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 (jeanette@mindwires.com) 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.

Sincerely,

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:

Transcript

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.

Sincerely,

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.

Sincerely,

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:

Transcript

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.

Sincerely,

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:

Transcript

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.

Sincerely,

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:

Transcript

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.

Sincerely,

Phil on behalf of The MindWires Team

Dear LMS Market Analysis Subscribers,

In case you missed it our email earlier in the week, please note that we are removing the auto-renewing subscription nature of our LMS Market Analysis service. We also plan to introduce offerings more targeted towards different groups – institutions, EdTech vendors, and EdTech investors. Expect to see more info on these changes over this summer.

Instructure Layoffs

Yesterday I wrote a blog post on this week’s significant layoffs at Instructure. 

“After Instructure’s January layoffs, which mostly affected Bridge and its corporate learning market, then CEO Dan Goldsmith stated at a company all hands meeting that there were no more planned layoffs coming. [snip]

“That plan was never realistic and likely misstated by company management. Today, Instructure has implemented a new, even larger round of layoffs, this time primarily targeted at the Canvas side of the business (academic markets in higher ed and K-12). More than 150 people are losing their jobs, representing more than 12% of the workforce. These layoffs appear to be broad-based, hitting most if not all departments. When combined with the January cuts, Instructure has now removed almost 20% of its full-time staff since the beginning of the year. These are significant layoffs.”

There is more to the story, including office closings and changes in culture based on new private equity ownership. The LMS market is both more important and more unstable than it has been in a long time. Expect more analysis here in the coming months.

Emerging LMS-That-Is-Not-An-LMS To Watch: AULA

We have seen many attempts in the not an LMS category over the years, with some based on the premise that the dominant LMS players are based more on course administration than on supporting the learner. By and large, these new players are initially positioned as threats to the LMS market and then either go away or become niche-market apps that often integrate with the LMS, or fit only into small academic programs. Think Motivis and the other CBE-originated platforms, and think Notebowl. Often these systems differentiate themselves in name, using monikers such as Learning Experience Platforms.

The latest not an LMS to emerge that is worth watching is AULA, out of the UK. Like Motivis and Notebowl, AULA takes a fresh approach more centered on learner activities and interactions, with less attention placed on administrative features like the grade book. But unlike Motivis or Notebowl, AULA has a major institution-wide win with Coventry University. That school – the fastest growing in the UK with more than 40k students – has decided to fully migrate off of Moodle and onto AULA as its Virtual Learning Environment (VLE, the name used for an LMS in the UK; OK?).

I attended the virtual AULA users conference this month, and there are clear signs of demand from colleges and universities in both the UK and in North America (the conference was targeted at these two regions), with almost 2,000 registered attendees. While Coventry was the most important, another institution-wide VLE replacement of significance is Ravensborne University London (also a migration off of Moodle). Pilot programs are in place at several UK and US universities. We don’t know if AULA will end up with a bigger impact on the higher ed LMS market than Schoology, for example, but the company already has credibility.

The platform itself is centered on interactions, with a Slack-like, or feed-based design.

From a business model perspective, AULA includes some non-marketing OPM services bundled with the platform. Essentially they offer course redesign support as part of the base product. The goal is to shorten the amount of time to redesign a course fully using the system. The company’s fees are based on the number of courses with a program or school, rather than the typical LMS mode based on the number of students in an institution. On the positive side, this business model allows an easier adoption method for secondary system usage; however, the end result for institutional adoption is a higher-priced option than most LMS solutions.

The jury is obviously still out on AULA and its future impact on the market. But we believe this is a system worth watching, as it already has some credibility and unique value propositions.

CEO Anders Krohn’s presentation at the conference should give a good sense of how AULA sees itself in the market.

Keynote by Anders Krohn at Aula’s 2020 annual conference, co-hosted by Wonkhe

LMS Market Not Frozen

With the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic and rapid shift to remote instruction globally, we predicted that there would be a short-term slowdown in the academic LMS market. This was due to two factors:

  • Institution staff and faculty were also forced to transition to remote working, which made it difficult to continue any committee meetings or evaluation work that had been in process.
  • At the same time, the emergency focus had to be on making current systems work. Schools had a matter of weeks to transition to remote instruction in an all hands on deck manner, pushing some decisions off.

As we look at our data, we did see a slowdown in new decisions announced in late March and April; however, we are also seeing plenty of signs that LMS switches may be accelerating as we head into the summer and fall.

We expect there to be a large change in the LMS market for the remainder of 2020, due both to corporate finances and to the growing importance of eLearning infrastructure during the pandemic.

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.

