March 2017

Welcome to our new subscribers and to our loyal ones – some of whom we have enjoyed having as subscribers for coming up on a full year. As we are working on the Spring 2017 report, relax and enjoy some market updates and discussions of next generation environments and a AWS outage.

Market Updates: First two months of 2017

Now that we’re into the third month of the year, we thought it would be interesting to look at some worldwide implementation data for January and February of 2017 to get a sense of any big movements before we look at full-year in the Spring 2017 report. The following shows new implementations (a postsecondary institution moving to a particular LMS) with one twist. Two of the bigger selections involved for-profit systems in the US moving off of Pearson LearningStudio (aka eCollege) as part of that platform’s end of life. For-profit systems tend to encompass a large number of campuses with independent entries in the IPEDS database, but the decisions are made centrally.

We combine these wins into one decision each (note that it was Canvas and D2L that won these deals, and both are large) – otherwise the for-profit data would have overwhelmed the rest of the data. There also may be a time lag between the actual decisions and the data, particularly for for-profits, as we had to wait for some public data to confirm.

New LMS Implementations January thru February 2017

Canvas continues doing well, particularly in the United States and Europe. D2L’s Brightspace had some good wins in different regions. One interesting note for Blackboard was their win in Norway, which came despite the recent UNINETT consortium selection (described in our February newsletter) that did not include Blackboard. Moodlerooms had a win in Spain.

It’s also worth noting where there is significant activity – the United States and northern Europe in particular.

NGDLE Taking Life Of Its Own

It was just two years ago that the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) put out their report on the Next Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE). From the abstract:

In partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, EDUCAUSE explored the gaps between current learning management tools and a digital learning environment that could meet the changing needs of higher education. Consultations with more than 70 community thought leaders brought into relief the contours of a next generation digital learning environment (NGDLE). Its principal functional domains are interoperability; personalization; analytics, advising, and learning assessment; collaboration; and accessibility and universal design. Since no single application can deliver in all those domains, we recommend a “Lego” approach to realizing the NGDLE, where NGDLE-conforming components are built that allow individuals and institutions the opportunity to construct learning environments tailored to their requirements and goals.

We (Michael and Phil) both contributed to the report as part of the consultations as well as some editing, and we have to admit that we were not sure what would be the long-term impact from the paper. Developing cohesive visions by partial crowd-sourcing is difficult, and it was not clear who would pick up the ball and invest in software architecture and development.

One thing that we have both noticed over the past 6-9 months, however, is a fairly significant increase in interest in the NGDLE concept. Sometimes this comes from a university doing an LMS selection and using NGDLE concepts to describe what they want. In a few cases for non-traditional schools or online programs, we have seen specific plans being put in place to create their version of the NGDLE. Of course, there is also marketing adoption from vendors wanting to associate themselves with the NGDLE concept. But that can be a good thing as long as the vendors back up their marketing.

Some of the locus for discussion on the topic has moved to IMS Global meetings in the context of interoperability standards. Even though the Gates Foundation grants to ELI for the NGDLE report and socialization of the concept ended last year (I’m 90% sure – someone correct me if I’m wrong), it is interesting to see increased interest and adoption of the concept taking a life of its own.

This is a topic that we plan to cover more broadly in future newsletters. Some of the investment and adoption comes from subscribers, but we can’t share that information publicly. But there are quite a few public “adoptions” of NGDLE concept that we will cover.

And you can’t really argue with Google Trends. Can you?

A Meta Outage from Amazon

On February 28 there was an extensive outage of many Internet sites hosted by Amazon Web Services (AWS). It turns out that a typo entered by a technician took out an large portion of the Simple Storage System (S3) for roughly five hours.

How is this relevant for this newsletter? It turns out that a growing number of ed tech vendors are hosted through AWS – with Canvas as one of the best known examples, as described in our post in the Chronicle last year.

Meanwhile, new niche learning platforms such as those for competency-based programs and adaptive-learning products were also designed natively for the cloud.

Established providers such as Blackboard and D2L (formerly Desire2Learn) eventually shifted with the market. D2L recently announced its move to the cloud and, for an increasing portion of its platform, AWS. Blackboard in the past week announced a new partnership with IBM to manage its existing data centers and to expand the cloud option using AWS. In fact, as part of this new partnership, Blackboard is moving away from its own data-center technology and adopting AWS as the default. I expect cloud-based options on AWS for both of these vendors to become the norm for all of their customers in the coming years.

