making a good living teaching what they love to students all over the world without the need for expensive, complex technology or institutional bureaucracy,” wrote co-founder Paul Johnson in an email message. “In the current educational environment, that’s not likely to be teachers within traditional universities or in K-12 schools, although we do have some teachers in those environments using Pathwright.”

The danger, naturally, is that opening the education market to non-accredited and informal would-be teachers will result in low quality offerings. Pathwright runs the risk, it seems, of catching the educational dregs: of becoming a home to self-styled educators who will leave course-takers with a bad experience and the service with a poor reputation.

But Johnson hopes to draw the best from that population by offering a quality tool set. And in the unlikely case that an instructor was uploading material that was dangerously wrong, they’d communicate with the instructor and consider removing the course.

“Some will be very good at it and point people in the right direction, while and others won’t be which unfortunately could cause some stumbling around,” he wrote. “Our hope is that the design of Pathwright will help educators create better courses, but we realize that sometimes they may go in the wrong direction.”

Without a doubt, the site’s strength is its design, which is clean and organized. Slides and other course material can be viewed online, and the designers emphasize ease-of-use for interested instructors. And the team has first-hand experience, with two members serving as adjunct professors.

“We’ve focused on making 90% of what educators want to do super easy and elegant, while Blackboard (and the like) focuses on adding as many features as possible so that the end result is very difficult for the average faculty member to use,” Johnson wrote.

There’s another challenge, as well. Vast swathes of course material are available for free online, through projects like Khan Academy – to which Johnson compares the type of material they’d like to see on the site – or traditional learning institutions, like MIT, that have jumped on the open courseware bandwagon.

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