Class for Zoom – Is It Real?

Welcome to a special podcast episode of MindWires Musings where we discuss the new market entry Class for Zoom, a new product from a new company led by an old hand. Blackboard co-founder and longtime CEO Michael Chasen.

Click here for podcast episode or on image below.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have questions or comments. We’d love to hear from you directly.


Phil on behalf of the MindWires Team

A Year Like No Other

We’ve all known that 2020 is a year like no other (and let’s hope that includes future year comparisons), and we know that LMS usage is increasing across the board as schools rely largely on remote and hybrid education. But there has been an open question whether the LMS market would decrease in selection activity (adopting a new LMS or switching vendors). On one hand, there was an argument that schools needed to focus on teacher preparedness and academic technology support (including the adoption of new tools), therefore the market activity was likely to decline over the next few years. On the other hand, there was an argument that LMS usage and support has quickly gone up the priority list for most schools, and there is a need to get off the ball and make sure schools have the system they need for the future.

Most indications thus far support the latter argument with the LMS market appearing to heat up in 2020. Before we share this information in a public blog post, we’d like to share some initial findings with you.


Let’s start in the North American K-12 market where there has been the strongest argument for increased LMS market activity. Why? According to our data, for districts with more than 2,000 students (which represents 85% of total K-12 enrollment in the US and Canada), we estimate six out of ten of those districts have at least one LMS, and eight out of ten students are in a district with an official LMS. In other words, the K-12 LMS market is not yet saturated, and many schools have had to adopt a district-wide LMS for the first time this year. And if you look at the data below (that includes districts with fewer than 2,000 students), we are indeed seeing this spike even though we still have three more months to go. We are not back to the 2015 peak of the market, but we are seeing a reversal in the trend.

Higher Ed

In the higher ed market for four global regions (North America, Europe, Latin America, and Oceania), it is a different story without clear conclusions yet. Looking at Trailing 12 Month New Implementations, we had been seeing an increase in activity until the pandemic hit in the spring, when the market dropped.

Where we are seeing the market increase is in the revived or new LMS evaluation projects. Most schools in the five regions we cover already have an LMS and have not had to deal with emergencies – there has been little reason to switch this year. But at the same time, we are seeing significant LMS evaluations that seem to indicate increasing market activity. As a sample (we are hearing of several others privately):

  • UCLA is completing its LMS evaluation and migration plans.
  • SUNY has released its RFP for a systemwide LMS.
  • Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) is in the final contract stage of its systemwide LMS decision – expect a separate blog post on this one later this fall.
  • NYU is moving from Sakai to D2L Brightspace.
  • Texas A&M and several CalState campuses are moving to Canvas.

Treat the higher ed market increase more as us reading the tea leaves than definitive data analysis.

Investor Activity and ClassEdu Market Entry

At the same time, we are seeing an increase in investor interest in the LMS market – in terms of new investors getting involved and new investments to consider (nothing can beat the Instructure sales process, but this is different). One example of this activity is the return of Michael Chasen – co-founder and ex-CEO of Blackboard – to the EdTech space with an initial product that appears to be an LMS built on top of Zoom. Class for Zoom.

What is noteworthy beyond the Chasen and Blackboard angle is the amount and timing of investment. The company and its core idea originated in March, and six months later ClassEdu has raised $16 million. For background reading, we recommend:

  • YouTube video introducing Class for Zoom.
  • TechCrunch article on the company and product launch (I still can’t believe I’m recommending TechCrunch, but this article has a good description).

In addition, we recorded a MindWires Musings podcast episode where Jeanette Wiseman and I break down the news and discuss whether this is a real issue for the LMS market or not (tl;dr – it is, at least in the short term). Expect to see that podcast in a separate newsletter this week.

More to Come

Expect more to come soon. There’s lots of market news emerging this fall, and we plan to share a mini-report on new K-12 LMS market data in early October.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have questions or comments. We’d love to hear from you directly.


Phil on behalf of the MindWires Team

Dear EdTech Market Analysis Subscribers,

We’re happy to provide early access to our next episode of MindWires Musings, where we discuss the non-COVID news of the day or week in a more casual format. A true discussion. This access is intended for current LMS Market Analysis subscribers, although we are likely to cross-post this story on PhilOnEdTech blog soon.

Miami Meltdown (podcast)

In this episode, Phil Hill, Jeanette Wiseman, and Kevin Kelly discuss the Miami-Dade disastrous rollout of centralized learning platforms and what lessons we can extrapolate to EdTech in general. For further reading:

You can access the recording here or by clicking the image below:


Phil: Welcome to MindWires Musings, where we take a more relaxed attitude and discuss the news of the day in EdTech, and if ever there’s a day or a story where we need to have the extra libations, I think it’s this one.

I’m here with Kevin Kelly and Jeanette Wiseman. So welcome Kevin and Jeanette.

Kevin: Hey, thanks.

Phil: And before we get started, while this is part of it, Jeanette, what kind of fancy cocktail have you brought today?

Jeanette: You know, I’m so glad you asked. Someone gave us, and I sent this to you before, but someone gave us a bottle of Texas Sotol, which I had never heard of. It’s Desert Door, Texas Sotol, which I’m drinking now. It reminds me of mescal. The website calls it “reminiscent of a desert gin crust with a smoothie [00:01:00] sipping tequila.”

Phil: Well, we learned something new each time with you. I’d never heard of sotol or sotahl. I don’t know how you pronounce it.

Jeanette: Sounds fancier. I like it. What it. How do you say it, Kevin?

Kevin: In Spanish would be sotol.

Jeanette: Sotol – so I said it right. So yeah. Have you ever had it Kevin?

Kevin: I did try it in San Diego in a tequila bar. They had mescal, sotol, and tequila, and I tried one of each.

Phil: And Kevin, you’re going empty today, huh? As we bring you into the Musings podcast.

Kevin: It’s not for lack of desire. And so when we’re finished, I will debate between gin and tonic using botanist gin (not the sotol which has gin like qualities), and or grapefruit sculpin.

Phil: Well, for me, it looks like it’s a sipping day. I’ve got the High West Rendezvous Rye with just a splash of water.  [00:02:00]It’s a great rye. I’ve always enjoyed it out of Utah. It’s got two different ryes – a six year old rye blended with a 16 year old. So it’s got some good, complex flavors. But in any case, that’s my drink. We’re going simple with the sipping today.

So what we do want to talk about, which is actually it appears to me that this is the biggest meltdown we’ve had certainly in the fall with the Covid transition that schools are going through. And, you know, we’re hoping this is the worst that we get, but it comes from the K-12 world and we have a blog post about it that will link in the show notes. But it’s essentially the Miami-Dade K – 12 school district, which have either (I’ve seen both numbers, 270k or 345k students). Either way, I think we can call that a large number of students, but they have a situation. Where they were in the spring, they [00:03:00] were using Microsoft Teams with Zoom integrated into it, but they had multiple systems, very fragmented. So once we got into the summer, the initial reaction from the district was ‘we think we’re going back face to face.’ So it seems like they delayed the decision making. But then by July, it was apparent that they were going to have to go remote again to start the fall term. And they signed a deal with the company K12, Inc to provide sort of a combined learning platform from the company that’s more known for their virtual charter schools.

But essentially, this platform play, they they have the software that ties everything together. They use D2L Brightspace as the LMS, at least in the six through 12 grades. And then they use this video platform called NewRow that was acquired by Kaltura as the video conferencing. And long and short, I won’t go into all the details, [00:04:00] but there has just been a series of disasters such that they can barely operate the school for this large of a district. And over a period of a week and a half, they kept trying. Things got more complicated. There was a cyber attack, but the net effect was they had a 14 hour board meeting and ended up terminating the contract with K12. And they’re sending everybody back to Microsoft Teams and Zoom.

And so it’s the worst disaster we’ve seen. And, you know, to be fair up front, I’m actually surprised we haven’t seen more of these types of stories. So it’s sort of a testament to the resilience of the EdTech market and schools that we haven’t seen more of it. But so we wanted to talk about the situation, what happened there and what we can learn about it. But I guess I’d start out. Have you guys heard of any other situations on the scale of this type of problem?

Kevin: The entire country of Liechtenstein. [00:05:00]

Phil: Are you sure that’s bigger?

Kevin: No, it’s not, actually, but it’s just a scale of country versus county.

Phil: Come on, he leaves a little trail that will have to go down later tonight.

Jeanette: No, I haven’t I haven’t heard anything else that was quite as I think dramatic is this one. Yeah, maybe the nicest way to put it.

Phil: Yeah, and the more we dig into it, I think that there’s additional stories and it certainly affects more than just the K – 12 market. And in particular, one of the things we’re following up on, or I’m doing some additional research on, is the role of Kaltura, because it seems like a lot of the when people said the K-12 platform wasn’t working, a lot of that really came down to NewRow, which is the company that was acquired by Kaltura. And that was the specific point of failure is what I’ve heard. And at the same [00:06:00] time, we’re getting a lot of reports of video problems in the Higher Ed market with Kaltura, but that’s with their lecture capture. So I’m trying to figure out if there’s a connection between them. But there’s the story seems to be broader than just K-12.

Jeanette: It does seem to be broader than just K12 the platform and the K-12 market. That’s a little bit confusing, I think. But I will say that reading the Wired report today, I mean, it seems like it was much broader than just technical platform issues.

One of the things where I was “what?!” is that a second grade teacher realized that the curriculum was not vetted at all, and that the second grade teacher noted that if their kids at the end of a quiz there was a question of did you like this question? If the kid said yes then they got an A.

Kevin: Isn’t that how you’re supposed to set up every quiz?

Jeanette: Right, [00:07:00] exactly. Do you like me? Yes. Ok, you get an A.

So I think that that was I think beyond just the technology in this case, it sounds like there was some pretty deep seated issues with this platform in general and with the offering.

Kevin: Deep seated meaning therapy required?

Phil: Yeah. And we should be clear what we’re saying, the word platform. As you’re pointing out, this was sort of combined – it included digital content and curriculum that teachers could use and adapt. So it was more than just the technology platforms, they got into the content as well. So, yeah, definitely the more you look at it, the bigger the story is.

Jeanette: Oh, I was just going to say, I mean, I think a lot of people are going to really dig into the fact, too, that this is a platform. I mean, if you’re really looking at public education and the role that public education serves, especially [00:08:00] in the K-12 market, in that space, one of the things that was clear about this to me, reading the Wired article today, was that this content was for charter schools as well. And there’s so much pushback against charter schools and the level of curriculum development that happens in some of those. Some of them are great and some of them aren’t. And that’s primarily what K12 the service was offering. And so I think that that’s going to be that’s part of the news story, at least for me.

Kevin: I was just going to say, beyond that, technological problems and the issues of platforms and content, and which K-12 are we talking about – the platform or the educational construct?

I think there’s the human factor and the idea that you could make a decision of this magnitude weeks before the fall begins is really ludicrous. Without having done any testing, without having gotten any feedback [00:09:00] from anybody in the district, without having checked it out, at least from, again, the things that I’ve read in your blog and the Wired article, it seems like this set itself up to be pretty dangerous.

And if you’re familiar with the literature around airline crashes, they typically require at least seven small things to happen in some order in order for the whole plane to go down. And this seems like it had that happen in spades.

Phil: And I think the human element – there’s the lack of in going into this, and that also ties to what Jeanette was saying, because when you’re talking curriculum, the stakes get higher than just technology. But nobody seemed to be involved in the decision to go with this new platform other than the central administration. And then so you’re set up if anything goes wrong, you’re going to get a lot of pushback. But then you look at it, the decision where [00:10:00] they’re now saying, ‘hey, this really was a four to six month project, but we tried to do it in six weeks.’ Well, for me, the biggest story for me is how could you possibly do something so high risk with a platform that’s never been scaled to these numbers? And I think the NewRow usage was quite new, and do it without any input and then try to force it into a six week schedule with no backup plans. And as I said in the Wired thing, there’s just tremendous amount of hubris to make that type of decision and to risk the education of that many students. So there’s just a lot of hubris as well on the decision making about how the project was run. To me, that was actually the biggest story to me.

Jeanette: This is I don’t know, this seems beyond hubris. There’s something to this was so not well thought through that it speaks to me of something [00:11:00] else. Nobody was informed. The board didn’t vote on it.

Kevin: It had a no bid contract.

Jeanette: The no bid contract. To me it is shifty, this whole thing. It’s shifty. Hubris? meh. Shifty, shifty, I think.

Phil: But there’s no direct, to my knowledge, there’s no direct indications that go beyond it. I definitely agree that, boy, this raises a lot of questions about how this happened. So I guess I’m a little bit more tolerant on that level.

Jeanette: I know you always are more tolerant and I’m always more of, I look for the scandal because that’s a lot more fun. And maybe this is a good time to just kind of talk about some of the issues that I do see.

I think we we see in the K-12 space is that there is, especially with these large districts with sometimes hundreds of thousands of students, and [00:12:00] their procurement process is not well defined and is usually led by people that don’t necessarily know a lot about the technology. And it’s not that I think most of these people aren’t really well meaning. I don’t think that what happened here is necessarily a case of it. But I think a lot of times compared to Higher Ed, which sometimes is also in the same place, but there is not really well formed decisions that are made for big decisions, not only impacting teaching and learning, but also budget. And this seems – at the very best – to be a clear example of that.