Open-source platforms like Moodle are increasingly adopting AWS. And the newest LMS competitor — Schoology — is based on Amazon’s cloud service. Among the MOOC providers, Coursera also runs on AWS and is featured in an Amazon case study. Udacity runs on Google App Engine but does a segment of its homework and grading on AWS. The nonprofit MOOC provider edX has a partner company that runs the platform on AWS.

Not surprisingly, the AWS outage led to Canvas outage for more than four hours (with full recovery of all services adding on another three hours for some customers). Blackboard experienced outages for multiple product lines, including Learn, Moodlerooms, and Collaborate. Schoology’s LMS outage lasted until the evening for some services. And in MOOC land, Coursera also experienced an outage.

As we have shared in our reports, the movement to the cloud continues for the LMS market, with the vast majority of new implementations being cloud-hosted. And many are on the same platform-as-a-service solution – AWS. AWS may be a highly-reliable and scalable system, but when there are problems, the effects are deep and wide.

Until Next Time

We hope that you found this news roundup useful. We’re always open to feedback, which you can send to


Phil & Michael

Spotlight: Service Add-Ons For Subscribers

As our LMS Subscription service expands, so are our offerings. We are happy to announce the launch of add-on services. With these add-ons, we hope to provide vendors with a more in-depth understanding of market dynamics and market perceptions than what is contained in the report. This includes in-depth analysis of market trends, exploration of the implications of market trends, discussion of market perceptions and market needs, etc.

We will offer three different services to help meet market needs

  • Retainer-based consulting allowing an organization to schedule calls and email discussions based on topics related to our coverage in reports and monthly updates
  • On-site meetings to discuss specific topics and provide feedback and observations to a group from one organization
  • Specific short-term projects requiring additional research and reporting specifically for a client

The fine print

  • We respect our clients’ privacy, both for institutions and all other organizations. We cannot share any proprietary or confidential information. When working with external organizations, we cannot provide private information from institutions without their express written consent.
  • We cannot provide direct advice to vendors on market messaging and product strategy, particularly for the LMS itself. We have more flexibility when dealing with ancillary products surrounding the LMS.
  • We can provide feedback on vendor products, but this will be based primarily on us acting as a proxy for institutional buyers (e.g. Does this new widget meet the needs you’re hearing about in the market, and what might be missing?).

We’re currently in the process of finalizing pricing for these services. If you’re interested in getting a quote, email us at

Winter Is Here: Two examples

In a recent blog post that explored dramatic reductions in both investment and M&A activity for Ed Tech, Phil stated:

“However you read it, I think it is quite clear now that the big drop in the financial business of Ed Tech is here. This is not just a blip in the data or one-time change – by all appearances (outside of TechCrunch offices) we have a new set of expectations and a new trend. [snip]

“And this change in investments and M&A has and will have a real impact on the Ed Tech market. More companies are scrambling to try and become sustainable without new rounds of funding, but not all will succeed. I expect we’ll see a number of companies go out of business or be acquired in distress sales. The companies who have strong financials have a chance to improve their positions. Institutions need to have backup plans in case vendors go away or change. On the positive side, I find that many Ed Tech companies have a more mature approach to the market, with less hype than a few years ago.

“I’m not arguing that we will have wholesale chaos, but some caution should be advised for both companies and institutions.” 

We’re pursuing two stories at e-Literate that give specific examples that we’re already seeing.

  • In one case that we’ve previously described, a Sakai hosting provider (Scriba Corp) is in its death throes, and unfortunately institutions have been caught in the middle. It now appears that Scriba has not been paying its data center, and due to this situation at least one institution has not been able to access its course data to enable a change to a new system. The online program is unavailable, and the institution is suffering.
  • In another case, one of the new genre of competency-based education platforms is going end-of-life with almost no warning. Thankfully in this case, the vendor is going out of their way to refund money and actively support schools as they migrate to an alternate CBE-only platform or to a general purpose LMS. This story could be a harbinger of the overall CBE market dynamics.

Expect more details at e-Literate in the coming week or two.