Sincerely,

Phil on behalf of The MindWires Team

Dear LMS Market Analysis Subscribers,

Well, this has been quite a month since our last update.

In this newsletter I share an updated market share summary across five global regions, share additional thoughts about the rising importance of the LMS during the COVID transition, and share notes from my interview with OpenLMS leadership. 

LMS Market Share Across Five Global Regions

I recently participated in the eLearning Success Summit. Why? If someone is going to solicit free content from you and try to monetize it, why not see them drop all pretenses and go the full Sham Wow!. Refreshing candor, I guess, and lesson learned. What follows below is an edited version of part of my talk at that summit. My talk was recorded March 13th and shared online April 24th.

The following is a chart from our market analysis, and it’s looking at five different global regions that we track between Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, North America, Oceania. If you look at who are the primary LMS providers is that the market is converging. If we’d have this conversation 10 or 15 years ago. I’d be talking so much more about the European open source LMSs (e.g. Ilias, OpenOLAT) and how critical they were for that region. Or the Nordic systems Fronter and itslearning.

As you can see, North America is an outlier here, not in terms of which systems are in the top four, but in terms of market share among those systems. In other words, we’ve consolidated globally mostly on the big four – Moodle, Canvas, Blackboard, and D2L. There are some systems in the second tier – Sakai, Chamillo, itslearning – but none have more than a few percentage points of market share in any one region.

Worldwide, Moodle dominates it. In large part, Moodle created or opened up the eLearning market. Many countries would not have basic eLearning infrastructure available without Moodle existing. Canvas has become dominant in North America (US and Canada).

And North America also dominates as a region in terms of money spent on learning platforms, and therefore that region drives a lot of the definition where the market is going. In North America, you have a a situation where Canvas is the fastest growing and now the largest LMS. That system is growing quickly in other regions, but in terms of installed base, it’s still a Moodle world outside of North America. Some things you’re seeing in the North American LMS market, you might see in other regions a couple years later, but it’s just more more of a common market than it used to be.

Blackboard Learn still has a large market share worldwide, although it has been declining in numbers for years. The best wins recently have been in southern Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East. D2L Brightspace is the system that wins the most head-to-head competitions with Canvas for open evaluations, in several regions.

Growing Importance of the LMS

Five or 10 years ago, the dominant reason for vendor lock-in was the difficult purchasing cycle for universities and the difficulty of a transition overall. At the time, the sense was that you get what you get, so stop complaining. I think the market has changed dramatically from 10 years ago. Now there’s much more of an emphasis on scalability / cloud hosting and ease of use / intuitive design. The LMS today is not the same thing you’ve had 10 years ago. The LMSs have adapted so that even if you bought it five to 10 years ago, your system likely doesn’t look the same as it did back then. It’s actually advanced quite a bit with. The market is not as healthy as I’d like, but systems are much more responsive to customer demands today than they were 10 years ago.

Having said, you’ve got legacy architectures that have limits. When you designed a system, there are certain parts of the architecture that you can’t change, at least in an elegant manner. The origin of the market built around courses and not around learners has proven to be limiting as we see new pedagogical approaches with mastery learning and competency based education. Vendors are adapting, but it’s often in spite of their core architecture rather than because of it.

With COVID-19, most institutions have moved their entire operations online, at least temporarily, and with no warning. We’re beyond online and hybrid programs or faculty that have built in the LMS to their face to face courses, making them tech enabled. Previously faculty might not have just put a syllabus and grade book online, but guess what? Now instructors are doing it all through technology. I think people are (re)discovering just how important the LMS is, and realizing how important this core e-learning infrastructure is for an institution, even if the campus LMS doesn’t have all the features that people want it. It’s mission critical. 

However, a school can look really bad if they don’t have a good LMS, or if they don’t support it properly. In the UK, the system is called a virtual learning environment (VLE). I think that naming of what most others call an LMS captures the element for virtual online world. This is your learning environment. This is the face of the college and university, and it’s critical now. 

Notes from OpenLMS Interview

Blackboard announced last month that it has sold its OpenLMS (the LMS formerly known as Moodlerooms) assets to London-based Learning Technologies Group (LTG), a publicly-traded conglomerate whose holdings include Rustici Software, best known for their work on xAPI standards and SCORM Cloud. The sale price was roughly $31 million.

Blackboard CEO Bill Ballhaus positioned the sale as increasing Blackboard’s focus.

“This strategic transaction enables us to accelerate our efforts to drive the next wave of EdTech innovation via our platform with Learn Ultra at its core and sets the stage for us to deliver a dynamic and personalized experience, fueled by data, to advance learning. [snip]

“Our most complex days are behind us.  We are now more focused than ever on driving innovation in our key business areas of teaching and learning, K-12 community engagement, and student success.”

