LMS Data – Spring 2015 Updates

For this spring’s update (though, can we really call it spring yet?), the Edutechnica team has increased our data set to include all US higher education institutions with more than 700 students, improved our ability to detect pilot and co-production LMSs, and improved our ability to categorize “other” LMSs.  This is what we’ve found:

  • Uptake of the latest version of Moodle (2.8) is steady and in-line with historical trends. Blackboard upgraded its Moodlerooms Joule product to Moodle 2.7 giving this more-recent Moodle version a bump this quarter as well.
  • Several D2L institutions appear to be running Brightspace version 10.4. This version has been rumored to be D2L’s continuous delivery release featuring automatic monthly updates. This is an encouraging sign of progress for the company which first announced the new model in summer of 2013.
  • The share of Blackboard Learn has increased slightly, driven primarily by institutions converting from ANGEL. Almost half of Blackboard’s Learn customers are on the April or October 2014 releases at this time. The other half appears to be using a long-tail of older versions with a handful still running Blackboard Academic Suite version 8. At long last, no school appears to still be running WebCT as their only  production LMS.
  • Uptake of Sakai 10 is minimal, although it is (in our opinion) the most game-changing release for this LMS to-date. About one third of the Sakai client base appears to be actively pursuing an alternate LMS at this time.
  • Instructure Canvas usage has soared to over 400 institutions. The company has still retained its ability to keep every one of its hosted customers in lock-step on the most recent release of Canvas.
  • The top “other” LMSs are: custom, Jenzabar, ed2go, Campus Cruiser, and WebStudy. Of custom LMSs, PlumTree and SharePoint appear to be the top 2 identifiable CMS platforms on top of which LMS-like capabilities have been developed.

Blackboard is an interesting case study for this update given its most recent M&A activities. By considering unique ANGEL, Blackboard Learn, and Moodlerooms installations and then de-duplicating institutions, Blackboard’s overall LMS market share has dropped to 44.1% of institutions from an estimated 80-90% following the WebCT acquisition in 2006. Of the remaining ANGEL installations, fewer than one third are currently investigating Blackboard Learn (more than one third but less than half are exploring non-Blackboard solutions; the final third has until October 2016 to migrate to another LMS). The US higher education market for LMS products has clearly become very saturated.  Blackboard must know this, as it has been taking significant actions to more rapidly build a K12 presence, first by its merging with Edline during the private equity takeover and most recently by its acquisitions of ParentLink and Schoolwires.  When a market becomes saturated, dominant companies need to choose from a variety of alternative strategies to sustain growth.  During the past decade, the company has employed many strategies to do so including:

  • Forward integration, or gaining ownership of distributors, as evidenced by the the acquisition of NetSpot, a Blackboard Collaborate re-seller
  • Backward integration, or gaining ownership of suppliers, as evidenced by the acquisitions of  Xythos, the underlying CMS technology for Blackboard Learn, and Requestec, a supplier of WebRTC technology, presumably to be used for Blackboard Collaborate
  • Horizontal integration, or gaining ownership of competitors, such as the acquisitions of ANGEL, WebCT, and Moodlerooms
  • Market development, or introducing current products into new geographic areas, as evidenced by ramping up international expansion
  • Product development, or the improvement of existing products such as the new UX in-development, or the development of new products such as xpLor
  • Related diversification, or adding new but related products, such as SafeAssign plagiarism detection or the mobile campus app product that is now called Blackboard Mosaic
  • Unrelated diversification, or adding new but unrelated products, such as the acquisition of NTI Group which provides a product that allows for mass text and voice notifications typically used in emergency situations. Another example of this which straddles the line of related/unrelated is the acquisition of Presidium which gave the organization a leg up in building a new student services line of business.
  • Retrenchment, or regrouping through cost and asset reduction to reverse declining sales and profit, as evidenced by several recent rounds of layoffs.

It is with good reason, though, that Blackboard is actively expanding into K12 given the waning presence of its cash-cow LMS product at the university level. The K12 market is significantly bigger, representing almost 100,000 individual US schools compared to higher education’s roughly 7000, and presents greater opportunities for continued growth. The biggest challenge for Blackboard is that procurement processes and preferences for K12 schools vary widely down to the local level.  And keeping many focuses within a single company could prove to be challenging to coordinate. Acquiring companies who specialize in K12 needs and who have gone through the tremendous legal, contractual, and procedural efforts required to be added to each school district’s approved vendor list is a smart move.