Phil: And I tell you, it goes beyond the decision. It’s just management capability. Part of my background, I’ve done several project recoveries. And, you know, there’s a lot of common signs when you see projects that go bad, and this [case] just has many of them laying out. There a big [00:13:00] bang approach, no fallback, no iteration, not listening to the idea that this has never been done and it should take months. So they should have thought from the beginning, let’s do an iterative approach. We definitely don’t want to make this worse than what was happening in the spring. We can’t solve everything, but let’s at least make it better. So I look at the management capability and did anybody raise these issues?

Jeanette: Are you saying the management of K12, the company, are you saying management at the district level? Because I think a responsible vendor should have brought these things up and said we have not served this many students before, we need more time to do this. We will go without a contract for the next six months, or we will give you a discount, maybe not a low discount, but all will roll this out in the middle school, we’ll perfect it. And then for the second semester we’ll do this. But in the meantime, here, use [00:14:00] our curriculum. Here is Teams and Zoom, and people can start getting trained up on it. This is a large district in the rollout itself. I think a lot of it goes on to the vendor for not doing that effectively.

Phil: So to answer your question, I primarily mean the district office, they’re the ones who are making the decisions. This was not a virtual charter where the operations were run by the company. So the primary responsibility in my mind lies with the district. Now, I completely agree with you that the vendor K12 should have been going in there saying this isn’t a good idea or this is risky or you should try it this way.

And I do have an unnamed source claiming that that happened, and the district didn’t listen. However, whether that’s true or not, then there’s a question. If they knew it was this risky, should they be even agreed to do [00:15:00] it in the first place?

Jeanette: And why did they agree to do it?

Kevin: I’ll tell you why.

Jeanette: Why would they agree to go with this provider?

Phil: I can’t answer that.

Kevin: On the empathy side of the equation, and then we’ll get back to angry Kevin, the idea that, OK, we made the wrong decision over the summer. OK, so now we’re back in emergency mode. Let’s find something that’s better than what we did in the spring. I understand all the motivations, but the execution on every side of the equation, as Jeanette has brought up, is it’s all been done wrong.

And so they gave themselves too little time. The vendor didn’t help him out at all. And they made this decision by fiat without any feedback or or input and testing. Who’s paying the price? The kids.

Jeanette: And the teachers and the parents.

Kevin: Of course.

Phil: You said this quickly, [00:16:00] I don’t want to lose this. I want to hit the point that when they finished the spring term as of early June, they seemed to think they were going back face to face. So they really lost probably a month and a half of planning because they thought they’d be able to go back face to face. So they cut their time in half simply by that lack of planning and lack of realization. And I think we’ve seen a lot of that in Higher Ed as well. People either thought they would go back face to face or basically took way too long to seriously consider planning for the fall. And how do we make sure it’s better quality than what we did in the spring?

Jeanette: I absolutely I agree with that. I think that there was a lot of time lost with the decisions of some of the administrations in Higher Ed. I do want to go back for a second and just say, though, that what I think is interesting about the K-12 cases, that I would find it shocking [00:17:00] if there wasn’t other vendors vying for this work, that had more experience. So I think that that decision making process, I don’t know if there’s going to need to be any reason to uncover it since the contract was not signed. But it just seems like there had to be other people knocking on that door saying, hey, we can help you. So why did they choose to go with K12?

And I think going back to what you originally said, Phil, about how we really haven’t seen a lot of other huge mishaps like this, you know you know, everyone’s gone through some issues, I think, this fall, but nothing quite at this scale. Is that because so many people are relying on tried and true platforms that can hold the volume of users? So, you know, the LMSs have been remarkably stable through all of this, even though the load has increased. You [00:18:00] are really safe going with the Google Classroom. You know, Google can handle it. And same with Microsoft Teams. And Zoom has had some outages. You know, everyone’s had these outages, but for the most part, they get back up. And how much risk can you take for some of these smaller companies that can be doing really innovative things? And that’s the hard part.

Phil: One thing to note is it was NewRow where most of the problems appear to have come from. And Kaltura is having a series of performance problems that have led them to do an emergency migration to AWS, which certainly is giving indications that they’re way over their head in their system performance. And I need to get the details on it. But part of what this points out is part of the reason we have scaled so well in EdTech, for the most part, is because of how many companies have already gone to the cloud, that already have the built in scalability. And I wonder [00:19:00] if what’s happening here is there were elements of the system that hadn’t migrated to the cloud and therefore they couldn’t handle this transition. Some of that is speculation. But that’s one of the things I’m going to try to follow up on.

Jeanette: So the one thing I will have to say, I do have a little bit of experience with Kaltura. Full disclosure that I did work with them for a really short period of time a long time ago when they were first starting.

The one thing that I wonder, I know that some of these platforms are newer to them, their act through acquisition. But Kaltura works in more than just the education verticals, so that they also have large contracts with, you know, big media companies like HBO and ABC. They get hit for their video usage a lot. The education usage may be different. I don’t know what those platforms look like, but they know typically can handle volume to a certain extent. So what’s going on here seems to be [00:20:00] different than, you know, some of the things that they’ve done in the past.

Phil: Huh. That’s interesting.

Kevin: Well, you have to toss in the denial of service attack and some other factors, too.

Jeanette: And I’m not saying that Kaltura has a spotless record when it comes to some things, but they’re not only working in the education vertical.

Phil: We’re missing some information.

Jeanette: Yeah, absolutely.

Phil: There was a denial of service attack, and it was somewhat ironic that the person responsible was a 16 year old student within the district. And I am curious, does that student get an A in his computer science course or not? Or maybe he doesn’t get the credit because he got caught. So that would lower the grade. But they also had some other network configuration problems through Cisco. So I don’t know that we had the seven errors like in an airplane crash, but we certainly had multiple overlapping errors.

What are the lessons that we see? And one of the ones that we’re already talking about is don’t jeopardize this number [00:21:00] of students and faculty and teachers without taking it seriously how much they need stability, and don’t go for grand visions and actually make their lives worse. I know that sounds generic, but this I think that’s one of the huge things that happened here. Somebody should have stood up and said, we can’t do this to these students and teachers and parents. This is too risky. Somebody should have been standing up screaming about this.

Kevin: Well, and I I would say not only should the vendors have worked with the district better, as Jeanette mentioned, but the superintendent’s staff should have as well. And so, Superintendent, I don’t know what it’s like in that county in Florida, but sometimes they’re elected positions, it doesn’t qualify them to make technology decisions, but they have to be leaders and accept multiple points of view before just jumping into something. And as you said, when you’re choosing a mission critical application for that many thousands of [00:22:00] students, then you have to do the due diligence, and none of that took place.

Phil: Now I’ll add in another one, partially just to get Jennette riled up. K12 is not playing games. They just they have responded – So that’s the board’s decision, we’re not going to dispute the cancellation of the contract. We’ll take the blame. We didn’t get the job done and no excuses whatsoever.

So I actually think one of the lessons that we have, is a positive lesson, that even though there’s a sort of a mixed up story that we need to dig into it about what happened, I give them high marks for simply saying we screwed up and and not giving excuses for what happened. Now, I’ll sit back and hear the response.

Jeanette: I mean, my first thing is, would they have that response if a contract had been signed? Number one. So, I mean, what are they going to say? They have nothing legal know, saying that they have to have payment. [00:23:00] So I’m not sure. I do think it’s an upfront thing to say? But it would have been more upfront for them to say, hey, we can’t do this. There’s a lot of onus that needs to be put on them for how this was rolled out and to not say, hey, put the brakes on some of these things. So, yeah, OK, but there wasn’t a signed contract.

Phil: I at least got a “yeah, OK” out of you.

Jeanette: Yeah, it’s true.

Kevin: I thought it was interesting that they had six days of training, but they weren’t able to log in, so they’re just sitting there watching people to show them what you’re going to do in a couple of weeks.

Jeanette: I mean, and you have to know, every single teacher was like, are you kidding me? We can’t even use this. And can you imagine if you’re a teacher that really is not comfortable with technology and you haven’t been even able to log on and you’re supposed to be able to do this in six days and get your whole class up and running right there? I don’t know why the red flags [00:24:00] were like, OK, we got to stop this. We had to go back. They can’t log on during training.

Phil: Well, all right. Let me let me take this bit. They did have red flags up. I’ve read where people were screaming even before the school year started. The problem was nobody changed anything based on the red flags.

Jeanette: Exactly. Where was the administration then, saying, OK, this is not going to work. We got to go back. This is what we have to do. So right there, that is such a lack of leadership. You got to just say it. I hate saying that, but it just is. It is if you’re and if your teachers cannot log on to train on a platform that they’re going to have to instruct kids that have not . . . 

It’s just a really hard situation, and it’s not there for them. And it was inexcusable to me. Yes. Sorry. This is where my classroom teacher comes out and I cannot … The [00:25:00] struggles that those people were going through and the parents, and imagine the one thing about Miami-Dade is that it’s an incredibly diverse population of students. And I think about how many parents who don’t speak English or English as a second language, trying to sit side by side with their kids, trying to help them learn. And that’s a struggle that those people are going through. And the platforms are not even working? Uff, that infuriates me.

Kevin: Well, I’ve been there. It was a much smaller N count. We had thirty thousand students at San Francisco State. But when I was the head of the online teaching and learning group, we did a Moodle upgrade, and we had to roll it back two days before the semester began.

By hand, the pilot faculty, we had to put their classes back together in the previous version after [00:26:00] they tested it and built their classes in a new space, because it wasn’t going to work. The page loads because of the coding in the new version of Moodle at that point were so it was going to bog down the entire system. Our virtual servers couldn’t handle that.

So that thing that you brought up, Jeanette, there’s got to be a go / no go point. And they just it’s like somebody driving around after drinking some sotol and not stopping for any of the red lights.

Phil: I think you disqualified yourself for the empathy. I mean, you just described a situation where people listen, saw the red flags and took action ahead of time. If you really want empathy, you guys should have ignored it and waited a week or two in and then then started HARAGA.

Kevin: Ahhh – Exactly right.

Phil: So we’re getting near the close of this. Unfortunate situation, but some of the best learning happens when you look at breakdowns [00:27:00] in the system. So that’s one of the reasons I think it is important to look at this story and to keep digging a little bit deeper and see what other lessons are out there, because, as we said, it actually affects a lot more. I mean, there were plenty of people that got affected by itself, but it actually has broader implications. So it’s great talking to you guys and now we know how to get you triggered and really get you get you emotional on the subject.

Well, thanks, Kevin and Jeanette. And we will follow up on this story. Bye.

We wish you the best as you deal with the Fall 2020 term and beyond. Stay well and please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have questions or comments. We’d love to hear from you directly.


Phil on behalf of The MindWires Team

Dear Past and Current LMS Market Analysis Subscribers,

After our past four years with the LMS Market Analysis subscription, we are making some changes to the services to reflect many of the requests from you, our past and current subscribers. Today we are rolling out the new plans for Vendors and Investors. Soon we will revise the new plans for Schools and Nonprofits.

Vendor and Investor Plans

We now have an expanded set of plans, with the low-end price for those who just want to buy a single market report ($2,500) to the high-end price for those who want reports, newsletters, podcasts, additional EdTech tool coverage such as video conferencing and proctoring, and customized market briefings ($27,500). All of these plans now combine our Higher Education (global) and K-12 (North America) market coverage.

You can see the new plans at the MindWires site’s menus, or directly at the new services and overview page.

In addition, we have an expanded capability to share institution-level data as well as a new Institution Lookup Portal, thanks to our partners at LISTedTECH.

Any current subscribers will continue to receive monthly newsletters and the 2020 Year-End Report. Please contact Jeanette Wiseman ( if you would like to discuss converting to the new plans.

School and Nonprofit Plans

We expect to roll out the new plans for Schools and Nonprofits this fall. While we have not finalized the details yet, a particular emphasis of ours is to provide a set of tools that can support vendor evaluation processes. Stay tuned!

Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have questions or comments. We’d love to hear from you directly.


The MindWires Team

Dear EdTech Market Analysis Subscribers,

We’re happy to provide exclusive access to our next episode of MindWires Musings, where we discuss the non-COVID news of the day or week in a more casual format. A true discussion. This access is intended for current LMS Market Analysis subscribers while we redesign our future market analysis offerings.

Observations on Virtual Events (podcast)

In this episode, Phil Hill and Jeanette Wiseman reflect on experiences with BbWorld and D2L Fusion, as well as MoodleMoot Global Online and GSV. How will our EdTech virtual events evolve in the next year or more?

You can access the recording here or by clicking the image below:


Phil: Welcome to MindWires Musings where we throw caution to the wind and take a more informal approach to talk about the non COVID EdTech business of the day. I’m Phil Hill, and here, as usual, with Jeanette Wisemen. Janette – it’s great to talk to you.

Jeanette: Hey, Phil, how’s it going?

Phil: Oh, doing well. Quite a busy week and, you know, dealing with a lot of conferences, which we’ll get into. But, yeah, I’m glad to relax a little bit this afternoon.

Jeanette: Absolutely. I’ve already had my Marguerita.

Phil: Marguerita. So tell me, what did you what did you do?

Jeanette: I decided I wanted a Marguerity, I was not going to have any wine tonight. I should have remembered the tequila name, but I don’t. I will tell you, it was a small batch tequila that we got last time we were in Mexico, back in the days when we could travel. So it was a little bit that I had that and some Cointreau and to some lime juice. [00:01:00] Very simple.

Phil: Sounds good and good for the summer.

Jeanette: Yeah, absolutely. How about you?

Phil: Well, I hate to disappoint you, but back again with beer. I had a chance to see our our colleague, O’Neal Spicer over at Loma Brewing, which is in Los Gatos. And Loma’s owned by Kevin Youkilis.