Let’s Wrap This Up

If you are finding the report and this (sort of) monthly update to be valuable – share with a colleague! Do you know an institution that could use this level of insight and analysis? Go ahead, remind them gently to subscribe or give them a not-so-gentle shove in our direction. Either way works for us. The value of the subscription will increase with more subscribers – especially those on campus. We appreciate your help in getting the word out.

Until next month . . .


Phil & Michael

Post-EDUCAUSE 2016 Update

Welcome to our new subscribers and to our almost-monthly update! In these updates we plan to summarize some of the recent LMS news from e-Literate and other sources, take a deeper look at select topics based on our market data, and highlight specific issues that emerge from our discussions. This update comes between the EDUCAUSE 2016 conference and our Fall 2016 report release in November. Plus, we are releasing a mini-report with European market data in November. This will help us hit the “monthly” target in theory if not fully in practice.

Select LMS News and Analysis

While the EDUCAUSE conference held in late October each year has lost some of its importance to the ed tech world, it does bring out market announcements from most LMS suppliers and forms a natural time for updates. At this year’s conference in Anaheim, the marketing aspect was somewhat subdued. Vendors no longer appear to be targeting their major announcements in the fall. Nevertheless, it is a good time to summarize.

  • Blackboard – The primary announcement from Blackboard was their acquisition of Fronteer, a UK company providing software called Ally that helps institutions and faculty produce accessible content. At a time of increased focus on accessibility of content and not just technology – which naturally puts higher education institutions on the spot – we pointed out last year how “The DOJ [US department of justice] insists not only that software include capabilities for accommodation of students with disabilities but also that schools actually include the content and related metadata that is required for compliance.” Fronteer is a tool to provide visibility into how accessible existing content is within a program or institution, and it offers methods to help faculty and course designers to actually implement changes. Notably, Blackboard executives have stated that Ally will retain its capability to integrate to other LMSs. It is also worth pointing out the significantly reduced footprint of the Blackboard booth, showing a change in the company’s marketing approach and budget.
  • Brightspace by D2L – And speaking of marketing spend and booth size, D2L took the lead at this year’s conference. Similar to what we are seeing in Europe, D2L appears to be ramping up their marketing efforts and aggressively courting higher education institutions. D2L’s main product announcement focused on their move to Amazon Web Services (AWS) as the main public cloud infrastructure for their Brightpace platform. They join Instructure, Schoology, and Blackboard with this move to AWS, and Amazon’s planned addition of a Canadian AWS center in early 2017 is a key element of this strategy. D2L also showcased additional tools supporting their focus on personalized learning approaches.
  • Canvas by Instructure – Instructure’s main announcement this year centered not on the Canvas LMS but on the general release of Arc as their new video platform. On Monday the company announced their earnings for Q3 2016. Revenue was up 44% year-over-year to US$30.1 million, with non-GAAP losses of US$9.5 million. During the conference call Instructure executives said that they expect to be cash flow positive as soon as this same time in 2017. In addition, their guidance for full-year revenue for 2016 is US$109.7 – US$110.3 million.
  • Schoology – In our recent post on Schoology this summer, we called out the light footprint the company has in higher education. Based on EDUCAUSE, it appears that the company is making a big effort to change this situation. Their booth size exceeded that of Instructure, and company executives noted an increase in the number of schools piloting the system. Schoology also released their Assessment Management Platform (AMP) for higher education markets, where the platform aims to improve program-level or institution-level creation and reporting on tests and exams.
  • Moodle – While Moodle itself, and even Blackboard’s Moodlerooms, did not have a real presence at EDUCAUSE, the biggest event for this fall in terms of market impact is the upcoming release of version 3.2. Moodle News recently described how “Moodle 3.2 is an ambitious attempt to upgrade, not only the theme and navigation of Moodle, but the idea and feelings of the LMS by its users.” The release is expected in the new 2-3 weeks.
  • Sakai – Also not present at the EDUCAUSE conference, Sakai’s main updates this fall includes the rollout of Sakai 11 that was announced at the end of August. Like Moodle 3.2, Sakai 11 is focused on usability and an attempt to provide a much better user experience that includes responsive design for mobile devices.
Spotlight: e-Literate Webinars in November

Working with the folks at NobleStream, we will hold webinars for the next three Wednesdays – November 2, 9, and 16 – at 2pm EST. The three webinars will allow us to describe the vision behind e-Literate as well as institutional and vendor perspectives on the procurement processes we all face in higher education. You can register for the events at this link.

