August 2017 Part I – After The User Conferences

First of all, we welcome our new subscribers, and we want to thank everyone for your support and interest in this work!

July happens to be the month when the majority of major LMS user conferences are scheduled, and this year they were even packed into a two-week time period. D2L, Schoology, Blackboard, Moodle (as MoodleMootUS hosted at BbWorld), and Instructure all hosted events between July 17 – 28. We were able to attend all of these except Schoology’s conference – an event we experienced last year and plan to go to next year. This scheduling has led us to provide two updates in August – Part I focusing on summaries of the user conferences, and Part II focusing on data updates some institutional process ideas.

On to the updates.

Notes From User Conferences

In our recent e-Literate blog posts we have described an emerging oligopoly of four primary LMS providers – Moodle and Blackboard with the largest installed bases and Canvas and D2L with the highest growth from new implementations. Based on our recent conference sessions, we can summarize what we’re seeing with recent announcements and trends for each of these four solutions. We plan to add similar summaries for additional providers – Sakai, Schoology, etc – in future updates.

Before getting to a summary for each vendor, it is interesting to note that we are seeing real improvements in company support and product design for each of the commercial vendors. Canvas continues to impress with its solid management and roll out of updated capabilities. D2L has added new management and a new focus on truly listening to customers. Blackboard’s new executive team has significantly improved their messaging around Learn SaaS and LearnUltra, and we are staring to see institutional pilot adoption of Ultra. We cannot remember the last time that we came away from all three conferences with such positive reactions.

This situation is remarkable (to us, at least) when we contrast with just 5-10 years ago. We used to describe the market as dysfunctional, in that customer demand / feedback often did not lead to better products and better services. But now, we see improvements that, based on conference attendee reactions and interviews, are directly tied to institutional demand and feedback.

Moodle, of course, is not going away or getting worse – far from it. It’s just that we did not see the same level of improvements in product and support based on customer demand and feedback.

Summaries from User Conferences of Four Larges LMS Providers

As we have noted in our reports, Blackboard Learn has the second-largest installed base worldwide yet they have lost market share at least since the late 2000s. In North America, Blackboard Learn has the largest market share, but it has dropped from 43% to 31% of institutions in the past decade. They had two key wins in Europe over the past year (NTNU in Norway and Bocconi University in Italy). A key challenge for the company is dealing with fall-out from the introduction of Learn Ultra, their redesign of the core LMS’s user experience that is 2 – 3 years late.

Blackboard brought in a new CEO and have revamped their executive team over the past 18 month, and from our perspective we are now seeing some of the positive results in terms of messaging and client retention.

The company is still playing defense in North America – trying to limit client departures – although their announcement from the BbWorld main stage that the University of Phoenix will be transitioning to Learn Ultra in the fall is a big win for them that has been a long time coming.

Primary News From Conference

  • Announcement of University of Phoenix move to Learn Ultra for Fall 2017, and a few dozen pilot programs at other institutions
  • Substantial evidence of real integration across their product portfolio (e.g., mobile LMS apps with Collaborate)
  • Over 200 customers now on Learn SaaS with over a hundred more in various stages of evaluation or transition
  • Continuing to build a lead on sophisticated analytics, including for advisors

Primary Strengths in Market

  • Large installed based
  • Improved management leading to tighter hold on customers
  • Broad product line

Open Questions

  • Will there be meaningful adoption of Learn Ultra, leading to 3-horse race for new implementations?
  • Will renewed focus on Learn Original Experience (including SaaS option) slow down attrition?

D2L seemed poised to pick up significant market share 4 – 6 years ago after winning the patent lawsuits from Blackboard and subsequently raising $165 million in two rounds of financing. But that timeframe coincided with new competition and lower-than-expected growth. Lately, however, D2L and its Brightspace LMS have been picking up momentum – particularly in North America and Europe. In North America they are a close second place in terms of new implementations over the past 12 months (largely due to some major wins with institutions having centralized online program offerings). Just today the company announced that Southern New Hampshire University selected Brightspace – a significant win at the fastest-growing university in North America.

D2L has brought in new management, with several based outside of Canada, and this recent change appears to be bringing new approaches to listening to customers. The Brightspace product demonstrations during the conference keynote got significant spontaneous reactions from crowd (along with hallway discussions) likely reflecting this improved ability to listen to customers. 