Jeanette: Well, that’s right.

Phil: He’s a former baseball player. So if you’re a MoneyBall fan, Kevin Youkilis is the Greek God of Walks because he was known as statistically very efficient player, partially because how often he would walk and get on base, leading to some of one of his beers as the Greek God of Hops. If you’re a Boston Red Sox fan, then you’ll know him more as Youuuuuk! That’s that’s what everybody yelled out. So I’m having their Kölsch, which is,for my money, the best Kölsch that I’ve had, at least in the U.S. So it’s a great summer beer.

Jeanette: And that is that place open right now?

Phil: Yes, [00:02:00] they’re open, but there’s no indoor dining in the state right now. Los Gatos is finally done what they should’ve done a long time ago – they’ve radically expanded outdoor dining. And they’re on a side street, Loma Brewing is, and it’s not just tables on the sidewalk. They actually shut down the side street. And so they have quite a bit, relatively speaking, of nice outdoor dining.

Jeanette: Well, good. That’s nice – I haven’t done anything.

Phil: So we did the virtual conference circuit this week, which was challenging or interesting, and you don’t get to have the whole, you know, meet somebody for a drink in the bar and have a casual conversation when you’re doing these virtual conferences. So it’s nice that I was able to do that today.

Jeanette: That’s very true. I will say, you know, the one thing is typically these conferences are also back to back or at least on top of each other. So we were gonna take a positive spin on this week. We were able to, quote [00:03:00] unquote, attend two conferences at once if we wanted to look at it in a positive way. Normally, one of us would have been at Fusion or one of us would have been at BbWorld. So we didn’t do that this year.

Phil: And so those are the D2L Fusion and BlackBoard World. And I’ve tried to get on the vendors cases, like why do you guys schedule these the same week? I’m not quite sure I can if it was intentional.

I’ve asked them directly, and they have a very good answer. Yes. They’re like, why would we care where Blackboard is or when Instructure CanvasCon is when everybody who is on D2L is there. If they’re using Brightspace, they’re not going to go to CanvasCon, and they’re not going to go to Blackboard World, which makes sense. It’s only for vendors and people like us where July becomes a very inconvenient month in terms of travel.

Phil: That is true. I’ll give him that, we’re sort of [00:04:00] an inconvenient subset. Then we have to live through it. But it was definitely interesting having two conferences, not just the same week, but on the exact same days, more or less. And you’re doing real time swapping from one to the other. At least for the near term, certainly through the fall, this is the way that people are going to be trying to interact with each other in these virtual events. And I suspect it’s going to go beyond fall, it’s going to increase the usage of virtual events. So it’s really interesting to experience this. And that’s part of what we wanted to talk about today.

And I’ll start off with it was I felt like an online student in a way. So BbWorld they use in InXpo – InXpo is a virtual event software. And I needed to run that on Chrome [00:05:00] for it to work properly. D2L used Swoogo, which is a smaller startup company it looks like, and they mostly launched Zoom for the actual sessions. And Swoogo seems to be more of a wrapper around that. But I ended up in the situation of having to go to multiple places, different browsers and keeping track of, ‘OK, Blackboard re-sorts the agenda so did the OnDemand sessions after they’re done are down at the bottom. Or is D2L, once they’re done, they send you to a D2L course, in their learning management system and that’s how you get on demand. And my head was spinning, trying to keep track of everything that I was doing. And I felt like, one of the common complaints of online students or even face to face or hybrid students if there’s no consistency. I felt their pain today or this week.

Jeanette: No, absolutely. It was a good experience maybe for us to look at that because [00:06:00] there was a lot of technical issues. But the platforms, everything from like audio to systems crashing. And then you’re right, there’s a big platform differences between these two conferences and just trying to figure out where to find anything. You had a relearn it every time. I guess we feel the student’s pain, especially after this week after experiencing it.

Phil: So this isn’t really about D2L or Blackboard or LMS per se. But let’s talk a little bit more about what we experienced. And I might even compare it to Aula and Moodle and GSV and some of the other virtual events. So if you go to it, Blackboard World was run on InXpo, it’s a long term system – I mean, it’s been around for more than a decade and it felt like it had a lot of features, but it felt very dated. The software. I’m not quite sure when they last updated the look and feel.

Jeanette: I think, there’s definitely [00:07:00] this feeling of like here in a Sims. Right. Or Second Life type, where you’re supposed to be entering this new environment, which Blackboard also played up right. There was their environment was we were going into outer space and they are part of this big educational gap. Yeah. Galaxy of learning. And so they they used that as their theme in this like Sims like environment, which was dated.

I mean, those types of things – I think I’m a pretty fun loving kind of person – but those types of things, I feel like I’m being pandered to. And I they kind of they really put me off right away, like but I don’t think I think I might be in the minority there, because things like in that Blackboard conference, there was things like the puppy cam. Right. And I don’t need to go to a conference, I want to learn about what I need to learn about. About the Blackboard platform. I want to see how instructors are learning [00:08:00] about it. But if you go into social media, everybody loved the puppy cam. That was a really good thing. So I think I might be in the minority there that I was like, I can go look at a puppy cam anytime I want. I know how to use Google. I don’t need it to be in my conference environment

Phil: Get off my virtual lawn!

Jeanette: So I don’t know. I’m in the minority. People love it. People loved it.

Phil: I thought it was a cute idea for about five seconds. And now part of the part of me was saying, well, it’s not even something unique to them. It wasn’t like employees’ puppies. They found a puppy cam or several of them and then made them available. So it didn’t do anything for me. What about the overall visual of the keynote? Where they’re trying to make it look like they’re standing in a space station, and then they’re talking to people, so they were on your virtual lawn?

Jeanette: Yes, I don’t like that. I don’t know. That’s something that I don’t like. I don’t like people pretending. I see how sometimes it can be funny [00:09:00] for a few minutes. And I think that there are – and I’m all for this – where you go to these users conferences, and there’s usually a funny video, and everybody plays along, and you see the CEO, and you saw all these people that, you know are part of it, and they’re sort of in on the joke. I like those kind of funny videos. I’m not always ‘get off my lawn’ type of person. But when you just continue that theme throughout, to me, again, it becomes really juvenile and it’s not what I’m there for. So to me, it’s just like … Stop with that stuff. I don’t like that. And they really they doubled down on the the galaxy thing.

Phil: Did you see any other comments of, ‘I like the immersive environment. It held my interest, made me feel part of it.’ Did you see anything like that?

Jeanette: No, I don’t think so. I would say that there’s an environment, you know, the people that were commenting on it, they really did like the puppy cam. I saw that more than I did anything else. And I don’t know how much we want to get into this. I don’t want to be jumping around, but I think for both conferences, [00:10:00] the things that became the most meaningful for people, or at least the things in social media that were commented the most on, were the more authentic things. And that came down to usually really well done demos.

I think the most liked – and it could be that people are just being kind – but we’re the ones where people brought in their kids, and we’re talking about K-12 type kids, and used them for demos. D2L had a fantastic example of this. But then also Blackboard did it a few times as well, where they really spoke about what the K-12 community was doing within the platform and interviewing their kids and how they were using the platform.

And that seemed to be the most, which was also the least scripted of any of these conferences, that I found and the most authentic.

Phil: Let’s come back to it, OK? I don’t want to jump around too much. I won’t be able to mentally follow it all the way.

But [00:11:00] if we if we go over D2L fusion they uses Swoogo. It had more of a modern software feel, but fewer bells and whistles. And they actually launched Zoom primarily as the actual video conferencing. And this is where I had my get off my virtual lawn. The cartoon characters, I felt that it’s like I’ve had enough of cute little cartoon characters, so the design element didn’t work for me. But it definitely had a different feel. So there were fewer bells and whistles, but it seemed to work a little bit more seamlessly in terms of just working. I saw fewer audio problems and fewer fewer video problems there.

Jeanette: Totally.

Phil: It was a little bit more disjoint because of what I mentioned early on. If you wanted to see on demand after the event happened for D2L, it launched you into a D2L course in their LMS. And I get why you do that. It was sort of a nice [00:12:00] touch, but it was extra clicks for me and it wasn’t, it wasn’t as holistic. So I don’t know which is better, but it’s interesting that there are different approaches.

Jeanette: Well, I would think just on a technical aspect, if I was going to vote from watching, being on both of those environments this week, I would say that the biggest problem with the Blackboard one was there was a lot of technical issues. I don’t think that I was on one session that the audio did then drop out at some point.

Phil: I even felt bad. I saw early on some of their speakers, because of the audio, or freezing, that they ended up having to call in and use their phone to add the audio when they clearly weren’t planning on it. And you feel bad – this is the world we’re in. We’re having a conference and you’re trying to recreate some sort of connectivity, and it’s difficult, and technical glitches can get in your way again. To me, we’re describing online education.

Jeanette: Yeah, [00:13:00] absolutely. And I think either case, you know, the marketing team and the product teams that worked so hard to put this together, they just wanted to created that sense of community. Both of them. And we’re really working hard in a tough environment. This is not the way that they normally have user conferences. I think you have to give kudos to both. You know, I might not like the puppy cam, but a lot of people in my community did. And you didn’t like the cartoon characters. They didn’t bother me that much. I think they’re cute.

Phil: I could do without the Powerpuff Girls.

Jeanette: I like them. I mean, I think it just shows that there are it’s a hard balance to strike for these teams that are trying to create something that their communities are going to latch on to, and still have a fun time with. So I think that these teams are really trying to create an experience that they couldn’t necessarily virtually. But kudos to them.

Phil: And [00:14:00] again, our main the main thing I wanted to cover today is not necessarily these two companies, but what do we learn about the challenges of having hopefully an engaging experience online, even for virtual events and hopefully Educause and others can learn from this. But let’s talk about the synchronous / asynchronous, because I found this to be a different approach, but it was illustrative as well. Clearly, both of them did live sessions, they were talking synchronously. Both of them had, D2L and Blackbaord, had On-Demand availability fairly soon after the events were over, and that was particularly useful for time zone issues. If you had an inconvenient time zone. And of course, if you’re watching then you can’t see the real time chat, and in fact the on demand viewing of the chat. You lose the whole experience. I [00:15:00] see the value of going asynchronously with on demand. But you certainly can’t see the discussions that are happening right there. But then to add an extra element to it, that you and I have already talked about, Blackboard, they clearly had their presentations prepared, but they talked live. Unfortunately, D2L, for most of them, it was reading directly the script. The transcript going with the closed caption was even ahead of them. They were talking, and they were reading it. And that to me was too prepared. And it lost a lot of authenticity when watching most of the D2L sessions, that they over-prepared and they read scripts. Way too much for my taste. And in fact, the best session I think that you mentioned that you had seen was a one where they didn’t seem to be going off a script at all.

Jeanette: Right. Are you talking about the one where Maya, the daughter, showed . . .

Phil: Maya, [00:16:00] that’s a different one. OK. Maya gave one of the best conference presentations I think I’ve ever seen. And what she did, for people that didn’t see it, was somebody’s daughter, and she was using D2L’s mobile, using the whole system through mobile. And she was showing how to do it. And she was just talking and they caught her on video. First of all, it was it was cute. It was engaging. But you get to see how kids actually interact with technology. And so it was informative. That wasn’t the one I was talking about, but that had to be the best presentation of the week.

Jeanette: Kudos to Maya. Yeah. She did great.

Phil: And then Vivek’s son, right, on the Blackboard side. He had some pretty he had some good presentations as well. He didn’t top Maya, but he was good.

Jeanette: And you maybe just for everybody, who is Vivek?

Phil: Oh, Vivek, he does product management for Blackboard, and he’s been around for a while, really [00:17:00] good guy. But he had his son, who’s really cute, who looks like a young version of him. So they did a little riff on time travel with him. But he got to be shown twice, at least twice that I saw during the time.

Jeanette: He did a great job, too. Blackboard also did, I thought, the most engaging part of Blackboard, especially getting the keynote, was the time when they just let students talk about their experiences last spring. That was the best part, which was the least scripted part as well.

Phil: I think I know the answer. But what was your impression of the scripted nature of the presentations versus more free flowing information?

Jeanette: I have a really hard time paying attention to the scripted. I think that, not having completed my cognitive science degree, I just feel like there is something about it. If you’re not a script reader, if you’re not an actor, and you’re not giving it a in a way that’s very [00:18:00] free form, it just ends up becoming something that’s noise. And so I had the hardest time concentrating during those scripted sessions. My mind would just wander. I’d be sitting there. And that’s when if you’re Blackboard, it’s hard because that’s when people are looking at the chat box, where people were not always having the best fun.

Phil: Yeah, as they they even said to me, there were some very “candid” conversations. Yeah, you’re right that that was that was something that you end up paying attention to. And I think you mentioned this in one of our recent podcasts, where you said there’s a real risk that now that you have a virtual conference, that if somebody who’s got something negative to say, it’s not just to the group around them, or at the bar or in the hallway or even just maybe on Twitter. This is [00:19:00] in the main chat box that everybody’s looking at. There was one session I saw where I’m quite sure the presenter saw how badly the conversation was going in chat, and I think I saw some flop sweat going on. That was interesting. Let’s just say I feel for them because it’s a tough situation. But it was also authentic though. I will give them that.

Jeanette: It was authentic. But nobody wants to be presenting to who knows how many thousands of people, and people trashing what’s happening while you’re presenting. So I definitely felt for them. I think, though, the one that I saw it, it reflects frustrations that we’ve been hearing, which is, presentations of add ons that cost money were not what people needed at that moment.

