Get up and move, keep walking. Lift your head, it ain’t over yet!

To know where we’re going; and I can’t contain the excitement anymore. I keep hearing that I’m behaving differently.. situations where I would have normally been me. Well, there’s a new me; a more transparent and open me. And it will be exponentially more devastating to closed minds and closed methodologies. We (the many) aren’t just here to make some neat tools; we’re here to transform workflows and education in the process.

To see through my eyes, you have to know my history with educational technology and why I know we’re in a new phase of transformation. This is a silly history to get that out of the way so that I can lay out the vision of where we’re going and what we’ll enable (or who we’ll empower).

Fall 2002 – I experience my first Learning Management system, we’ll call it “Devil“. Devil is primitive, but what isn’t at this time. It goes down constantly, constantly. Everyone hates; does nothing better exist?

Winter 2003 – While taking a development class and accessing Devil and getting completely lost using the “groups” functionality, I start to envision that web development doesn’t need to be this way. I use folder structures every day, constantly organizing, why does the web have to be any different. I doodle my first conception of what I’d one day call the Outline Designer; a hierarchical content organization tool that’s visual. Content is just elements in a hierarchy and you’d drag and drop it around to alter the structure. Nothing special here, I hate edtech, I will never have need of this idea and pitch it.

2005 – On campus job working in a college after taking a project management class and asking if there was employment. I’m tasked with learning how to import hundreds of student accounts into Drupal 4.6. This is a small part of my job, the rest is building visual database management / relationship builders in Apache Derby, a hacky little java based DB engine.

2006 – I fiddle with drag and drop JS libraries in a basement of a dormitory while working in Arts & Architecture. It’s boring and I am largely accomplishing nothing of value. I notice that everyone around me is using Dreamweaver and editing HTML. This is appalling. I speak up and suggest we use something dynamic. I prototype the same thing everyone is working on but in this “new” thing called AJAX. It’s well received but the notion of moving from this to a CMS is terrifying. I do it one week, no one dies, we never turn back.

2007 – We start moving everything into the CMS (Drupal 5) after a successful Drupal 4.7 implementation used to accept student image submissions. This system was created to overcome the the limitations of Devil which imposed a file size limitation. Compression, on demand image submission and optimization are not standard things yet. This isn’t about sending a message, it’s not personal, it’s a job, a really really really fun job.

2008 – Our Drupal 5 tech starts spreading. It isn’t open, but people internally are buzzing about it. 3 groups take this tech back to their space, modify, remix, break it apart, learn how to use it, and start putting their courses in a CMS for the first time. I also automate the original reason I was hired and routinize creation of courses. We get approval to go GPL with it and gain access to d.o. (terribly written) contributions flow.

2009 -I migrate from Drupal 5 to Drupal 6. The change brings improved UIs, accessibility and now the automation is put in the hands of the instructional designers. I up my game; this learning curve is steep. This is getting fun, making meaningful contributions (a few 100 installs of projects we make)

2010 – We win an award for our Open Studio concept. We attempt multiple large attempts at working with central authorities to create an instance of the technology for everyone. The effort goes no where and is ultimately axed.

2011 – We win an award for our Media management system which took 2 days to create. We’re automating everything, there’s no reason for any effort to occur on anyone’s part, anywhere. I create ELMS, my first distribution for Drupal. I spend the better part of a year pouring myself into something that I know is destined to fail. It does. While the system runs and is used by a few groups, it never takes off, there is no revolution, my own unit doesn’t adopt it. I hate life, why am I doing this; I have a family now, why do I stay here, having to justify the right to breathe at times. The culture is terrible; stagnation always is.

2012 – Chaos and learning Drupal 7; I up my game; this learning curve is steep. I formally abandon ELMS D6 as a platform / architecture. While at a total bottom from a work moral perspective, I have a vision in the shower one morning. A way out, the idea I told myself I’d hold onto and run away to one of the several VCs knocking. I told no one, I scribbled it incessantly in notebooks, rambled about it with myself. I am driving myself mad (well, I already was). This has to exist, why has no one thought of this, this must already be a thing. It was the thing I’d take with me then if no one else had thought of it. It was mine, it was unique, it was the key and the answer. I’d use this key to change everything, then they’d see; then they’d appriciate what we’re capable of.