The Modern Learning Platform: Not Your Mother’s Old LMS. The Learning Platform is becoming ever more central to supporting the educational landscape as it continues to transform. Educators must parse through vendor marketing buzz while vendors must understand institutional decision-making processes. That’s where our guides, Michael Feldstein and Phil Hill come in. In our three-part series, the brain trust at e-Literate share their journey to becoming thought leaders in the Higher Ed/EdTech space. We’ll hear from change-agent educators that understand the importance of the pedagogy beyond technology platforms. Finally Phil and Michael rationalize the Learning Platform decision, making selection and implementation easier for both institutions and the myriad vendors in the marketplace.

Coming Up . . . European LMS Market Data

In early November, we will release our mini-report that expands our market coverage to Europe for the LMS (or VLE if you live in the UK). The data will include overall market share in Europe as well as per-country data. We will also share average age of LMS implementations and other observations. As can be seen below, Moodle is dominant across the region, but the underlying data shows a significant shift in new implementations. Expect more soon.

Coming Up . . . Fall 2016 LMS Market Report

Our Fall 2016 update report is also due out in November. This report will build upon our Spring report but include new market data from the past 6 months. As a snapshot until the full report comes out . . .

Reminder on Email Access

In the initial phase of this service, this subscription will be delivered via email service. We have had a few issues with emails going to spam folders – we will see if there are people or organizations not opening these update emails to notify them directly. This fall we plan to start introducing a login-based website to allow subscribers to see archived reports and updates. In the meantime, you can add to your contact or white label list to avoid spam.

We would love feedback and suggestions as we move forward, so feel free to send us a note to!

From the Shameless Commerce Department

If you are finding the report and this monthly update to be valuable – share with a colleague! Do you know an institution that could use this level of insight and analysis? Go ahead, remind them gently to subscribe or even browbeat them. Either way works for us. But the value of the subscription will increase with more subscribers – especially those on campus. Thanks for getting the word out.

Until next month . . .


Phil & Michael

August 2016 Update

Welcome to our new subscribers and to our second monthly update! In these updates we plan to summarize some of the LMS news over the past month from e-Literate and other sources, take a deeper look at select topics based on our market data, and highlight specific issues that emerge from our discussions.

Select LMS News and Analysis

All the major LMS providers (at least in terms of the US and Canadian higher ed market) held their users conferences between May and July this year. We were able to attend all but one of these, and for the one we did not attend (D2L) the company provided in-depth demos with technical staff available to answer questions. We have written a series of blog posts on e-Literate summarizing our notes on the conferences, and we plan a separate subscriber-only webinar in September to discuss our observations and analysis in more depth.