Phil: So it’s sticking again to the event, and keep you from going into the meat of the actual vendors, we’ll get to that in future episodes. [00:20:00] OK. You mentioned thousands. I think the numbers I heard – so typical D2L Fusion or Blackboard World, you might get 1,000 – 1,500 attendees who are there. I believe at least one of them, maybe Blackboard World said they had 9,000 people registered. I’m not sure how many were actually online. But that’s another thing, because it’s for free, because it doesn’t involve travel, they got many times the regular number of attendees. Well, that changes who’s going to these events. And you could view that as a great opportunity as well.

Jeanette: You could have. Look, we don’t know what the demographic makeup was. So it could have been just IT people that hadn’t had the opportunity to go to these conferences in the past. But my guess is that it was more practitioners and instructors who were desperately trying to figure out how to better build a course for fall. And I didn’t see [00:21:00] a lot of really practical ways to do that. This is how you were setting up your course, this is how I’m setting up my discussions. My guess is a lot of those people that registered didn’t necessarily need to understand new features or how fast Blackboard’s going to SaaS, things that were really presented. They probably really need to do step by step guidance and best practices.

Phil: I keep trying to pull you back to the event.

Jeanette: I’m sorry. OK. I think it’s on both sides, I’m saying that generally.

Phil: I guess what I’m trying to pull out, is I think that’s part of the nature of virtual events. You’ll have a greater number and a different type of audience. And you really need to think about why are they here. ‘It’s not like I’ve already chosen and spent the money to go to Anaheim or Orlando.’ And let’s go ahead and admit it, if there are two [00:22:00] places I’m glad got canceled to do it online, it’s Anaheim and Orlando.

Jeanette: Holy moly. No kidding.

Phil: You need to be aware, this is a different audience and you really need to fine tune your message to who’s attending. And it’s not the same people who would do the same event, which gets challenging because you probably have a greater mix of audience as well, too.

Jeanette: Well, and I think it also shows the challenge, if we’re going to tie it back to just the student experience in academia, is that they had to do this and pivot very quickly as well. They were probably hoping that this could possibly still happen in person.

Phil: This was their emergency remote transition of a conference.

Jeanette: Yes. Yeah. Again, like, you have to give kudos to all these people who worked really hard to do this, because I’m sure if they were given a year to do that, they probably would have figured it out differently. So I feel like, you know, playing quarterback now. What is that? Sunday quarterback. I get those analogies mixed up.

Phil: Monday morning quarterback.

Jeanette: So, I [00:23:00] mean, for us to do that right now, I feel like it is unfair. I’m sure they worked really hard on that. They probably could, if this happens again next year, I’m sure that’s what you’re going to see.

Phil: But I will push back on that, Unfair. What I’m saying is this is a chance for us in the community – hopefully this doesn’t come across as too much of a critique – it’s more of a look at the experience, and this actually can help you empathize what students and faculty are going through with remote teaching, with well-designed online courses and all the different issues that we that we go through. So I think it’s illustrative, and it’s it’s a great learning opportunity.

Jeanette: Absolutely. I think that’s true. I don’t want to be seen as criticizing something that was, like you said, it’s like criticizing the instructors that had to move online really quickly. It seems like that’s where I feel like it’s unfair, because I just don’t think they were… I think given the time, things probably would have been different.

Phil: One thing [00:24:00] that is a little bit different than the emergency pivot to remote courses this spring is I’ve seen so far a variety of approaches. We mentioned InXpo that Blackboard World used, Swoogo / Zoom, mostly Swoogo that D2L Fusion used, plus their own LMS. When I did the Aula conference, that’s a new LMS out of the UK, they essentially did a very simple Web page – and I didn’t check see which package – that kept track of what the what the sessions are. But then they primarily used Zoom and they did have Twitter hashtags (everybody does that) and they used Discord for additional conversation. But it was mostly Zoom. Moodle with their online global MoodleMoot, they used their own product. So it’s sort of eat your own dog food idea where they have Moodle for workplace, where they’ve released that in the past year, and that’s [00:25:00] that’s targeted for corporate learning, and they’re tweaking it to become basically a Moodle for events. And the whole conference was held on that platform. And that was interesting because, again, you get to experience the actual core LMS with its strengths and its weaknesses. And I have to say with Moodle, the challenge that you have with usability, with too many clicks and things aren’t easy to access at your fingertips, that was what I experienced at the conference. But I see the potential of it. And they’re talking about fine tuning this for this exact reason, to come up with something that’s more usable for people to do virtual events. It’s interesting how many different approaches that we’ve already seen. Zoom is the most common thread through a lot of them, which is just like regular education. But if it’s just interesting to see as different groups are trying to figure out how to operate [00:26:00] and how to do the virtual conferences.

Jeanette: I mean, Kevin’s not on this call, but to point Kevin’s ideas and everything he’s written around HyFlex, that there does seem to be opportunity moving forward, that if they can get this many people that want to attend these conferences, they may able to curate the sessions to be things that are really useful for those people that are HyFlex type plan could work really well.

Phil: Well, that’s that’s a great point. Very interesting to think about. And a lot of these conferences have added virtual offerings already before the pandemic, but it’s almost just thrown on the side. Not too many people use it. I’ve seen people online saying ‘I’m not really at all participating in a similar way to people at the face to face event.’ I see the what’s happening now with the pandemic in the virtual conferences this year, is [00:27:00] thatt it will really increase in importance of what you just described, a HyFlex type of approach to conferences. But you got to do a lot better than what people have tried in 2019, in prior.

Jeanette: You know, I’ve seen I’ve seen them try to livestream stream conferences before, and I never pay attention to those either, because they’re always speaking to the people in the room. So those never work.

Phil: Are you describing that where people have tried to do a hybrid combination of face to face and and virtual, their idea of virtual, just stream it live? So it’s still synchronous. It doesn’t take advantage of the virtual opportunity to be much more on demand. They haven’t designed discussion tools to allow you to participate in discussions outside of Twitter, if you’re not there face to face. So that’s part of what I meant by it. Feels like they just threw something out there, but they haven’t really designed it. And [00:28:00] hopefully this year with all these companies and associations are going through that, we’ll start thinking through what is the virtual conference experience and how can you even take advantage of things you can’t do when you’re face to face? Good point.

Again, hopefully this comes across as an interesting experience looking at conferences and partially because we’re gonna be living in this world at least through the fall, if not beyond. But also interesting because it lets us see and empathize what it’s like to go through online and hybrid education and some of the various issues that we’re seeing.

Difficult week. But we did get a lot done . . .

Jeanette: We did?

Phil: Well, I mean, I saw a lot of sessions in parallel, and we had client meetings. You know, we’re doing a bunch of things all on the same day. So I think we got a lot done.

Jeanette: We got a lot done. [00:29:00] And I miss, like you said, the the bar conversation and the hallway conversations and, you know, even looking on the chats during the sessions or even on Twitter, you know, you miss seeing a lot of our friends. It’s sort of hard knowing that we should be there. And if life was different right now, but we did get a lot done, I guess we got to see both.

Phil: I know. So we’re the two sad people drinking alone in the corner of the bar right now.

Jeanette: That’s right. That’s all right.

Phil: Well, great talking to Jeanette. And we will be covering more of the actual content of the conferences, what we’ve learned from Blackboard and D2L in future episodes, but we wanted to share this discussion of the virtual experience today. Thank you.

Jeanette: Yes, thanks. Have a good evening.

Phil: You too. Bye bye.

We wish you the best as you deal with planning for Fall 2020 and beyond. Stay well and please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have questions or comments. We’d love to hear from you directly.


Phil on behalf of The MindWires Team

Dear LMS Market Analysis Subscribers,

We have two items to share with you: first, a clarification on Blackboard and the podcast; second, an update on survey results touching on LMS usage.

Clarification on recent podcast

In our most recent MindWires Musings episode we shared on Sunday, we looked ahead to BbWorld and D2L Fusion conferences coming up within two weeks. As part of this discussion we mentioned:

“And I will say that we did reach out to Blackboard themselves, and they really didn’t have anything to share at this time about the roadmap.
“We also asked pretty direct questions about Collaborate, since that’s become a really important tool for video conferencing for anyone that’s using that during COVID, Collaborate. People have started really to rely on that. And because of that, the usage has gone up. It’s become a very costly solution. So direct questions to Blackboard about that was also not answered by Blackboard. They did say that, Phil, you’ve been invited to the executive session during BbWorld, and perhaps we’re going to see something on that.”

Podcasts by their nature are conversational and not scripted, but we would like to make it clear that this was not a matter of Blackboard declining to send information or being unwilling to participate. It is simply a matter of timing – no new information was shared last week, but we expect to get much better insight this week and next.

If you haven’t heard the podcast, you can access the recording here or by clicking the image below:

The Importance of the LMS

In the wrap-up to the same podcast, we had this exchange:

Phil: So there is quite a bit to watch on this market.
Jeanette: Yes. Always. Always exciting.
Phil: Always exciting? I don’t think everybody describes the LMS market as exciting.
Jeanette: But gosh, what are they missing? Last year was a soap opera.
Phil: OK. Yes. Soap operas are not always happy. But yes, we’re seeing a lot of new market dynamics.

Last week Tyton Partners released a survey on faculty experiences with the COVID transitions that backs up this point and is worth highlighting. While Zoom and other video conferencing systems have gotten the most press in terms of how faculty migrated to remote teaching, and this product category has grown the most, the LMS remains the most-used tool in remote teaching for Spring 2020.

Ithaka S+R surveyed students and got similar results – the LMS is the most-used tool, and they had little difficulty using this tool.

These survey data (which are also backed up by an upcoming survey we have seen under embargo) fly in the face of the Zoom U narrative. While video conferencing grew faster, the largest percentage of faculty used an LMS as part of their Spring 2020 remote teaching transition. It is indeed an exciting market.

We wish you the best as you deal with planning for Fall 2020 and beyond. Stay well and please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have questions or comments. We’d love to hear from you directly.


Phil on behalf of The MindWires Team

Dear LMS Market Analysis Subscribers,

We’re happy to provide exclusive access to our next episode of MindWires Musings, where we discuss the non-COVID news of the day or week in a more casual format. A true discussion. This access is intended for current LMS Market Analysis subscribers while we redesign our future market analysis offerings.

Upcoming LMS Conferences for Blackboard and D2L (podcast)

In this episode, Phil Hill and Jeanette Wiseman look ahead to BbWorld and D2L Fusion conferences coming up within two weeks. What are the customer sentiment and roadmap hints going in?

You can access the recording here or by clicking the image below:


Phil: Welcome to MindWire’s musings serving EdTech straight up and where we throw caution to the wind and have a more relaxed conversation on the non COVID EdTech developments that are affecting higher ed. I’m Phil Hill. And with me is Jeanette Wiseman. Welcome, Jeanette.

Jeanette: Hello, Phil. How are you today?

Phil: Oh, busy. I mean, we’re both working on a proposal which is painful and especially coming from a government entity. So I guess I’m sort of glad to have this excuse to do something different, but otherwise I’m doing well.

Jeanette: Yeah, same here. Thanks for the work. So it’s been a fun today, but I’m ready for my drink. I know. I know.

Phil: So what are you having today?

Jeanette: I don’t even know if anybody wants to know. It’s pretty trashy, but I decided just to make a quickly make an aperol spritz, [00:01:00] which I know is really trendy. But right now it’s not very exciting. I would have done better, but I didn’t have time to make a nice, fancy drink because of the, you know, all the work that’s been piled on.

Phil: And if we win this bid, we want to  let our client know we love you. We love you. Just your awful process. We don’t know. I’m going back to IPA. Big shock there. But I’m drinking one from Sante Aidarius, which is a local brewery and right near a started out and just a small little office park, really small place, but they have 831, their signature IPA. And the problem with them is they keep getting rated so highly. They’re now rated the ninth best brewery in the world by beer advocate. But that means all you tourists come by and, you know, crowd up the place on us.

Jeanette: That’s not fun. But you have the beer at home.

Phil: Yes. Do have the beer at home. But it’s a great place. So [00:02:00] it’s a great IPA.

So what we wanted to talk about today is that recently we’ve covered different LMS news leading into the typical July users conferences where we find out a lot of information on roadmaps and clarifications on where the primary vendors are going. And we’ve written a blog post and a MindWires Musings recording, talking about Instructure, having their lay offs, canceling the DIG initiative, most recently called Insights, about analytics and artificial intelligence. They canceled that and how that really points the direction that the is going under their new PE ownership. We also talked about Moodle, and that was an interesting one because in our musings recording, both you and I talked about how they just don’t deal with usability or strategic level and how at the [00:03:00] November conference in Barcelona, there just was no emphasis on usability. And after that, thanks to the podcast and feedback from Martin Dougiamas, we discovered that they actually are now focusing on usability, which I found that interesting, the feedback.

Jeanette: Absolutely. And for those of the listeners that don’t know who Martin is . . .

Phil: Well, Martin is Moodle. Martin is the founder of Moodle. He’s the CEO of the Moodle HQ company that controls the product roadmap. So that’s great for them. MoodleMoot Global Online is going on this week, and that’s the biggest thing I’m looking for, to explain what’s happened or what to expect with usability.

Jeanette: Anything so far?

Phil: Well, no, partially because they’re doing their conference in Barcelona time. So that means they’re starting out about 1:00 a.m. my time. So [00:04:00] I mostly I’m relying on their recordings. So I haven’t listened to anything today, but they haven’t done the primary session that should discuss this topic.