Phill Miller, whose professional lineage includes ANGEL Learning and Moodlerooms, has departed Blackboard and is now leading the new LTG OpenLMS group.

I had the chance to interview the OpenLMS team in March, with a Blackboard exec in attendance, but with COVID-19, I never had a chance to write up a blog post. Nevertheless, I believe this is still an important development for those interested in global LMS markets.

Purpose of Deal

Based on the interview, the situation that led to LTG approaching Blackboard was that OpenLMS was getting growing as a business, but it was buried within Blackboard. Both parties felt there was more value for OpenLMS outside of Blackboard.

Blackboard’s strategy has been to sell more products outside LMS; as we have reported they are not seeing growth in LMS sales and weren’t really tapping into the worldwide self-hosted Moodle market (i.e. helping institutions that are on self-hosted Moodle but need to move to a more professionally-managed option. The basic idea was to let Blackboard focus on Learn LMS sales and let LTG go after the self-hosted Moodle market more aggressively.

Details

The actual deal is a carve out of OpenLMS assets rather than a simple acquisition of a division, and it will take a few months to finalize service agreements and additional details. As part of the deal, OpenLMS execs said that 61 employees and a number of open positions (future hires) will move over to LTG. The result will be an independent business with offices in Indianapolis (US), Bogota (Colombia), and Adelaide (Australia).

LTG plans to sell with a broad-based campaign into the Moodle market, as part of the deal they have committed to certain sales levels back to Blackboard. LTG OpenLMS will also sell Blackboard products such as Collaborate and Ally as part of an associated reselling agreement.

I asked if the new LTG OpenLMS company will continue their focus on higher education or shift more towards corporate learning, based on the current focus of LTG’s current portfolio. Phill Miller answered that the OpenLMS business is skewed towards education and regions outside of North America, and they see that continuing. LTG plans to grow corporate learning, but they see that move as augmenting the core education business. While OpenLMS has dozens of K-12 clients, there is no plan to invest in that part of the business. In other words, higher education is the core of OpenLMS future plans.

M&A Strategy

Miller had long wanted to be more aggressive with an M&A strategy – targeting other Moodle Partners or Moodle-based services organizations, and now LTG plans to back this approach more than Blackboard was willing to do. This M&A strategy will likely impact the geographic markets that LTG goes after.

Miller sees himself as a big fan of Moodle as a community, stating that Moodle has been most important LMS in world. In his description, Moodle has allowed experimentation at low cost, and the eLearning world would be 10 years behind if not for Moodle. The Commercial Moodle world is fragmented and messy, however, and it could be organized better.

What We’re Watching

We’ll watch to see whether this acquisition of OpenLMS by LTG results in a different, or at least accelerated, strategy moving forward. I agree that the Commercial Moodle world is fragmented, which has been both a blessing and a curse. In particular, we will watch to see what the prospects are for a non Moodle Partner to developing a bigger presence when that approach runs counter to the strategy that Moodle HQ is pushing.

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.

Sincerely,

Phil on behalf of The MindWires Team

You can find the LMS Monthly Report for March 2020 here.

Of course, in the past month the entire market has changed. Instructure’s acquisition by Thoma Bravo is complete, and COVID-19 has frozen the LMS market, yet will likely make the LMS market even more important in the medium to long-term. At the same time, the huge increases in usage of systems is putting a significant financial burden on the LMS providers.

And all of this as the LMS market was showing signs of exiting the 18+ month market slowdown.

As always, let us know if you have any questions or comments.

Thanks!

Sincerely,

Phil for
The MindWires Team

Dear LMS Market Analysis Subscribers,

Globally we are in a period of momentous changes for society at large and for the EdTech market. For this month I wanted to share updates on LMS vendor ownership and management, some useful Covid-19 data for US institutions moving to virtual delivery, and some thoughts on the future of the LMS market. 

Given the unprecedented nature of these times, there will be more speculation and soapboxes than is typical. 

Management and Ownership Updates: Instructure, Blackboard OpenLMS, and D2L

In an article this morning from EdSurge about impacts of Covid-19 on the investment community, there was an interesting comment from a VC.

“Matt Greenfield, managing director of Rethink Education, also says activity has been about the same so far. ‘We still have a very rich pipeline’ of incoming pitches and potential deals. ‘Coronavirus changed our travel behavior, but it’s certainly not changing our investment behavior.’”

While EdTech investment and mergers & acquisition activities are secondary right now, they are still important and will have long-term impacts on the LMS market.

