I am a little confused about the k12 element, as Ning had announced back in April that free networks would be provided to K12 through a partnership (with an unknown entity). And the announcement from Ning today is confusing, as the opening paragraph indicates Pearson is supporting free networks for K-12 but the FAQs indicate pre-K. So, this will need some clarification.
However, the fact that Pearson is extending free services to higher ed is loud and clear. I'm also happy to see that Pearson is also willing to support networks that focus on professional development, connecting educators with other educators. Here is the excerpt from the details:
Ning Networks focused on North American K-12 and Higher-Ed are eligible for free sponsorship by Pearson, including Ning Networks that facilitate learning in a classroom, best practices, educator-to-educator collaboration, or parental support. All participating Ning Networks are invited to apply for sponsorship. Participating Ning Networks will include “Brought to you by Pearson” on the top navigation bar of the Ning Network and a Pearson member profile to allow verification of private Ning Networks.Read the full announcement here. The program is "opt-in" so if you're interested, you must complete the application.
We may still choose to explore alternatives, of course. But what I see here is a free service "up to three years" and we are more uncertain about the longevity of other free services. If FREE is our criteria, this is a good option to ponder.