Jeanette: Okay. Sounds good. Can’t wait.

Phil: Yes. But you know what we’ve always described, or we’ve long described, that there is sort of an oligopoly. The Big Four vendors in the LMS markets globally, which gets to Moodle, Instructure Canvas, Blackboard L,earn and D2L Brightspace, that increasingly those are the big four systems that are used in higher education across the globe. So I wanted to spend some time today trying to say, what should we look for with Blackboard and D2L leading into their users conferences which are going on two weeks from now? What are the big themes that we’re seeing? Let’s start out with Blackboard. Jeanette, you’ve been doing some research [00:05:00] and, you know, interactions. What have you found?

Jeanette: Well, I haven’t found anything really concrete on a roadmap or, to be honest, anything’s very positive from the community. And I will say that we did reach out to Blackboard themselves, and they really didn’t have anything to share at this time about the roadmap.

We also asked pretty direct questions about Collaborate, since that’s become a really important tool for video conferencing for anyone that’s using that during COVID, Collaborate. People have started really to rely on that. And because of that, the usage has gone up. It’s become a very costly solution. So direct questions to Blackboard about that was also not answered by Blackboard. They did say that, Phil, you’ve been invited to the executive session during BbWorld, and perhaps we’re going to see something on that. But the the word on the street is that it’s become [00:06:00] quite costly to operate for a system.

But Collaborate does offer accessibility features. That’s something that Zoom wouldn’t. So a lot of times it’s a product that is needed at the university level, in terms of just the LMS in that roadmap.

My goodness. I got to say, if you go to the community, they don’t get a lot of love from their users.

Phil: Well, now that’s been a long term problem for Blackboard. And if you look at the waves, I mean, they used to have furious customers, but then it seemed like for the past couple years, maybe things were improving. But you’re not seeing that right now, in customer sentiment?

Jeanette: I’m not seeing that. I’m not looking for Blackboard, people who love them and looking for that and searching for that. I’m just searching for really general terms and see what’s coming up in the community. And I [00:07:00] mean, it runs everything from a lot of how people don’t like, students really don’t like the app. I’ve seen a lot of ‘Ding Dong the witch is dead’ or countdowns to switching over to a new system, which happened, you know, a lot on June 30th, I think, where they sort of had been sunsetting out of some systems. And so there was a lot of just recent posts and then just a lot of frustration from professors who I think maybe were in the system for the first time.

And so there’s this piece of me that I was really hoping that Blackboard had some things to share about what they’re planning to do, both on the Collaborate side, but just also on their LMS. I think we both believe strongly that the LMS market should have multiple competitors. They should be serving needs of lots of different types of users and communities. And a strong Blackboard to me makes a better market and a better place [00:08:00] for teachers and learners. And I’m just not seeing it right now, not in the community.

Phil: Yeah, well . . .

Jeanette: I wanted to say something else. I would love to be like. People love it here, but I didn’t see that.

Phil: Well, it is unfortunate, but I’ve got the same sense. I don’t see much momentum from them. We’ve written about, I’ve certainly written about that. I see a lot of operational improvements – that they’re no longer having the problems that they had for so long with Learn Ultra, and other where they would make promises and they could just never deliver on what they were saying.

And they’ve really improved that, so that when they do have features coming out, they’re so much better on hitting the dates. And they certainly have focused the company on teaching and learning. And they certainly have the broadest portfolio of products and services of all the companies. So we’ve seen [00:09:00] all of these positive items. But as you’re describing, even with Learn Ultra being out there, and even with all of these operational improvement, we’re not seeing momentum with customer sentiment, nor are we seeing exciting product roadmap changes happening with the company. So I’m seeing the same thing. And we’re definitely looking for. But it’s getting pretty difficult.

Jeanette: Well, I guess what I was hoping for, two, is that the company was going to come up with something knowing that we . . .  I was very explicit in saying that we were recording this podcast.

Is there anything they would want to share? And there wasn’t anything. So there might be some things going on. There might be some things underfoot. Now at BbWorld that we need to watch out for, because it’s not even really good corporate posturing at this point.

Phil: Yes. Yes. Well, we got to remember, I mean, part of it is they are private equity [00:10:00] owned, just like Instructure is now. And the focus is on the bottom line.

I’m describing operational improvements. Part of the question is if they are improving financial metrics, even though they’re losing customers, that might take priority over making a new product enhancements or moving forward. But I think you have a great point when BbWorld happens in two weeks. We need to see what they’re announcing. It’s possible that they’re just keeping things under wraps and they want to be able to control the messaging as it goes out. But leading into it, we’re just not seeing exciting stuff to follow up on. That’s sort of what I’m what I’m seeing.

But I would like to go back to your first point, however, and that is on Blackboard Collaborate to be more specific. This gets down to the cost of operating videoconferencing. And as the usage has shot up for video conferencing [00:11:00] more than LMSs, that means you have greater usage. That means that these companies have to pay, typically, Amazon for AWS more so it becomes more expensive. And Blackboard seems to be one of the companies who is pushing to see – can they pass those cost increases onto customers, and they’re getting pushback from what we’ve heard from customers in this, partially because it’s sort of a usage charge. I think it originally came out as if you used more, then ‘you need more terabytes of data. Here’s the fee for it.’ I think there was a lot of pushback there because customers could go look at AWS and see what a terabyte cost, and make their own judgment. And then they think they changed that to where it’s now much more based on total minutes used a video conferencing. But that’s a risky move to me because Zoom is taking [00:12:00] this market, and Zoom is not putting these limitations on, once you’re paid. You don’t have this type of limitation. So it seems to me to just be the wrong time to try to introduce this if you want long term market share in video conferencing.

Jeanette: I think it is part of, you know, issues that Blackboard has had in the past in terms of lack of transparency. I think moving to minutes rather than, you know, the terabyte and doing that pretty obviously for these customers are like, hey, wait, you know, I smell a rat type thing.

The problem with Collaborate and talking to some of these customers, though, are not really the problem. Maybe the benefits in Collaborate that if they were really able to position this a little bit better is that many schools have to go through security audits and privacy audits. And Zoom hasn’t been holding up to those audits. And really one of the main market leading solutions is Collaborate. So [00:13:00] there are a lot of schools that have been forced to use collaborate, even if they look at Zoom, and they see their peer schools using Zoom, they have to use Collaborate because of what the audits have said, and that it’s a more secure platform. And so I think there’s a lot of schools that are maybe looking to change that, and changing some of those regulations that they have to follow. And again, Blackboard can maybe capitalize on this need and figure out a way to really service the users in a way Zoom could. I mean, it’s a platform that’s been built for education, but they haven’t yet. Yeah, it’s an opportunity for them. And let’s see if they can they can capitalize on it.

Phil: Well, it’s an opportunity. But if you’re first messaging, particularly during the pandemic, is, hey, we’ve got to affect our bottom line first and then we’ll deal with other things. That’s not the right message to send out. No, I’ll be very interested during the conference [00:14:00] to see what the buzz is.

The downside is, obviously, it’s a virtual conference. So it’s going to be very difficult to be able to get the same sort of sense of what all their customers are saying just by walking the hallways, hanging out in the bar, or having conversations. So we’re certainly going to try to find to help more of this sentiment and road map and how these issues are addressed. But we have to admit it’s not going to be as usable as a face to face conference, unfortunately.

Jeanette: You know, I think that’s true. It could be, though. I do believe that’s true because I think that people are willing to share things just as a side in the hallways or at the bar that they aren’t. When you know, when you can’t see them face to face.

But they need to be careful because the flip to that is the people that have already been really vocal about things that they don’t like or are just fed up with the way that the system has been working are going to be vocally [00:15:00] upset about it. Where it’s going to be searchable, which isn’t necessarily what they’ve had in the past, or might be a handful or a little quorum of people that are complaining about it, but not publicly, not necessarily a large group.

Phil: I’d say that’s a risk for all of the vendors with these virtual conferences. But for what we’re currently hearing, I think Blackboard’s got a bigger issue. I’m not really seeing that in Moodle this week so far. But I need to spend more time watching the sessions and working in the chats and discussions. But I miss the days of being able to do face to face conferences, partially because it is the interactions and the connections outside the sessions that are so valuable.

Jeanette: Absolutely.

Phil: So we’ll watch it. Happening concurrently with Blackboard World is D2L Fusion, where D2L and their Brightspace LMS there. That’s when they have their virtual conference. [00:16:00] And I find it somewhat ironic that it’s happening at the exact same time, although I will note for my own purposes, but also to think about how these virtual conferences are held, Blackboard is starting at 9 a.m. Eastern. This would certainly put west coast people at a disadvantage. And New Mexico, and somewhat Texas. But they didn’t seem to think through optimizing the time zone. D2L Fusion – they seem to be starting at Noion Eastern Time. So it will be a lot easier for me to participate live in that event.

But let’s start out the same way. And just to set the context. We’ve written quite a bit about D2L and how they’ve really improved their products. And we’re hearing from their customers and their prospects. More people are impressed with the company. So we’ve pointed out a lot of positive about D2L. And [00:17:00] it’s part of what Jeanette you’ve been looking at, is not just neutrally seeing what you can find out, but I think sort of challenging our own assumptions to see if you can find negative things going on right now. Is it? How would you describe your searches that have been going on and putting you in a bad position to start?

Jeanette: I think maybe people … For Blackboard, just the general searching on nothing came out positive. And so I ended up having to start digging, trying to find some positive things. And it didn’t happen. And so with D2L, wow. I mean, we’re not, I’m not trying to pick favorites here, but we did searches on social media searches, trying to find some, trying to find any information, we were really looking for users. And here is a really big difference actually, that doing general searches on the two companies in multiple different social media platforms when you just do general [00:18:00] things, Blackboard – it was mostly users comments that came up. With D2L the very general searches, there was so much from D2L itself. Anything from how they were supporting teachers and learners, different, you know, webinars. They were doing things from, employees talking about what a great company they had. And I was trying to dig more, obviously wanted user comments, but that was just a big difference. Blackboard on the other hand, there was nothing there from the corporate space that I could find.

For D2L digging into the user comments, it was almost all positive. I mean, there is there is some funny things that were said from students, but for the most part it was it was positive, and digging to try to find negative didn’t really come up with much.

Phil: I’ve certainly been trying to look for myself for the same reason. And part of it is we always have to challenge the things that we think we’re seeing or hearing. This is part of the reason we’re doing [00:19:00] MindWires Musings, to lay out some of our thoughts and how we work. But in this case, we’re challenging ourselves. We’d like to see what we can find negative. Are we actually missing something with how D2L is currently operating? I have to admit that probably the thing – I’m not hearing people talk about – but I plan on looking at, is the impact of management changes, and specifically that their chief operating officer, Cheryl Ainoa, has left the company to take a big job at Wal-Mart. And from what I had seen, Cheryl had a major role in the turnaround that D2L’s had over the past four or five years, and building up a team that she’s brought together to do a lot of the product work. And obviously she is not the only one. But she seemed crucial to their turnaround. So part of my question is . . . She’s gone. What is the risk that D2L will fall [00:20:00] back on old habits that were happening in the early, 2010 through 2014, where they didn’t have the same success in putting out product updates and servicing customers in a way that was really working.

So are they going to slide back at all if they’re listening to the podcast, that’s part of what we’ll be checking out for the conference. I haven’t seen that yet. But just be honest that that’s one thing that I’m looking for.

Let me go back. You had said that D2L was involved so much in the discussion in the community, social channels, if you will. I’ve seen companies who are too marketing focused in their engagement, and they actually harm natural discussions from happening, because they’re always jumping in and making comments. Is there a negative side to this, or are you just seeing that you’re seeing a positive, and there’s a lot of natural organic participation [00:21:00] from D2L staff? Does it feel authentic to you?

Jeanette: The participation from the D2L staff definitely did. They were private accounts. The people were just sort of mentioning how lucky they were to work at D2L. It didn’t seem company-focused or anything like that. The general D2L posts that I saw, they were somewhat marketing driven, but I think they were service based. But obviously, it’s a for profit company. It was trying to be helpful in the community. The juxtaposition was between that and just nothing from Blackboard. Nothing. So that was the difference. There just wasn’t anyone actually jumping in on the Blackboard case, which probably would have been helpful. It’s like, ‘hey, contact customer service. We’re here to help you.’

Phil: I know that you’ve done additional searching leading into this podcast, both talking, [00:22:00] trying to get information from the companies, and doing your own searching. But I have to say, it sort of matches what we’re hearing from customers and from sales prospects on how they’re viewing the companies. So I haven’t heard you describe anything that differs from what I think we’re hearing from schools directly. Have you learned anything new?

Jeanette: Nothing new. No, it’s just reinforcing what we’ve been hearing. And we’re looking for those assumptions to be shaken, right? So we’re looking to find things. We want to be somewhat proven wrong in some of these cases. And I can’t find it right now.

Phil: Ok, well, that’s good. So going back to D2L you get a sense from the company that they’re enjoying this moment, that they seem to be the main company in the LMS space who’s actually investing, hiring new people there. They’re continuing what they’re doing.

So on one hand, I [00:23:00] haven’t seen anything from a product roadmap like a central theme of, ‘wow, this makes a huge difference.’ I’m just seeing a continuation of what they’ve been working on. But that sort of captures what I think the company is doing. They’re just keep on keeping on. As is the sense I get from them. I don’t see major changes.