Primary News From Conference

  • Full roll-out of Daylight – the new usability and design improvements to Brightspace
  • A focus on smaller features responding to customer requests, such as ability to shuffle the order of quiz questions
  • Release of new Data Hub this summer to allow bulk access to data, either manual or through API

Primary Strengths in Market

  • Full feature set w mastery / CBE and course design focus
  • History of strong customer retention
  • Recent momentum in schools with centralized online programs

Open Questions

  • Will recent 12-month uptick in adoptions persist
  • Will management changes lead to long-term changes?

Instructure has had a long run of success with Canvas, and at times it has appeared that the default decision for any higher ed LMS migration was towards Canvas. While the company has continued with broad-based wins in North America, there lately has been renewed competition, particular from D2L, creating a two-horse race. Canvas is still winning more than any others in North America, Europe, Latin America, and Oceania, but the competition is improving.

Instructure has recorded strong international grown in just the past two years, and this interest was evident at the conference. Just two years ago Canvas as an LMS brand was virtually unknown in Latin America, but now they have customers in Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and a growing presence in the region. The same could be said for Europe (northern Europe in particular) and Australia and New Zealand.

We continue to be impressed with how well the company is managed, as a real strength of the company is in execution on the basics. At the conference, Instructure continued to show discipline and maintenance of corporate culture despite growth in customers and employees. Customers remain enthusiastic about Canvas product and roadmap. 

Primary News From Conference

  • Release of Gauge, an assessment management platform for K-12 usage, which might impact higher ed in the future
  • Redesigned Quiz engine and Gradebook, leading to what we saw as the biggest interest from conference attendees
  • Investment in back-end platform design (e.g. microservices) to increase speed of design improvements
  • Reintroduction of analytics – visualizations initially targeted at faculty usage

Primary Strengths in Market

  • Unique company and client culture, leading to a great deal of trust by institutions
  • Long-term and improving cloud platform stability and scalability
  • User Experience based on intuitive design – perception reinforced by multiple institutional clients

Open Questions

  • Are they moving fast enough w MasteryPaths to satisfy institutions exploring mastery and CBE programs?
  • Will the new approach to analytics and continuation of CanvasData lead to real roadmap supporting institutional usage of learning analytics?

Moodle has long been the global market leader by a large margin – #1 in Europe, Latin American and Oceania and #2 in North America in terms of numbers of institutions, but #4 in terms of student enrollments. Recently new implementations for Moodle has virtually disappeared in North America and there are strong signs of collapsing growth in Oceania, Latin America, and Europe.

Despite noted weaknesses in Moodle as option for new implementation, there is real power in having world’s largest installed base. The Moodle Community seems to have an uneasy with Blackboard as its primary benefactor through Moodlerooms. And recently there has been a disconnect between many in the community who want Moodle to compete more aggressively and successfully against Canvas, and the Moodle HQ group that publicly has dismissed that this is an issue.

Primary News From Conference

  • Continuation of small-ball, or micro-feature approach
  • Further improvements to usability most significantly since v 3.2 released in the fall
  • New options for learning analytics

Primary Strengths in Market

  • Low total cost for small, under-resourced schools worldwide
  • Largest global presence
  • Active open source community

Open Questions

  • Is the recent collapse of new Moodle implementations a long-term trend?
  • Will micro-feature improvements be enough to avoid increasing attrition outside of North America?
Update On Half-Year Implementation Chart

In our Spring 2017 report we included a view of new implementations (changing from one LMS to another) for North America and Europe combined and per half-year periods. We’d like to update this chart for two reasons:

  1. We now have data for the first half of 2017, whereas the spring report just showed data through April.
  2. We discovered a mistake that led to pilot implementations getting included in the data. This has been fixed in the updated version. The overall shape of data is similar, but the absolute numbers have changed somewhat. We apologize for this error.

The updated chart continues to show a significant change of D2L’s new implementations in the past 6 – 12 month, largely but not exclusively based on wins with for-profit systems leaving Pearson LearningStudio.

The data also shows a stabilization to the downward trend of LMS migrations that started in 2013. One of the key topics we expect to cover in our Fall 2017 report is whether the data suggests an increase in activity in the academic LMS space.

Finally, note that we have added logos and the CC-BY license, meaning that subscribers are free to use this graphic as long as providing attribution.

Until Part II

We hope that you found this news roundup useful. We plan to release Part II of the August update in a few weeks.

We’re always open to feedback, which you can send to


Phil & Michael