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