Jeanette: Right. So I think there is there’s the difference, too, is that we also sent an email to the contactswe have at D2L and asked some if there’s anything on their roadmap, that they would like us to share. We’re talking about this. Can they give us any insight prior to fusion? And we got a lot of information about what they’re working on. So, I mean, it was a very stark difference from the Blackboard response, which is ‘we don’t really have anything to share at this time. We’ll talk to you in a couple of weeks.’ You know, D2L is proud. They’re really proud of what they’re doing right now. And they want to share it.

Phil: So there’s one specific case I [00:24:00] want to discuss that we’re reading about, and that’s Lourdes University, a small school in Ohio. They switched from Sakai to Canvas in 2018, but they just announced that they’re using D2L Brightspace for their competency based education (CBE) program, which I think I read maybe up to 1000 students. I have to go get the details, but this just got an out within the past week or two. That one is interesting to me, and it probably captures what I want to look for at the conference, because on one hand, they pick a new LMS – canvas in 2018. They had to know at that point that they wanted to get into competency based education, I would assume. What happened? Did they always intend to handle their main campus LMS one way and do their competency with a separate decision? Or did they find out that Canvas couldn’t [00:25:00] do the job that they expected? Did they need to have a different approach for CBE . . .

Jeanette: Was it a committee decision, like a compromise that was made during the decision making process as well?

Phil: Exactly. So that was an interesting case and I’m not sure that we’ll find out the details on that, although we might start calling around and seeing if we can get the real scoop on it. However, it points out the situation. It’s a big win for D2L, particularly coming from CBE, where they’ve had a real strength in the market supporting CBE programs as an LMS.

In particular, a school that’s already using Canvas, which we’ve noted many times, has not lost a customer yet in higher education. But if you take a step back and you say who’s really winning at that university? Because Canvas still has the main university system, far greater number of students and presumably [00:26:00] a far bigger contract than the CBE program. But the D2L, it’s sort of a nice feather in the cap. But how meaningful is it from a business standpoint? What is their momentum really like from a business perspective? Is this moment going to change the nature of the market?

Jeanette: I think that’s going to take time, because I think right now the big difference is within the Canvas community is seeing if there’s going to be a big change, either in pricing, services or product roadmap from Canvas on the next year. Now under PE ownership, if that’s going to start faltering. And if that starts faltering, will D2L be there to pick it up?

Phil: I agree with that somewhat. But we’ve also been pointing out it’s been a good year and a half where Canvas is, really Instructure has, been changing as a company. Some of these changes, you [00:27:00] and I have already seen them directly at a large university. So some of this momentum, I think, is already happening. I guess the question is how much of it is early indications of changes versus a significant market trend moving forward? And maybe that’s a good way to think of it.

Jeanette: Absolutely. I mean, if you think about it, the the layoffs are just, probably going to start affecting the actual customers, I would say in the next six months. If in the next six months Canvas also decides to raise prices, that’s where I think there’s going to be major market change.

Phil: Well, there’s another side of that. To be fair Instructure, and I know that we’ve written quite a bit about their missteps lately. Their new executive team, or certainly with the new CEO in place, the new ownership, they seem to be going back to a certain degree, at least from a transparent, open company perspective. They’ve really made improvements there. Now, [00:28:00] how much of that affects analysts and people who are trying to understand their direction, and how much it actually affects how schools evaluate them? That’s the part that we need to get a better understanding of. On one hand, you’ve got the PE ownership and the lay offs and potential price increases. On the other hand, they have resolved some of their management mistakes and particularly the CEO level. So is that going to improve things as well? And to be fair, their new CEO just started on July 1st. So that’s going to take some time to see to see how that shakes out as well. So there is quite a bit to watch on this market.

Jeanette: Yes. Always. Always exciting.

Phil: Always exciting? I don’t think everybody describes the LMS market as exciting.

Jeanette: But gosh, what are they missing? Last year was a soap opera.

Phil: OK. Yes. Soap operas are not always happy. But yes, we’re [00:29:00] seeing a lot of new market dynamics.

Jeanette: So it’s not always it’s always happy, but it’s usually entertaining.

Phil: Ok. Entertaining. Not always happy. That’s a great point.

That’s what we’re going to be looking for heading into the conferences. And we’ll certainly report as we find out new information, either the virtual conferences or from talking to customers or additional research that we have. We’ll also be putting out our mid-year market report on the LMS market that should be coming out by early August. That will include these updates. But it’s great talking to you, Jeanette. And it’s great to share with you, our subscribers and people working with market analysis on what we’ll be looking for. But thanks a lot, Jeanette. Appreciate your time. And now we can get back to the proposal.

Jeanette: Yay! After a drink, maybe the words will start flowing.

Phil: It might go quicker. OK. Well, thank you.

Jeanette: Thanks. Bye.

We wish you the best as you deal with planning for Fall 2020 and beyond. Stay well and please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have questions or comments. We’d love to hear from you directly.


Phil on behalf of The MindWires Team

Dear LMS Market Analysis Subscribers,

We’re happy to provide exclusive access to our next episode of MindWires Musings, where we discuss the non-COVID news of the day or week in a more casual format. A true discussion. This access is intended for current LMS Market Analysis subscribers while we redesign our future market analysis offerings.

LMS Market Challenges (podcast)

In this episode, Phil Hill and Jeanette Wiseman build on the conversation last week about Instructure layoffs and look at the challenges that other LMS players face in this difficult market. You can access the recording here or by clicking the image below:


Phil: Welcome to MindWires musings serving EdTech straight up, where we throw caution to the wind and have a more relaxed conversation on the non covered EdTech developments that are affecting higher ed. I’m Phil Hill. And with me is Jeanette Wiseman. Welcome, Jeanette.

Jeanette: Thanks.

Phil: Well, and how you been doing this week?

Jeanette: You know, it’s been kind of a tough week overall. I think there’s a lot of unrest in the country. But overall, I don’t know. I’m hanging in there. How are you doing? You have some good news today.

Phil: Yeah, well, it’s minor good news today, but yesterday was our anniversary. But places here in California are starting to open up. So I was able to actually go have lunch out with my wife. And today, drove by Beer 30 saw they were open. So I decided I should stop in and quote unquote, say hello.

Jeanette: For our listeners, what is Beer 30?

Phil: Well, it’s a local watering hole. Beer 30. It’s named for [00:01:00] the joke ‘What time is it? It’s Beer:30,’ but it’s also named for having 30 beers on tap. A longtime been a favorite place. Communal tables. Most of the bartenders and people who work there know us, know the dog. So it’s a very social place, too. And as we like to joke, it’s the second MindWires headquarters.

Jeanette: Yeah, it’s a lovely place, mostly outside what you can do in Santa Cruz. Did you bring something from from Beer 30?

Phil: No, actually, I didn’t. I thought I needed to up my game since you did the Tom Collins last week.

Jeanette: Oh. What are you what are you drinking?

Phil: So I’m having a Manhattan today and Templeton Rye. So I’ve got the Iowa French connection going with my drink. How about yourself personally this week?

Jeanette: It is kind of tough. I should be right now sitting in Venice drinking, so I figured I’d need him to acknowledge that. And I am drinking a Negroni, which [00:02:00] I normally love. If no one knows what that is, it’s usually equal parts gin, Campari and sweet vermouth with the orange wedge.

Phil: By the Albuquerque canals. Is that how you’re doing it?

Jeanette: Well, I did have a walk by some of those we call arroyos in Albuquerque. So yeah, I did have that experience. But I don’t think that counts.

Phil: Well, what we’d like to cover today is, you know, we’ve talked quite a bit about Instructure over the past two weeks because of the way off they’ve had and what the impact is going to be on the mass market. But we thought it’d be interesting to give some more time to other players within the LMS market. And we’ve had an unnamed client that was asking us questions about an LMS selection they’re doing. And I find it just really an interesting, not quite a case study, but it’s it’s typical and it illuminates a lot of the market.

They’re on Blackboard Learn Original. They have not migrated to Ultra that [00:03:00] even during the COVID transition, the pandemic that must not be named. They did an evaluation led by academics, said that they want to move to Canvas as their LMS. So a question came in asking about that before they finalize decisions.

But what’s interesting is, first of all, their perception of Blackboard is Learn Original, not Ultra. And they’re moving to Canvas. But it sounds like so much of why they’re moving to Canvas is Canvas of yesteryear. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t move there, but I’m not sure how aware they are of the changes going on at Instructure. But they’re not looking at D2L. A while ago they discounted open source. So there’s just a lot of interesting characteristics, it says a lot about what’s happening in the higher end market for LMS that would be interesting for us to explore.

Jeanette: No, absolutely. I think that [00:04:00] one of the reasons why we should explore a bit, is that last week we really focused on just Canvas. But I think this is a really great use case of what this school is doing.

Phil: Let’s sort of go through with what we’ve heard or the school’s perceptions of the vendors and then explore that.

This is a longtime Blackboard customer. But they have not upgraded to Learn Ultra or the software as a service Learn SaaS. And to me, it doesn’t sound like they really understood how much they should be evaluating Ultra versus Original in the first place. A lot of times their biggest challenges are for existing customers who never either bought into Ultra or were confused about what Ultra is. And so they’ve created this situation where instead of viewing their own customers as their biggest strength or opportunity, quite often it’s actually the worst [00:05:00] situation that they’re in. Going forward, you almost feel bad for them, but I don’t think the school is alone in their perception of Blackboard.

Jeanette: I don’t think so. I think part of it is branding. To be honest, this reminds me a little bit of . . .  I just found out a couple of days ago that an Apple TV, the new thing that there were kind of pushing this last like six months, where I would hear about these new shows that were going on and releases. I thought that that was all associated with the Apple TV device, that it wasn’t a whole new streaming service. Your comment about Blackboard Learn Blackboard Ultra. I don’t know if anybody really understood the big difference between those two platforms and what they meant to their users. You know, in this case, did they even look at Blackboard Ultra as it alternative? I don’t know if they did or not. Yeah, just a little point. Yeah.

It’s branding. I think it’s customer communication, which, let’s face it, Blackboard has really stumbled on. And the last, I was [00:06:00] going to say five years, but it’s probably been longer than that.

Phil: As I look at their branding as they introduce the initiative, going to Learn Ultra, there were various stages where their messaging used to be even worse. I mean, it took out a two thousand word blog post to even explain the different variations in the direction they were going. And then Blackboard did get the message from the market that it was confusing. But what they did is they incrementally improved their message. They came up with this 3-2-1, OK? There are three different deployment options and then there are two different user experiences. And so they’ve simplified it. But really what I found is they’ve incrementally improved their messaging as opposed to solving their messaging as far as what the product is. But you also have the fact that you have schools that have a long history with Blackboard and they tend to associate [00:07:00] any of the long term pain they’ve had with the current company. And you even get into the situations where were Blackboard has made a lot of improvement on their system’s stability, their hosting, their user interface. A lot of times they don’t get credit for even the improvements that they’ve been making.

Jeanette: No, I absolutely agree with that. I think that’s the crux of the problem, is that beyond just this one, school instructors and professors that I do know that are working on Blackboard right now, they would even want to look at anything out of Blackboard like the reputation that they have created. So I think the crux of the problem that they weren’t able to transition a lot of those clients into Blackboard Ultra. And because of that, it’s been a real stopping point for them and it’s helped Instructure and D2L.

Phil: Well, as we’ve seen Blackboard, they have picked up some new clients in southern Europe. And when I say new clients, a client who didn’t used to be on Blackboard – not [00:08:00] just retaining them or upgrading them, but actual new clients. We’ve seen a handful in southern Europe, and we’ve seen several in Latin America. But despite all of their improvements, they’re really not picking up more than just a handful of clients here or there. And so many of the transitions that we continue to see in 2020 are people leaving Blackboard. So that’s their challenge. They’re definitely making improvements, but they’ve got their own history to work over and the branding, as you mentioned.

Jeanette: But to add to that, it’s what you brought up at the beginning is that there’s this Blackboard client that is just moving to Canvas. What Instructure had done really well was build up this community and build up a place that people wanted to be. I don’t know if you remember the old car, the Saturn. It’s still a car, but Saturn kind of created this whole community around it where it was a really big deal to have the Saturn. And if you remember the commercials [00:09:00] from back then, and that’s what I feel like, Canvas has done in a certain respect. And I think that faculty talked to other faculty, they friends they’re teaching at institutions, ‘Oh, no. You’re on Blackboard still, We’re on Canvas’ not knowing that there might be some issues coming up for them, given the change

Phil: Well I have to admit we bought a late model Saturn. None of the coolness, and you got the benefit, like a BMW, that it was tremendously expensive to repair anything you did. And you had to repair it a lot. I had a late model Saturn experience.

Jeanette: So did you go to the headquarters to watch them be made because you loved your car so much?

Phil: That was a previous era of Saturn than what I participated in.

Jeanette: I see.

Phil: It’s where the General Motors and their culture came in and reasserted itself and killed the new brand.

Jeanette: I wonder if a PE was involved.

Phil: Could have been. [00:10:00]

So moving on. One thing that’s interesting is what wasn’t under serious consideration was D2L Brightspace. And to clarify, when I say a client, this was actually an OPM consulting client – we did not help them with the LMS evaluation. So there’s some of this stuff we don’t know. But it’s interesting, it doesn’t seem like they seriously considered D2L Brightspace.

And even though the things they’re looking for, D2L Brightspace has made tremendous improvements, as we’ve talked about. Its usability is, we’ve seen universities that have rated it not ‘equal’ to Canvas, but as good as Canvas but in a different way. But despite all of their improvements, D2L, their biggest challenge is where they don’t even get to play in the game, that the school just doesn’t even think about it. There’s a natural thing in higher ed to choose one system versus the other. It has [00:11:00] difficulty truly looking at multiple systems, and D2L quite often is third or an afterthought and not seriously considered. That’s one thing that I still see in many schools. So it’s almost more of a marketing problem than a sales problem for them. That’s their big barrier to get over is just awareness of what they do.