One calls..multiple times, it doesn’t feel right;

I know why;

they’ll own everything…

I won’t change the world for my son, I’ll just be part of the problem; nothing matters beyond this goal.

I study history, social movements, anything substantial… I can’t hold onto this. It can’t be mine, I have to let it go;

All ideas that have changed the world were given away.

2013 – I start talking about ELMS Learning Network. I feel so strongly about this idea that I flip on my webcam and record myself giving an intro of what people will see (something that I didn’t do; not about radical stuff like this). The key is what I say at the end of this short clip of my history. “I think this has real potential to disrupt education“. This isn’t just a statement, I’ve found my passion. It is who I want to become and who I will have to become if we are to succeed in the mission (a better world for my, now, sons). It’s what I want to be with my life; part of the movement to change education.

What I show, is incredibly rough. LTI launches setting up Drupal sites. I don’t call it ELMSLN, I don’t really know what I’m building, I’m just building neat Drupal sites that talk to each other while trying to achieve what I’ve always tried to do: Automate everything. They follow the pattern I was scribbling, what I saw in my head as the way out.

2014I deemed this ELMS Learning Network and do my first recording describing what a learning network is and how this is going to be different this time. I doodle a few things about what this idea is and how it would work while making fun of the educational technology market’s enjoyment of shiny things (a common thread) as well as social engineering to get people to flesh out new innovative ideas. As I said to a coworker about this idea… this isn’t something we undo; there is no going back from this mindset, because it is the way we should have always been thinking (hyperconnected, distributed, ever changing, transformational).

I start drawing things, constantly… drawing… and refining the way I talk about the platform. Sandboxed, repeatability, REST, we’re working towards what it is we will do the rest of our lives. I close out the year discussing ELMSLN at Drupalcon and OpenEd. A friend’s comment on seeing me talk “SEE THE PASSION“. I am no longer snarky, full of himself, has all the answers, “that ass hole”; Bryan Ollendyke who I’ve been my whole life; I want to be someone more. Education needs heroes; I want to be one.

2015 – We get a distributed team (what!? yes, a team). We move to github. We automate setup. All of it. Drupal, ELMS, the server, the custom modules that need written (the system writes its own modules to talk to itself… trippy). We boil our existence down to a single command which makes it as if I had never needed to exist. I copy and paste something and let it run in the background for dramatic effect while giving  talk on automation and the future of development; what do we become when it all just happens?

I dissolve the notion of self, and allow others to join in the ownership of this idea. Quickly it’s no longer my idea, it’s our idea. Our team unifies, it expands, we all start to move into unique and important roles on the project. I never shut up about the project, it’s no longer a project, it is my life’s work. I take up my previously abandoned research and finish it with total, unapologetic, honesty. I stop hiding in the shadows and embrace the light. I no longer think we’ll change the world. I know we will.

Nothing exists, until we speak it into existence.

We expand further in who’s using the platform, who it supports, how many developers there are. We meet someone willing to take a chance on us, they add credence to the platform, they get the approach, they start promoting it at events. We speak at 10 events; I drive to all of them, covering most of the East coast. I’m no longer just doing development, I’m on a mission. We will liberate instructional designers, faculty and students through empowering automation.

In automating the boring, we will let their suppressed ideas shine.

2016 -Our Architecture now stands up on 4 different OSs and in several different hosting providers. We have a versioned code base with multiple contributors. We are winning hearts and minds under the banner of pedagogy first design. By letting pedagogy drive the creation of technology rather then the first 30 years of the reverse.

These are no longer my ideas, and it’s amazing. These are our growing community. We have people that have our backs, people in all levels. We have people excited; excited about what we’re doing, excited about what they can now accomplish with the platform, excited that they can dream and make and build once again; most important, we have people talking differently.

This isn’t just an alternative LMS; this is the thing after the LMS, the thing to improve the LMS, for now; the thing to bring control back into the hands of those that have never had it.

Next up: 2016 – 2020


  1. juststormy · March 29, 2016

    You forgot to add in when you met your biggest fan 😜

    • btopro · March 29, 2016

      aren’t you part of my history of building a social movement post? or maybe my last decade of my life post? I feel like I have too many of these timelines by which you’d fit right smack in the middle of :p

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