Thoma Bravo’s tender offer to acquire Instructure is set to expire on March 21 (Saturday), meaning that we should find out whether Instructure will remain an independent publicly-traded company or go private under Bravo ownership.

With the market changes, I have to think that the likelihood of an acquisition going through (the holders of at least 50% of Instructure shares have to agree to the $49 / share offer) has increased significantly. For large investors, cashing out at the same price as offered is looking more appealing with the dramatic stock market drops. I’ll avoid any further speculation, but you should expect definitive updates by the end of the week.

Blackboard announced last week that it has sold its OpenLMS (the LMS formerly known as Moodlerooms) assets to London-based Learning Technologies Group (LTG), a publicly-traded conglomerate whose holdings include Rustici Software, best known for their work on xAPI standards and SCORM Cloud. Blackboard CEO Bill Ballhaus positioned the sale as increasing Blackboard’s focus.

While Blackboard stuck to its commitments to keep OpenLMS as an open source project and to support the open source community, the company was never able to invest in OpenLMS. LTG is likely to be more aggressive pushing for growth, including additional M&A activity. I expect to write a more-complete blog post soon to analyze this acquisition.

Cheryl Ainoa, COO for the past four years at D2L, is leaving the company for a new role at Walmart. This move is significant in that much of the product redesign of Brightspace and the move to a cloud-based LMS happened directly under Ainoa’s leadership. Most of the new leadership brought in under the COO remain in the company. While Ainoa is moving on to a much bigger opportunity, and while she was not the sole reason for company changes, this transition will present a challenge to D2L to see if they can keep pace with the product and service improvements they have made recently.

Data on US Moves to Virtual Delivery

One of the biggest stories in the Covid-19 outbreak is the rapid shift of traditional face-to-face courses to remote delivery, primarily through online education. Early on, this move is not the same thing as online education as we have known it – with real course design, considerations of equitable access – but rather an ‘all hands on deck’ moment. The industry will have to shift out of emergency management thinking soon, but for now there is a rapid and unplanned shift going online.

This shift will have a major impact on the LMS market and online education market, but more on that below. What I’d like to share first is some data based on the Google Sheet shared by Bryan Alexander with help from Ithaka S+R and others.

Unfortunately I believe the data will lose its usefulness beyond March, for various reasons. But for now the data show that we have not yet hit the biggest spike of usage for online courses, at least in the US.

Why is this so? Part is the timing of the f2f closures around Spring Break in much of the US, as well as the end of the term for quarter-based institutions. Furthermore, quite a few schools have extended their closures to allow time for faculty to make the transition.

In fact, we should expect total usage of learning platforms to more than double – in terms of number of institutions and student enrollment – at the beginning of next week.

Thoughts on Future of LMS Market

There are several LMS market implications of the rapid move to online delivery of f2f classes that I believe are already becoming apparent.

One is that the importance of reliable and intuitive platforms is becoming even more important than it has been in the past decade. LMS vendors are already experiencing exponential growth in platform usage and loads, and as described above, the real spike will probably occur next week (at least in the US). It is extremely difficult to manage this rapid scaling under self-hosting models, and it is fairly difficult under LMS vendor hosting facilities (managed hosting). The importance of cloud hosting – through AWS or Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud, primarily – is increasing in importance.

Likewise, in these days of forced migration to online environments for all faculty, including those who have been most resistant and without sufficient time for training, increases the demand for intuitive platforms at the expense of full sets of deep features. There is balance here, but the scales will be tipping even further towards intuitive design.

What I expect we will see in LMS market activity (remembering that this is speculative in nature):

  • In the short term (3 – 4 months), LMS market activity will slow down as institutions rightly focus on supporting their existing environments and have to delay LMS evaluations. Furthermore much of the activity will be centered on Zoom and Microsoft Teams and Blackboard Collaborate without serious consideration of strategic usage of the LMS.
  • In the medium term (4 – 24 months), LMS market activity is likely to increase, particularly in markets with higher percentages of self-hosting. This would mean that markets in Latin America and southern Europe, for example, that have been slow to move off of self-hosting models are likely to re-evaluate what is now a mission-critical platform. It will no longer be acceptable to ignore the issues of privacy, disparate impact, and structured course designs that the LMS is designed to address.
  • In the long term (24+ months), I see the LMS as moving up the food chain in importance to senior leadership of colleges and universities. The LMS market will have to adapt, but it will likely become more, not less, important.

Please remember that these observations are speculative in nature, and I plan to develop the ideas and look for evidence to back them up or adjust the outlook in future newsletters and blog posts.

In the meantime, we wish you the best as you deal with these rapid changes. Stay well and please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have questions or comments. We’d love to hear from you directly.

Sincerely,

The MindWires Team