Jeanette: And it’s a hard one because they’re pushing up against what is a really strong message that Canvas has been delivering for so many years. Unless you’re really watching this market, you may not understand all the dynamics that are going on that could impact this decision that is going to have lasting effects on your teaching and learning.

Phil: Now, let’s look at Moodle. This actually was mentioned to us back when we were helping them with a different problem, they had automatically rejected looking at an open source solution. So specifically, Moodle, they didn’t seriously consider [00:12:00] them as well. And in North America, I think that that’s probably more common than not. Is schools just going in saying, ‘OK, we’re not doing open source. We don’t have the resources. We don’t want to get into it.’ And yes, there are schools that still use open source and use it with service providers. But I think the open source as a model, quite often schools don’t want to go that direction anymore, where 10 years ago people would go open source for open source sake. It seems like nowadays open source has got to compete because of the quality of the product itself. And open source as a model could even be a barrier to schools who just feel like we don’t have the resources to be able to manage that properly.

Jeanette: I think when, like Sakai came out, for example, and Moodle, I think that there was such a desire to move away from Blackboard. [00:13:00] But I think this was maybe one of the sentiments was that they wanted to be able to control this learning environment that was so important for the future of what they saw as their education, that people were really going towards Sakai and Moodle. And hoping that was going to work, because they didn’t want to be caught again like an ANGEL situation where they went to this LMS, they thought it was gonna be great, and Blackboard swept it up and they bought it. And then there’s stuff with Blackboard. I think that was one of the big things that was going on with open source back then.

And when Canvas came to play, there wasn’t necessarily that need anymore. But I think right now you’re right. I don’t think that these institutions feel like they want to invest the time and salary, essentially these resources that they would have to put towards making sure they’re open source platform is up and running and working.

Phil: I think it goes beyond that. It also goes to complexity, because – not just at the support level – is the way Moodle is [00:14:00] described, that you can do almost anything with it. But so many people in the Moodle community don’t realize that’s actually a detriment to using the system.

People don’t want to have tons of options. They want to have an intuitive experience right out of the box. And in particular, they want to have it where faculty are saying, ‘oh, I can learn this. This is good. I want to use this system.’

Jeanette: Absolutely.

Phil: So  you can do a ton of things with Moodle. Still can. And the system has been improving, but they never directly addressed that intuitive use need that the market demands these days. And when I was in Barcelona last fall, looking at their Global Moot, the most disappointing aspect for me is they were still not considering heading that problem off, is the competitiveness on an intuitive design. They just want to tinker and incrementally improve it. And I would [00:15:00] hear people asking questions like ‘Help us, we want to stay on Moodle, but you’ve got to help us make it competitive with Canvas and Brightspace so that we don’t have faculty demanding that we change.’ So you had these advocates who were asking that they need more help from the core product to make it easier to use. They incrementally do, but they never truly faced the challenge of, ‘hey, let’s rethink it.’ It’s just a challenge that they have. But they’re aware of it. They just are dealing with in a way that’s not going to radically change the experience.

Jeanette: Exactly. And I don’t know if it’s going to happen anytime soon. Moodle has an opportunity in the Moodle community to create something that could be really competitive. Especially right now, I think the market’s about to shake up in a serious way. I just don’t know if they’re going to do that.

Phil: I would argue that it’s less likely that they’re going to be doing it now because [00:16:00] for two reasons, from my view. I was at the conference, you got a good view of what the roadmap is. And they answered – this is not on their roadmap, dramatically changing the intuitive design or native cloud hosting capabilities, sort of the core of where the market is going.

The second reason is Moodle is expanding worldwide with this pandemic. As the number of sites getting launched is just skyrocketing. It went from 103,000 registered sites to 158,000 registered sites. If you’re in the Moodle community or certainly core, you’re seeing your usage is going up. ‘Why should we make this radical change?’ And I think the view is almost of North America as the outlier, or market that they can just say that that market is different than everywhere else. ‘Let’s not worry about it.’ So I think their perspective is quite different from other LMS providers.

Jeanette: I mean, it makes sense, [00:17:00] I think, from a from a corporate, or from a business side. I do think, though, it does give opportunity for Canvas and for D2L and for some of the other players that we talked about last week, Aula, to kind of go in and swoop in and get that global market, since they have products that are easier to use, quite frankly.

Phil: And that gets to, there’s still a lot of secondary you could call them secondary players. Aula is secondary because they’re a new player and they take a different approach, and we mentioned that last week. But you have secondary players – and Sakai is at this stage very much a secondary player. And the question to them is how long they hang on with a smaller and smaller community of universities still using it.

And you have the NEO from Cypher Learning, which is got some systems in the Philippines in some K-12 systems. But we’re about to get a demo soon, so we’ll [00:18:00] learn more about them – if they’re changing their strategy. And then who else do you have? Itslearning out of Scandanavia, which really lost quite a bit of their market to Canvas, but they’re still around. But you have these secondary players. But will any of them have a material impact on the market over the next few years? That’s the real question. I’m not sure what the answer is, but I think that’s a big thing to watch for as well. Will any of those players or somebody brand new come in and shake up the market? Because we’re getting to a point where the market with the Big Four of Moodle, Blackboard, D2L, and Intructure Canvas, they’ve been the big four for several years. This market has not changed significantly in terms of who the primary players are for at least six or seven years.

Jeanette: The one thing I want to note, especially the schools that are still on Blackboard, that there is opportunity [00:19:00] for it to change, and to change much more quickly than it used to in the past. That the transition in the old days from especially on-prem from one LMS to the other, was so, so, so painful that it was almost not worth it. And now it’s not that hard. Canvas has made it a lot easier to switch from a Blackboard, it’s not as painful as it used to be. For Canvas if they start kind of going downhill with all the layoffs and people aren’t seeing the support, or if the price increases become too much for schools and they can switch, it could be that that’s where these other players start kind of coming up, because they’re gonna make it easier to switch over.

Phil: Them or, as we said, D2L.

Jeanette: I mean, D2L, of course.

Phil: When schools are aware of them.

But it’s also worth mentioning one thing about D2L = they’re hiring right now. You have Instructure doing a major layoff. You’ve got Blackboard that’s had just an ongoing [00:20:00] series of layoffs. Both of those are now private equity owned. Moodle, I think is sort of neutral in their hiring, not a huge amount of change. But certainly, of the major providers, it’s interesting that D2L is hiring fairly aggressively, and their main competitors are going the opposite direction. How long can they keep that up, and can they get over the awareness challenge that they have?

This is a tough market because I’m just thinking, as we’re looking at the prospects for all of them, we’re describing the barriers they face for each case – for every one, including the market leader. And this is happening at a time when the LMS is becoming more and more important. It’s an interesting market. It’s becoming important. You definitely have better products than you had 10 years ago. But at the same time, you’re dealing with layoffs. You’re dealing with challenges of awareness. You’re dealing with challenges of [00:21:00] people moving away, or being hesitant with, the open source model. This is just a market that’s has no real market momentum for exciting new change.

And anytime you have a gap like that, it’s an opportunity – based on what we know now – the opportunity to fill that gap is either from D2L getting over the awareness challenge and getting people to seriously consider them, or it’s somebody like an Aula who comes in as a new provider and starts taking the momentum. Which of those two are going to happen, if either, is a lot of the question I think we’ll look at over the next year or two.

Jeanette: And I have a prediction there.

Phil: Go, go. OK.

Jeanette: Well, no, I’m not going to predict which company, but I have a prediction that I think that a lot of this is going to depend on how much more invested faculty and even [00:22:00] students are in the selection of the LMS. And I think because of COVID, people are much more invested in what this platform is, and what it can do. And I think that’s going to be a major component in these selections.

Phil: Well, that’s definitely what we’ll keep watching. So I was hoping for you to make some more concrete predictions, but I do think that that’s a very important point.

Jeanette: I’m not I’m not done with the Negroni. And we’re about to, I can tell we’re wrapping it up. So, maybe one of these we’ll do shots, but until that happens, I think I’m good.

Phil: Well, it’s great talking to you. And it’s good to spend a lot of time talking about other players in the market. And we will talk to you all later.

We wish you the best as you deal with planning for Fall 2020 and beyond. Stay well and please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have questions or comments. We’d love to hear from you directly.


Phil on behalf of The MindWires Team

Dear LMS Market Analysis Subscribers,

As part of our refinement of the LMS Market Analysis services, we are developing targeted content to explore subjects in more depth. One model we’re developing is a podcast series – MindWires Musings – to discuss the non-COVID news of the day or week in a more casual format. A true discussion.

The first episode we are sharing with you is based on last week’s news of the Instructure layoffs and reorganization. What does that event mean for the company, and what does it mean for the market?

We have not finalized how this content will be delivered in the future to institutions and / or EdTech vendors, but we are sharing the recording with our current subscribers with this newsletter.

Instructure Restructure – the Podcast episode

Last week I wrote a blog post on the significant layoffs at Instructure. You can access the recording here or by clicking the image below:


Phil: Welcome to “MindWires Musings: Serving EdTech Straight Up”, where we throw caution to the wind and have a more relaxed conversation on the non COVID EdTech developments that are affecting higher ed. I’m Phil Hill, and with me is Jeanette Wiseman. Welcome, Jeanette.

Jeanette: Hey, Phil.

Phil: Are you looking forward to this new style of podcasts for us?

Jeanette: Well, I’m looking forward to my drink that I have in front of me.

Phil: What do you have?

Jeanette: I am drinking a Tom Collins today, which I know is old school, but I think people need to revisit it, especially if you do it the right way. Fresh lemon and a local gin that I’m drinking and some splash of water. Sparkling water. Very refreshing on a very hot summer day in Albuquerque.

Phil: I need to add Albuquerque to the list of all the places that have a local gin. Barcelona, London and throughout the world … and also Albuquerque now. So that’s good to know.

Jeanette: Well, it’s Algodones, which is north of Albuquerque, but a very nice, nice gin. What are you drinking?

Phil: I’m going to a little bit old school at least for California. I have a Pliny the Elder from Russian River Brewing, and it’s a classic West Coast IPA. You can get them a lot more easily now, but it’s just such a solid drink and always has been.

All right. So the big news this week and the blog post that is getting a lot of attention over the past two days is about the Instructure having layoffs. We’re assuming if you’re listening to this, and you want more details, go read the blog post. But essentially, 150 people are losing their jobs this week, primarily affecting Canvas now. And this has surprised me how much interest this blog post is generating. I mean, I knew that it would get interest, but the level of interest is surprising. There’s a lot of emotion out there, and a lot of comments online and various forms. It’s unfortunate that that’s how we’re kicking off this podcast, dealing with what’s a difficult story, quite honestly. But that’s what we’d like to cover today.

Jeanette: Yeah, well, I think it’s not surprising.

I think that there’s interest around Instructure, especially within the community, since it was such a community based LMS. And the change of ownership is a big deal. But also, there’s so many people losig jobs. It’s hard to not want to guess what’s going to happen next, and what is the future of the company when things have shifted so much from its origins.

Phil: Well, it’s unfortunate. Keeping in the line with this show we certainly want to raise our glasses to Instructure – a lot of the people that are losing jobs. I know it’s a tough time, but we certainly wish you the best. And the people who are still there, I know this is difficult, even on the people still at the company. So here’s to them.

Jeanette: Yeah, absolutely. It’s a great run. Fun company.

Phil: Well, they are. Talk a little bit about that. I mean, they’re fun company. What does that mean and does it even matter?

Jeanette: They were the first EdTech, at least LMS company, where it was special to go to their user conference. They made sure that everything was a lot of fun. It wasn’t really based on new features being rolled out. It was more based on Sexy Sax Man. Little shout out to Sunny Washington, if she’s listening, who was one of their original partner people that I worked with when the company was founded. It was a lot of fun. There was a lot of energy. They built a community from some of these really neat things they did. I mean, one of my first memories of its structure was also at the Blackboard World conference in Las Vegas, where they rented out a bar right in the middle of where the conference was taking place. And they passed out T-shirts that said something like ‘I went to Blackboard World and all I got was this Instructure T-shirt’, that was a really funny thing. They were tongue in cheek and they made people trust them, I think, with their honesty as well.

Phil: It’s more than just a surface level, fun, funny people. It gets to that point you’re making about the openness, the transparency, the honesty. And Michael Feldstein, he wrote a great post about it, that was referencing how their definition of open is different than open source or open educational resources, but it really gets it or got to the transparency of the company. ‘We’re going to tell you what we are what we’re doing. If we make a mistake, will admit it. But you can trust us.’ And to me, that really changed the dynamic in a pretty difficult environment because academics, educators, there’s a natural distrust of EdTech vendors, for profit vendors. And somehow these guys were able to put it so that there was a more of a transparency and a trust, a feeling that, ‘OK, you guys have our back.’ That happened out there, and that was a core part, if not the core part of the company’s success. So it’s more than just fun. It’s really gets to the transparency and trust.

Jeanette: Now, absolutely. I think there’s always been sort of a us against them. I think from an academic standpoint, we are looking at for profits. And I think Instructure was able to turn that around and make it that ‘we’re all in this together.’ And they were one of the first companies to do that. From what we’ve seen in the last couple of years, that culture has shifted somewhat. So this isn’t an overnight story. It’s not because these layoffs happened yesterday as we’re recording this. This has been the slow march towards this sense of the sea change over time. There’s definitely been a different culture experience when dealing with Instructure.