  • Sakai – Michael gave a keynote and attended the Apereo Conference, and we already shared extensive notes in the July monthly update for Sakai. In his e-Literate blog post “Sakai Is Probably Healthier Than You Think”, Michael noted that while many US Sakai schools have migrated to Canvas in the past few years, Sakai’s open source contributions – which provide one good indicator of open source project health – have actually accelerated lately. Sakai usage and institutional investment has increased outside of the US, particularly in Spain.
  • Moodle – At the US Moodle Moot in Los Angeles, Phil attended and described in a blog post “MoodleMoot US 16: Playing small-ball” how the Moodle product direction shows a consistent mission and “just expanding and improving” philosophy. There will be an interesting release of 3.2 in November that will include a new “blockless theme” aimed at improving the out-of-the-box user experience. We believe that institutional acceptance (or lack thereof) of this release and new theme will be a strong marker on future Moodle market share in the US and Canada.
  • Schoology – This company has been increasing their focus on the US higher education market for at least a year and a half, with their January 2015 win with Colorado State University Global Campus providing a significant milestone in their progress. We at e-Literate have been covering the company in more depth, including Phil’s post “Schoology: The strongest LMS you’ve never seen” based on recent exploration analysis of the company and product line. Put directly, Schoology has a very strong LMS product and reputation in adjacent markets (K-12 and international), which highlights the lack of significant market share progress in US and Canadian higher education somewhat perplexing. We believe this company has a lot of potential, but they are not over the hump yet.
  • Blackboard – Despite the company’s inability to sell itself last year and the challenges in releasing Learn Ultra – the often delayed redesign of the flagship LMS – Blackboard still has the largest market share in higher education. The new executive team, led by CEO Bill Ballhaus, is leading Blackboard in a more focused direction, based on observations before and during their users conference. Phil covered the event in two posts – “About The Blackboard Partnership With IBM And Amazon Web Services” and “Blackboard Learn Ultra: Ready or not?”. Since the conference there have been additional leadership changes at the company, with long-time executive Matt Small leaving his post as President of International to become CEO at another edtech firm. Now that Learn Ultra is available for pilots, we’ll be watching carefully for reactions from institutions running these pilots.
  • Brightspace by D2L – D2L’s users conference was the one that neither Phil nor Michael attended, leading to our post “Changes at D2L: A second-hand view from users conference”. Thanks to the in-depth demos provided by the company, we have seen some big product changes and look forward to customer reaction to the Daylight Experience, D2L’s new design approach intended to upgrade the user experience of the core LMS and other product lines. While D2L has long been known to have an impressive client retention rate but with recent lack of major wins – read that as stable customer base in higher ed over the past few years – we are seeing some changes this year. D2L has some big wins, some in higher ed but more in K-12, but they also have some major client defections. We’ll watch this fall and beyond for customer reaction to product line changes as well as whether we are seeing the beginnings of more significant market share changes.
  • Canvas by Instructure – While Michael and Phil both attended InstructureCon this year, it was the first time for Michael. In his post “Instructurecon 2016: Why This Company is Still Formidable (and Misunderstood)”, he explored two of the claims that competitors or critics of the company level – that they “open wash” or are “fauxpen”; and that they have no vision. While Instructure seems to keep on keeping on, they have recently made some major changes in their organization to improve the product vision and ability to deliver. In particular, we’ll watch how well Instructure delivers on Mastery Paths, their approach to selective or conditional releases which will attempt to make this capability that has been available in other products for a long time more usable for mainstream faculty. 
Spotlight: Notes From First Analysis Conference Call

On August 11th Michael and Phil were the guests on a conference call hosted by Corey Greendale of First Analysis, a venture capital and financial analysis firm. We discussed ed tech in general but focused on the LMS market and digital transformation of academic publishing. Below we are sharing Corey’s notes from the call that First Analysis put out in a research note. We have excluded any financial recommendations or analysis made by First Analysis based on the conversation and just included the summary our our comments.

Current state of the LMS market. Hill reflected on the current state of the institutional education LMS market, which we divide into three segments, domestic higher education, domestic K-12, and international. He noted that as the most developed segment of the market, higher ed has long been nearly fully penetrated, estimating over 90% of institutions have employed an LMS since the early 2000s. Hill believes, however, that it has only been over the past three to five years that faculty usage of LMSs has moved toward saturation, estimating that today over 80% of higher ed courses leverage an LMS, leading to routine use among faculty and students. Relative to higher ed, the K-12 and international segments are at an earlier stage of LMS penetration, with lower adoption and usage within institutions. Hill noted that a greater number of “freemium” LMS solutions serve the K-12 segment relative to higher ed. These freemium solutions offer basic functionality free of charge but keep more advanced features behind a paywall.

Hill observed that in general, LMS providers tend to earn fewer dollars per student in K-12 and must employ a sales model tailored to the segment that is generally dissimilar to what is needed for higher ed, which can be challenging for smaller providers.

Tying in a recently published e-Literate article using data from LISTedTECH, Hill noted that Instructure’s Canvas LMS has seen its share of total higher ed LMS implementations grow to a current level above 80% in the U.S. and Canada, driven by its capabilities as a native cloud-based system and user-friendly approach and features. Hill also believes the higher ed market tends to reward a relatively small number of LMS providers.

Hill pointed out that the higher ed LMS market has tended to evolve relatively slowly in terms of new entrants gaining substantial share, with past potentially disruptive entrants having a muted market effect. Hill, however, sees the potential for greater growth in the K- 12 and international segments for LMS providers both large and small, given the earlier stage of these markets.

LMS market replacement cycle, pricing, and faculty role in the decision process. Hill sees the typical time period an institution will remain with an LMS as three to five years. He noted some institutions will wait a decade or longer before targeting a replacement, depending on contract length. More recently, Hill has seen a higher volume of voluntary migration relative to prior years, perhaps signaling a secular change in the replacement cycle, with a strong link between Instructure’s recent momentum and high rates of replacement-driven growth. This, in Hill’s view, has been driven by increasing awareness among institutional faculty that optimal LMS selection can lead to productivity and other professional improvements, with faculty adopting an increasingly active role in pushing for a change of LMS and contributing input on product selection. In addition, Hill noted that institutions are increasingly experienced and comfortable in handling the LMS migration process, eroding a historical barrier to LMS replacement.

