Lumen Learning’s Open Ed. Resources to Expand With New Funding

By Sean Cavanagh — April 06, 2015 2 min read
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Cross-posted from the Marketplace K-12 blog

Lumen Learning, one of the better-known players in the world of open educational resources, announced that it has raised $2.5 million in private equity, money that will support the company’s overall growth and its continued development of its courses across subjects.

The Portland, Ore.-based commercial provider, so far, has focused almost exclusively on developing open materials for higher education institutions. But given the persistent interest in open resources among policymakers and educators focused on K-12, Lumen’s development is being closely watched among the pre-college crowd, too.

Founded in 2012, Lumen provides open educational resources for about 50 high-enrollment subjects on college campuses, Julie Curtis, the company’s vice-president of strategy and communications, said in an interview.

The new capital is meant to expand the number of resources to serve about 75 of the highest-enrollment courses and subjects on college campuses. The company is still building courseware for those subjects, she noted.

Some of those open materials already end up getting used by high school students, she said, if the college content is provided to them through dual-enrollment classes.

The new funding flowing to Lumen Learning—its first professional round of financing—draws heavily from a cluster of funders located in the Pacific Northwest. The Oregon Angel Fund led the equity round, and other investors include the Alliance of Angels, based in Seattle; the Portland Seed Fund; and ed-tech investors Ray Henderson and Dave Mills. The company has received previous backing from philanthropies, as a grantee of the Next Generation Learning Challenges, which is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; as well as the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Shuttleworth Foundation.

Henderson, who previously worked at a number of well-known education companies, including Blackboard and Pearson, is also joining Lumen Learning’s board.

Lumen seeks to provide “extremely low-cost” digital academic materials that can replace commericial texts—with the belief that the use of open resources can be delivered for a fraction of the cost, and provide learning materials that are just as valuable to faculty, teachers, and students.

However, commerical vendors say that the money and expertise poured into the development and curation of their materials produces academic resources that OER can’t match.

Open-ed developers counter that those claims have no basis, and amount to companies simply fighting to protect their turf.

Lumen Learning has no immediate plans to move more directly into the K-12 space, said Curtis, though she added that “eventually, we’d love to be there” if the right oppotunities emerge.

“As a startup,” she said, “what you say ‘yes’ to, and what you say ‘no’ to, are both critical to your success.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.