And it was very obvious to both of us when we were at the users conference this past summer, where the first day, particularly meeting with the executives, quite honestly, it was stunning how different the company culture felt and the difference in tone and openness that was out there. But on the other side, I felt a little bit different for the rest of the conference where I was meeting more with the rank and file, the engineers, the developers, the writers, the support staff. I didn’t get as big of a culture change feeling through the rest of the week, meeting with the rest of the staff, as I did with the executive team at the beginning of the week.

Jeanette: Unfortunately was at Schoology after that first initial day. What I experienced was ‘oh my God, this is InstructureCon?’ Because it was a big difference from what I had experienced in years past. But what we lost yesterday was a lot of those kind of rank and file that were really the front line to the customer. It would be hard not to imagine the customer experiences are going to shift somewhat and the expectations in terms of product. My assumption is when you lose that many people, things are going to are going to be different.

Phil: One of my arguments, although I can’t entirely prove it – there’s a little bit of connecting the dots going on right now – is that more than just the number of people gone, that there was an explicit message being sent by these layoffs as the new owners (and through the senior executive team) were establishing a new control. ‘That this is how a private equity firm works, and if you’re going to fit into our culture – which quite honestly is driven by spreadsheets, focusing on the bottom line profitability. If you can’t fit within this culture, and a lot of the old culture didn’t do it, there was a message of, ‘okay, we’re making a change in the culture now, whether you want to or not.’ I think there was a message being sent.

Jeanette: I’m sure. I mean, I think anybody that’s been part of a PE acquisition feels that right away. One thing to keep in mind is the engineers and the salespeople and anyone really working within an education company, a lot of times they’re smart guys and smart people, and they could be working anywhere. But there is an altruistic part of you that wants to work with an education. You feel good about it. I can remember one time traveling back in the days when we used to travel, and sitting next to somebody who was a potato chip salesman, listening to that conversation and just sitting back and going ‘I am so glad that I work in education.’ Now, I may not be paid as well as if I was working in another industry, but what I’m doing, I’m proud of.

And when an ownership with a PE firm takes over, that feeling sometimes is lost because it does become a numbers game. And this is a for profit company. And of course these things are going to happen. But the reason for maybe why you’re there is no longer really apparent, and I’m sure that was the case. PE firm takes over. They need to be profitable, and they’re going to make the hard decisions that probably won’t be made at the time within the company.

Phil: But that gets to what is a key question. I hear the right phrases when I talk to the interim CEO, who is really a Bravo person, who’s worked with them before, and I hear them talk about Instructure’s culture and higher education’s culture or education in general. But this really raises a question. Does Thoma Bravo, do they really understand what they have, and do they understand the importance of the culture at Instructure, but also the culture of education and what it takes to be able to break through and create the trust that they’ve had in the past? I wonder if the ownership understands this.

Jeanette: Understand may be the wrong word. They probably recognize it, but do they care? That’s what I wonder. Do they care that that was the culture that maybe led them to that place? That’s the question I wonder. They may not. And they probably don’t because they need to be profitable, and they don’t likely understand that these shifts are going to cause a ripple effect within the industry and within their customer base.

One thing that we’ve seen in the last year is that the customer base has been pretty solid at Instructure. Remarkably, they have never lost a higher ed customer, and that’s amazing in this day and age. We haven’t really seen the effect that Dan brought, the ex-CEO brought to that company. At the customer level, we felt it because that’s who we were interacting with. And we saw it in different ways, but we haven’t really seen at the customer level. I’m wondering how long it’s going to take.

Phil: You mentioned profitability. There have been plenty of complaints about Instructure. People for a while have been saying, ‘hey, these guys are buying their success. They’re not profitable, they’re just spending money and always leveraging the future on trying to grow.’ There’s a lot of people that are saying that this is a long time coming. That Instructure had to come back down to earth. That’s part of what’s happening. But the key question is, how will it affect their relationship with their customers? And will this work out? Will they actually become a more efficient, profitable company, but still maintain some level of that same relationship with customers moving forward? And that gets to a question, how does this impact the LMS market going forward? Let’s assume what we’re seeing is accurate as a starting point, that they have really cut deeply. It’s going to affect their product development. It’s going to affect their levels of support. And it’s going to impact the culture that they’ve built up over many years. So if that’s accurate, what’s going to be the impact on the market?

Jeanette: I think there’s openings for either a new company to come in, which we’ve seen some recently that seem to be making some inroads, or I just see a shakeup. I think that right now, if we look at the Big Four. Blackboard is not doing great, Moodle is still there, and there’s D2L. D2L has been successful over the last year, getting new adoptions, Finally. It’s sort of their game to lose at this point. They’ve been doing a great job in the last year. And I think we need to be watching them more closely than maybe we were wanting to, or we predicted we would be three or four years ago.

Phil: I had a question on Twitter along these lines that was asking, what about the health of the market, not just who does better than the other, but the health of the LMS market? To define what I’m interpreting as the health of the market, that’s one where competitive pressure leads to companies better serving their customers. In this case, better LMS and better support for higher education and K-12 institutions. At least on the surface, I think there’s a huge risk to the health of the market, because you have the leading vendor now in terms of growth (and certainly in North America) that has just cut pretty significantly and is endangering, or getting rid of, their previous culture that made them who they are. And we question whether the new owners fully understand the importance of that. But who is going to push them? And you listed the big four. Of the big four, I agree, I think D2L is the big variable here. The market will do much better if D2L comes on strong and takes advantage of the time that’s happening right now. I don’t say that as favoring one vendor over the another, I say that in terms of there needs to be competition pushing the market leader so that they don’t sit on their laurels and only pay attention to the bottom line. I think so much of the health of the market depends on D2L.

Jeanette: I agree with that absolutely, short term. As you’re saying those things, I was wondering – and not that we’re going to talk about COVID that much – but I think that the impact of COVID is that so many people who had not relied on the LMS are now using it all the time. They’re required to use it. It’s not just posting a syllabus anymore, it’s becoming the heart of what your classroom needs to be. And I’m wondering if in the next 12 – 18 months we’re going to see a lot more output of different elements of LMS, and different feature sets, and maybe a completely new type of platform that we haven’t even conceived of, that could maybe take over. That’s going to be better fit for how the LMS needs to be used today and how people are teaching online and distance.

Phil: Well, the LMS has been pretty resilient. Haven’t we heard a similar argument for that for years, if not more than a decade? And we’re still waiting for the Google Wave for, you know, a new concept.

Jeanette: That’s true, but this is a very different time. The other point is, is that not that many people were really using the LMS until four months ago. I’m just saying it “could” happen. It could happen where we’re going to see something different, which we are out of the UK right now. We’re seeing something that’s different that’s taking on.

Phil: Well, you could mention them by name.

Jeanette: I, I can’t if I couldn’t pronounce it. Is it Oolah?

Phil: Well now. Well I go with Aula [Owl-a]. Aula.

Jeanette: Ok. So that’s one of the toughest things. I can’t mention it but they have taken over. What is it?

Phil: Is it for Coventry University. Forty thousand [student] school.

Jeanette: That’s remarkable. And it’s a different type of what could be considered an LMS. But they have strong ideas, support, instructional design support, which is really needed right now. And they have a very different pricing model. And I notice some things within their platform, in their interface, where they’re tapping in to some cognitive design features that I haven’t seen before in an LMS. I think there are things within that that could shake some things out. Maybe a platform that hasn’t been released yet, that’s being worked on right now at some university, just like Instructure came to be it from BYU.

Phil: I think that is sort of the challenge for the Aulas of the world, and anybody else, is that the old market 10 years ago was different. Blackboard was complacent, it didn’t have that relationship with the customer, they were a feared and hated company in many respects. you can go after them. But now you have to out-Canvas Canvas. And doesn’t that make it a lot harder?

Jeanette: It could, except for Canvas, to me, it needs a little bit of a refresh. They’ve been resting on the fact that they were the market leader, I think, for a little while and that people loved it. And is that going to be enough in the next 24 months?

Phil: In our remaining time, let’s address some of the questions, since there’s been so much discussion online since the blog post came out yesterday. I won’t mention people by name – not trying to be critical, but . . .

Jeanette: That’s no fun.

Phil: I don’t have the comment in front of me, so I don’t want to mention that. But there was: ‘I always knew this would happen, and we always knew that Canvas would collapse, and then Blackboard would scoop them up and buy them.’ And to me, that’s a matter of, ‘OK, nine years ago, that argument might have made some sense. But now? Come on.

I mean, the issue with Instructure that we’re talking about, they got purchased for almost two billion dollars. And what we’re criticizing is a company whose ownership is going to make them profitable. You’re talking a two billion dollar company that might not be serving education as well. But you’ve got that type of value. Blackboard is not a two billion dollar company. They’ve sold off the most profitable part, out of Transact. They’ve certainly stabilized their debt, but they’re still losing customers left and right. That’s a ludicrous suggestion at this point that Blackboard has any power to do that.

Jeanette: Absolutely. Maybe the other way around. I mean, you may want to purchase Blackboard and fold it in. And I could see that potentially happening.

Phil: Another comment was somebody was saying ‘all of these cuts are too deep and this is going to be bad.’ And then somebody replied back to it, saying, ‘well, which would you prefer laying off 20 percent of the company or increasing canvas bills overnight by 30 percent?’ I tried to not be too snarky, but I replied back: “I wasn’t aware of those were the only two choices.” This line of argument misses the point that there are ways to do things. I certainly understand the need to become more profitable. The question is, what we’re going to be watching for, is did they cut too deep and did they ignore the culture in a way that it’s going to harm Canvas in the long run? It’s not like if you’re going to cut, you have to do it this way.

Jeanette: Well, first off, if there are no price increases or add on pricing that we see in the next 24 months out of Instructure, I will be shocked. I think that’s going to happen anyway.

Phil: Here’s a tougher one that maybe is a Tom Collins discussion for you. The shorter one along the lines of ‘in the end, this is what markets always do. They always strangle education.’ It sort of goes in the line that essentially all for profit EdTech companies are bad for education in the end. Let me put you on the spot. How do you respond to that?

Jeanette: I don’t agree with that. I mean, of course, there are going to be some for profit companies that are really just about the bottom line. And I think when you get into PEs, that happens a little bit more often than not. But you have to remember that companies are people. They’re just a group of people. And the majority of the people that are working in these companies really believe in what they’re doing. They believe in education and they believe in furthering teaching and learning. When you look at that, you can’t say that all for profit companies are out to get education. I just think that that’s not true.

Phil: I do think it’s a common argument or complaint, and it might even be a proxy argument that people might not even mean that literally. It’s a way to express their frustration about where money is going in education. When you have executives believing too strongly in disruption and not strongly enough in investing in educators themselves. If you view it as a proxy argument, I think there’s more validity there that we need to pay attention to.

Jeanette: I think that’s absolutely true. I know that coming from being a teacher and an instructor, it’s really hard when you’re working with students that are struggling financially, or with just different equity issues, and then walk in to a user conference or into an EdTech conference and see the money that’s being spent, that you feel like it’s being taken away from the student. I think that’s definitely true. But I still truly believe that there are a lot of really well-meaning people working with these companies. It’s when you get to the leadership level, if they’re willing to listen to the customers into what their needs are. And that’s what made a company like Instructure a different from a company like Blackboard when they first came out, was that they were willing to go in and listen to the customers and find out what they needed and meet that. It was still a for profit company, or tried to be a for profit company, in the same space. They just handled things really differently.

Phil: That actually is the part that worries me the most, is the fact that Instructure had a way to build up trust in this hard environment of EdTech, and that by them having the layoffs and by what’s happened to them over the past two years, and especially with CEO change and then the sale of the company, is it really gives ammunition for people who are going to say, ‘see, we never should have trusted these vendors.’ I’m more concerned about the loss of an opportunity to have a healthy relationship between vendors and schools.

Jeanette: Can I just say one other thing on that, though? Here is one thing that Instructure did remarkably well, is the way that they brought in a lot of third-party vendors to support their platform, unlike the model that Blackboard had, at least at the time, which was a very costly Building Blocks. You paid through the nose to be part of their system. Instructure really brought in, opened their doors up, and that was part of their openness that Michael had referred to, to allow all these third-party vendors to build upon and support users in a way that they weren’t going to. They were going to build their platform out to do that. And what worries me now is that these are usually other smaller companies. Some of them really are supporting individual and very specific needs for the customer base. I don’t know what’s going to happen to those guys. We don’t know what that model’s going to look like. Also, in 12 – 18 months, we’re under this new ownership. And if they’re going to be able to survive? And that’s sort of concerning because I was part of what made Instructure different.

Phil: Well, we have a lot to watch now because as we look at it, the LMS Market, for better or worse, it’s becoming more important. As you said, everybody’s using it right now. And the other risk of us mentioning COVID again, but with remote and online and hybrid classes – everybody is going to be using the LMS moving forward much more than they used to. This is really critical. And this news and what’s happening to Instructure is going to affect a lot more than just that company. Whether or not their move to create efficiency works or not. This is going to have an impact throughout EdTech. But thanks, Jeanette, for joining and for us having this conversation.

Jeanette: Sure. Cheers.

We wish you the best as you deal with planning for Fall 2020 and beyond. Stay well and please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have questions or comments. We’d love to hear from you directly.


Phil on behalf of The MindWires Team