Anyhow, apologies for meandering down business school lane. But we believe that the data this quarter provides an artifact to a case study of how a market-leading company has needed to change and evolve over time. Here are your spring 2015 US higher education LMS stats.

LMSs_by_the_numbers_2015Spring_700FTEThis post written by the Edutechnica team and sponsored by Client Stat.

Stats for Standards

Authors’ note: Please remember – this post, and all posts on this web site, are personal thoughts that are not reflective of the opinions or positions of any organization or educational institution to which any of the authors have any real or perceived affiliation.

Upon the receipt of a note asserting that SCORM is not an official standard, we chose to hide this post while we investigated.  This post has since then been modified to avoid further confusion. The important lesson that we learned is that standards evolve in different ways over time. Some standards emerge from a single vendor approaching a technical problem in a certain way that is then adopted throughout an industry. Other standards emerge from the hard work of committees of multiple vendors and users that unite around a common cause.  Here are links to the official specification documentation and the IEEE standard site that you can use to determine if SCORM is in fact an official standard or not. One additional take-away comes from the comments section below where (to paraphrase) the question is asked “what constitutes support for a standard?” – a question which also provokes healthy debate. If these are topics that interest you, we ask that you please blog about them to surface your concerns.

An article in January explored why online learning needs to get serious about apps and proposed restructuring learning activities to be delivered through individual, purpose-built mobile apps.  An article late last year warned us not to get too used to mobile apps in the way that they are currently delivered, hypothesizing that one day the default mobile experience may be an aggregate stream of content and activity flowing from across all installed apps into one screen. The future certainly looks interesting, promising even, but only if the technologies we choose to use work well together. How should universities best plan to accommodate an increasing variety of applications, devices, products, and platforms that support their mission? We would suggest by putting greater emphasis and focus on open industry standards and specifications.

In our minds, there are many categories of standards that can benefit schools. Front-end standards focus on delivery of learning tools and learning content in ways that make it easy for these to plug into any content delivery system or LMS. Back-end integrations facilitate plugging into authentication systems, Student Information Systems, and other source and destination systems of record. Tail-end integrations make it easy to interoperate with analytical data stores, retention systems, and potentially the new concept of Learner Relationship Management systems. But this is only our perspective for what a framework for thinking about standards might look like. Emerging educational technology standards architectures address many of these different problem areas but also address subsets and supersets of similar problems in different ways.

It is important to remain informed not only about the broader direction that different standards bodies are taking but also the adoption rates of existing standards and specifications. We have used our LMS data to determine the adoption of a subset of educational technology standards and specifications including Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI), Common Cartridge (CC), Learning Information Services (LIS), Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM), and TinCan.  By cross-referencing the IMS product certification list with press releases and public-facing product documentation, we inferred which LMSs and which versions of LMSs were compliant with these various technologies. Based on this, we compiled the table below.  Note that the totals only represent LMS installations where we could verify that both the type and version of LMS supporting the standard or specification. The letter C indicates compliance versus official certification. If support for a standard or specification is provided via an add-on that is not part of the vanilla/base product, we did not include it in this table. Conversely, for products like Blackboard Learn, where TinCan support is built into the SCORM player plugin that ships with their core product, we did include it (Blackboard’s production documentation also notes this support). Note that the specific products that support specific standards and specifications are always evolving, and this is only meant to be a point-in-time snapshot of what we consider to be interesting data. If you do not believe SCORM or TinCan to be official standards, please ignore the right two columns of this table.


It is worth noting that just because an institution is using a standards-compliant product does not mean that the institution is using the standard at all let alone taking full advantage of a standard’s capabilities. Our goal here is to provide some insight into which popular standards and specifications are achieving broader implementation to help institutions make technology decisions. Commercial vendors also take note: if you are developing  a new learning tool, your path of least resistance to distributing it is to use open standards. Writing your learning tool to support them can make your product immediately compatible with thousands of universities and hundreds of complementary solutions.