Turning to LMS pricing, Hill believes the dynamic between pricing and purchasing decisions has evolved, with pricing less important today relative to five years ago. Before the current phase of the LMS market began with the introduction of cloud-based solutions, the market was somewhat stagnant for several years, leading to commoditization and purchasing decisions made based largely on price. More recently, with a relative abundance of differentiated, feature-rich LMS products, pricing has become less important in purchasing decisions.

Future of the LMS market. In the long run, Hill expects an increasing level of integration in the LMS space enabling a broader array of learning applications, with the LMS functioning as a central hub that links applications and collects data. In our view, Instructure’s strategy, built around expanding from its LMS offerings into the broader HCM space, fits well with this “LMS as hub” dynamic.

Competition and market share within the publishing industry. Reflecting on the competitive position of leading publishers, Feldstein said that he believes Pearson’s large size will allow it to take risks while competing in a broad range of product categories. At the same time, he sees McGraw-Hill as an industry leader in its digital strategy, enabled by highly effective cultural change management that has allowed the company to produce superior digital content that leverages the advantages of the format. Feldstein also noted publishers are increasingly embracing the direct-to-student textbook rental model, though he believes students prefer a centralized, Netflix-like model in renting textbooks rather than renting directly from publishers, given the convenience of a single source. Feldstein also observed that publishers target revenue through sales of textbook content related to graded homework, which is likely to compel students to make purchases.

Digital adoption trends among publishers. As noted, Feldstein sees McGraw-Hill as a leader in digital content, estimating that approximately half of the company’s sales are now digital. Feldstein sees Pearson as a leader in the space given its highly effective, high-touch sales model involving salespeople working closely with higher ed faculty to evaluate academic material, which mitigates a key barrier to closing sales. Feldstein sees the increasing abundance of digital content as both an opportunity and barrier for large publishers, providing an opportunity for meaningful differentiation that requires significant capital investment.

Feldstein said that as a whole, digital adoption among publishers has progressed more slowly than might have been expected, as publishers explored the most effective uses of digital content in easing faculty challenges. Institutional procurement processes are an additional barrier to greater digital adoption in Feldstein’s view, with digital product evaluation often complex relative to print, and subject to delays driven by decision-makers who are inexperienced in selecting digital content. Finally, Feldstein observed that an additional source of friction seen in digital content adoption has come in the form of faculty hesitance about the format, which he believes relates to sensitivity that digital products may alter teaching methodologies.

Coming Up . . .

As mentioned above, the September monthly update will feature a live webinar for subscribers where we share our observations in more depth and answer participant questions.

Reminder on Email Access

In the initial phase of this service until Fall 2016, this subscription will be delivered via email service. We have had a few issues with emails going to spam folders – we will see if there are people or organizations not opening these update emails to notify them directly. This fall we plan to start introducing a login-based website to allow subscribers to see archived reports and updates. In the meantime, you can add to your contact or white label list to avoid spam.

We would love feedback and suggestions as we move forward, so feel free to send us a note to!

From the Shameless Commerce Department 

If you are finding the report and this monthly update to be valuable – share with a colleague! Do you know an institution that could use this level of insight and analysis? Go ahead, remind them gently to subscribe or even browbeat them. Either way works for us. But the value of the subscription will increase with more subscribers – especially those on campus. Thanks for getting the word out.Until next month . . .

July 2016 Update

Welcome to the subscription service and to our first monthly update! In these updates we plan to summarize some of the LMS news over the past month from e-Literate and other sources, take a deeper look at select topics based on our market data, and highlight specific issues that emerge from our discussions.

In the initial phase of this service until Fall 2016, this subscription will be delivered via email service. We have had a few issues with emails going to spam folders – we will see if there are people or organizations not opening these update emails to notify them directly. This fall we plan to start introducing a login-based website to allow subscribers to see archived reports and updates. In the meantime, you can add to your contact or white label list to avoid spam. 

We would love feedback and suggestions as we move forward, so feel free to send us a note to!

