November 2017 – News from Fall Conferences, Data Description, and Trends in Decommissions

Welcome to our new subscribers! And, as we approach this Thanksgiving weekend, we want to take a moment to express our sincere thanks to everyone for your support and continued interest in this work!

This month we share some insights from two of the major fall conferences, WCET and EDUCAUSE. We also take a closer look at our multi-faceted data gathering methodologies and articulate some theories that might explain an apparent mismatch between accelerating rates of LMS decommissions and a plateau in new implementations.

First, however, we apologize again for those of you who received one or more emails in error earlier this month. We were testing a plugin that would provide better integration between the mailing list service that is sending you this message and the web site software where all the reports and newsletters are archived for you. Unfortunately, the plugin didn’t behave as expected. It was supposed to be in test mode, but instead it synchronized with the mailing list and sent out a test email that was not supposed to go to customers. We are improving our quality assurance testing processes to better isolate our staging environment so that this sort of production error is less likely to happen in the future.

On to the updates.

Updates from WCET and EDUCAUSE

Last month we filed conference dispatches from Canada and Brazil. This month we’ll share updates from two domestic conferences, WCET in Denver and EDUCAUSE in Philadelphia.

WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET) was founded in 1989 to bring “together colleges and universities, higher education organizations and companies to collectively improve the quality and reach of e-learning programs”. The focus is on improving teaching and learning through the use of educational technology, with an explicit acknowledgement that state and federal educational policies affect what happens at institutions. This tends to be a hands on group that rolls up its sleeves, actually uses the technology and has been doing so for a long time, and keeps the focus on faculty and students. In other words, they’re pretty grounded.

This year’s annual meeting brought in ~400 attendees. Apart from a number of timely policy and pedagogy discussions related to distance education, we were struck by the emergence of accessibility as a major theme, particularly as is relates to curricular materials delivered through LMS platforms. Two of the five WCET Outstanding Work (WOW) awards went to products that are directly tackling accessibility: Ally, the new tool from Blackboard and the Universal Design Online content Inspection Tool (UDOIT) from the University of Central Florida. At a very basic level, both tools enable users to scan content for potential accessibility issues and follow suggestions for how to remediate identified issues. The business model behind the products couldn’t be more different, however. The Ally tool is being sold by Blackboard as an enterprise solution for institutions whereas UDOIT is an internal tool developed primarily for faculty usage.

To Blackboard’s credit, both as a good citizen and for making a smart strategic move, they have positioned Ally as an LMS agnostic product. In other words, Ally will work with Blackboard, Brightspace, Canvas, Moodle or whatever LMS is being used. We have been hearing lots of buzz about the promise of the Ally product and look forward to monitoring its uptake and impact. For those who are interested, we should note that Ally is not a homegrown solution but the flagship product acquired through the purchase last year of Fronteer, a UK-based software company founded by Nicolaas Matthijs. 

The University of Central Florida has taken a different tactic with the UDOIT product. It was developed internally, as a tool for individual faculty, through a cooperative effort between the Center for Distributed Learning (CDL) and the Student Accessibility Services (SAS) office. UDOIT is available internally to UCF faculty who want do an accessibility scan of their courses. Externally, the UDOIT code is being made available to the larger community through a GPL Open Source License. The only catch is that UDOIT was written to work with Canvas by Instructure, so in order to leverage the open source code, you have to be using Canvas.

EDUCAUSE is the IT-focused, convention sized foil to the WCET’s relatively intimate gathering. With ~8,000 attendees, scores of booths on the convention floor and too many sessions to keep track of, it can be overwhelming. But it’s a good place keep an eye on trends and make some guesses about where the market is headed. Blackboard, D2L, Instructure, Schoology, and Moodle Partner eThink all had booths though it was clear that none of the LMS companies were trying to outspend one another. In fact, it seemed more like they were spending just enough to have a presence but not going all out. The downsizing was particularly noticeable with Blackboard and in stark contrast to several years ago when Blackboard had massive booths and would sponsor huge parties. Times have changed, in many ways. EDUCAUSE used to be the venue for major product announcements by the LMS companie, but that has largely shifted to the summer user conferences. 

One announcement worth noting, however, is the one by Instructure about the availability of Accessibility Checker for Canvas course content and a new captioning feature in ARC, their video platform. This announcement echoes what we were seeing at WCET and enforces our belief that accessibility tools are going mainstream and gaining traction.

Blackboard’s booth, while smaller than in year’s past, was revealing in its emphasis on partnerships and tools that plug into their LMS platforms. It is clear that they are marketing themselves as a suite of products and services and not simply as an LMS.

D2L had the most visible booth of the major LMS companies in terms of size and location. It was open and inviting and had a clear, focused message around D2L Brightspace being a partner in teaching and learning. No big technical announcements, no getting stuck on how great certain features are, just a straightforward presentation of an evolved vision of the company.

Finally, we were encouraged to see Schoology continuing to invest in the higher ed market. Their platform has a lot to offer for some schools and additional competition in the market is healthy for the overall ecosystem. 

There’s Data, and Then There’s Data

We’ve had a few posts recently triggered by speculations on the data set from Moodle proponents. For those wanting to dig into the weeds, it might be worth looking at this post with its description of our data and its limitations. Here’s a snippet:

Looking deeper at LMS selection, there are multiple layers of data gathering at different intervals. Some of the sources:

  • Extensive search engine notification such as Google Alerts on product keywords in multiple languages;
  • URL and domain scrapers looking for system information at official school websites; and
  • Targeted human-directed searches.

Each new data point is verified by someone using the associated hyperlinks tied to selection or usage data.There’s more information at the link, include a section on degrees of uncertainty.

Market share information provided in percentages and trends are more reliable than absolute counts outside of North America. When we do provide absolute numbers, we advise caution for readers or subscribers to not over-interpret the absolute numbers, at least without us providing additional details to keep the data in context.

With these limitations in mind, we would like to share an interesting trend based on comparing absolute levels of new implementations (institutions moving to an LMS) and decommissions (institutions moving off an LMS). For this view we have combined North America and Europe for primary systems – note the absolute numbers at the bottom.

What’s interesting is that the trend for decommissions is rising, with the highest numbers that we’ve recorded. In addition, the data is trending up while the new implementations have flattened out recently. And we now have more decommissions noted for 2017 than new implementations.

What gives?

To be honest, we’re not entirely sure. One theory is that schools are more serious about migrations – move to new LMS and get rid of old one much quicker than they did in the past. Another theory is that schools are more aggressive about standardization on one system.

We’ll keep watching this trend and test out these theories and more.

Fall Report Coming Soon

We hope that you found this news roundup useful. In just a few weeks we’ll release our Fall 2017 Report and look at important changes and trends in the domestic and international LMS market since the publication of our Spring 2017 Report.

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


Phil & Michael & O’Neal