Select LMS News and Analysis
  • Sometimes we see an event that leads to real-world learnings for both institutions and vendors. Put another way, sometimes we get our teeth in and like to keep chewing. Over the past month and a half we have been running a series of posts at e-Literate looking at a particularly painful LMS outage at UC Davis where the system went down for a full week, the vendor stopped responded with any real updates on the outage, and the school had to limp through finals with two partially-functional systems. You can start with this post that broke the news of the outage and then view this listing of follow-on posts. The series (to date) culminated in our exclusive look at the contract between UC Davis and the Sakai hosting partner Scriba Corp, helping to clarify where the process broke down.
  • Triggered by this UC Davis outage but also by Michael’s recent keynote and attendance at the Apereo Conference, we took a deeper look at open source contributions with an analysis of Github data for Sakai, Moodle, and Canvas, concluding that “Sakai Is Probably Healthier Than You Think”. Despite (or because of?) the loss of several founding institutions, Sakai has even seen a recent increase in the number of contributors to the code base. More on this subject in the next section.
  • We are taking a deeper look at D2L’s recent updates to Brightspace LMS and plan to summarize our thoughts soon. In the meantime, D2L has picked up two significant recent wins with Kaplan University and its 37,000+ students (taking the early lead in gobbling up end-of-life Pearson LearningStudio opportunities) and with the state of New Mexico for all K-12 students. Our focus in this initial subscription is on higher education, but the New Mexico news is the type of “adjacent market” news that we believe is relevant to the higher education community, at least in understanding vendor health and product direction. We don’t plan to re-share all LMS vendor press releases, but these two decisions are important to track.
  • With Canvas gaining the largest percentage of new LMS implementations in the past few years, we thought is was worthwhile to share in public a graphic from our initial report showing where these customers came from. In other words, what were the previous LMSs for schools adopting Canvas, and for that matter, any other LMS over the past five years? This graphic might be our favorite view from our new relationship with the folks at LISTedTECH. There’s just a lot of interesting relationships and analysis possible for the data geek who likes exploring great graphics.
  • Blackboard announced last week that they are partnering with IBM to outsource their data center operations and help accelerate their move to the cloud. This move (along with acquisition from parent company of Higher One / CashNet) are the first big moves with the company’s new CEO and should give some insight into the revised direction for the company. In a blog post, Peter George added that “we have selected Amazon Web Services (AWS) as our strategic cloud services provider and have entered into an agreement with IBM to manage our cloud and datacenter computing infrastructure as we move to the AWS Cloud.”
  • At the MoodleMoot US in Los Angeles, Martin Dougiamas described the four key themes driving the Moodle roadmap: Simplifying UX on Mobile and Web (including a new blockless default theme planned for November), Enhancing Interoperability and Integrations Support, Extending the Mobile Feature Set (planning for 100% of functionality for 80% of users), and Computer-assisted Education (with analytics-based notification to help you teach and learn).
Deeper Look: Assessing the Health of an Open Source LMS

Evaluating the health of any open source project can be tough. With a vendor-owned product, customers generate revenues, and some percentage of those revenues go toward funding developers who are all centrally directed by a company’s leadership. With an open source project, there can be volunteers, there can be institutions putting paid resources on a project, there can be support vendors contributing paid resources, and all of those resources could be working together under any one of a variety of governance models with varying degrees of coordination. We know open source can work overall because we have multiple examples of huge successes like Apache, Linux, and Firefox. But, particularly from a distance, it can be hard to tell why it works, never mind how. In the LMS world, we have three LMSs released under open source licenses in the US/Canadian market with significant market share—Canvas, Moodle, and Sakai. Each has a very different sustainability model than the others. Since we have spent a lot of time this month digging into the details of the UC Davis Sakai disaster, and since there is a popular perception that Sakai is dying, we’re going to take Sakai as a case study.With the departure of some of the marquis named schools that gave Sakai its original credibility—Indiana University, University of Michigan, and UC Berkeley, for example—conventional wisdom is that there is a flight for the exits by the Sakai schools. The adoption of Canvas by Unizin was particularly damaging to perceptions of the project’s health. But in the the blog post mentioned above in this month’s news summary, we showed that the number of code contributions to Sakai has increased dramatically since the departure of those schools.

We found that other contributors stepped in with the departure of those early adopter institutions:

It is not unusual for this sort of pattern to emerge in open source projects that have significant adoption and use when founding developers leave. Unlike a company, where there is a single point of control, some open source governance models are more resilient in the face of a crisis of leadership because there is no single point of control and therefore no single point of failure. (Note that the governance models of Moodle and Canvas are very different from Sakai as well as from each other; they almost certainly have different resilience characteristics.)

One of the reasons that the development of new leadership is not obvious to many in the US/Canadian market is that, while Sakai’s US adoption trend has been stagnant to downward in recent years, it has managed to grow overseas adoption substantially. The non-US institutions that have adopted Sakai as their primary LMS is approaching 50% of total adoption:

Some of the new leadership in Sakai development has come from Spain. We now live in a world in which the Spanish LMS market can influence the viability of the choices available to US and Canadian institutions.

Furthermore, our data do not support the implications in a recent Edutechnica blog post that a very large percentage of Sakai schools are looking to move. Edutechnica lumped schools currently running RFPs or pilots, which are strong indicators of possible change, with those schools running another LMS as a secondary system, which is a weak indicator. When we exclude secondary systems from our early warning analysis, we don’t see evidence that there will be a large drop in Sakai adoption this year. The caveats are that RFP and pilot data are both hard to get and seasonal. We may be missing some schools that are looking and we may see a surge when the 2016-2017 North American school year starts.

The last piece of information we can add to the picture is qualitative. The highlights of the new release of Sakai suggest that the developer community is aware that ease of use has become a critical competitive factor and has prioritized improving usability. Further, the community has produced an external-facing marketing video for the first time in recent memory. Open source projects that are entering a death spiral typically become very inwardly focused. Sakai does not appear to be in maintenance mode.

Overall, the current data suggest that Sakai’s health is fragile but not in crisis. It is too early to tell whether global adoption will stabilize at the current level, take another leg down, or begin to move back toward the peak it achieved in 2014. But the larger point is that the surface indicators that the market uses to judge the health of an LMS, such the departure of prominent adopting schools, are not always strong indicators of health and stability for open source LMSs like Sakai.

Spotlight: Disaster Recovery

As called out in the series of posts on UC Davis and Scriba, the school has been paying explicitly for Disaster Recovery services. Even though Scriba failed to deliver on the contract, the terms raises an important issue of what kind of services should a college or university request from a managed-hosting or cloud-hosting LMS vendor.

What we find as the default these days are claims and contractual terms of 99.9% uptime, measured annually or monthly. Vendors tend to include this type of language in a contract and often add a term that if they do not meet this metric, the client is entitled to a prorated refund. The catch is that clients are often asked to sign that this is their only remedy to a vendor missing uptime requirements.

But 99.9% uptime leads to just under 9 hours of unplanned outages each year. There are three problems to consider:

  • Losing 9 hours at once could mean losing an entire day during finals. Is this acceptable without remedy?
  • As seen as UC Davis, an extended outage can threaten the entire academic operation of a university – an issue that warrants more than just relatively small refunds on a service.
  • How much data is or will be lost with an outage? Getting a system back up after 4 hours while losing a day or more of course content may be less of a problem than getting back up in 9 hours but without losing any course data.

Other items that schools should consider are definitions of maximum data loss in outage, maximum response time per incident, and an explicit disaster recovery plan. Does your vendor have a plan to minimize your losses when the unexpected happens? For additional fees, there may be methods for a school to ensure there is a hot spare system in place or at least a synchronized backup database and a fully-built application environment ready if needed.For vendors, this is a real opportunity to put your money where your mouth is, and you can even create competitive advantage by offering these terms proactively. Times are changing – LMS is mainstream now and a core part of a college’s operations.

Coming Up . . . 

Again, thank you for your subscription. We look forward to building out this service not just for you but also with you. Please send us your feedback and questions to

What to expect: In a month, Michael and Phil will have attended the major user conferences for Sakai, Moodle, Schoology, Blackboard, and Instructure. In addition, we have been given private, in-depth demos from D2L on their product direction. The August monthly update will feature our coverage and analysis of these events. And we will ask why four major commercial LMSs hold their conferences in a 11-day span based in Miami, Las Vegas, Washington DC, and Keystone, Colorado. Really? I already know the biggest request we have of our corporate subscribers 🙂

From the Shameless Commerce Department 

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Until next month . . .