The recent news of Moodle and Blackboard separating ties introduces uncertainty for US higher education institutions to acknowledge. However, it is important to consider that the Moodleroom’s product has technically been called Joule (ie: not Moodle) for almost a decade, Moodlerooms has shown unwavering support to Moodle since becoming a Blackboard company in 2012, and the Moodlerooms github repository remains active, with source code commits happening as recently as 3 days ago. How much material change institutions will actually face because of this development, and when, is to be determined. However, this development provides an opportune moment to examine the health of the installed Moodle base when considering institutional LMS usage in US higher education.
Over the past three years, Moodle has lost a larger proportion of its installed base than Blackboard
Since spring of 2016, Moodle has lost almost 15% of institutions that had been using its LMS, losing 106 institutions while only gaining 36. Blackboard only lost 13%, dropping 156 institutions and gaining 91 during this same time period.
Though the number of total Moodle installations is trending down, the number of hosted Moodle installations is trending up
Though the number of US-based institutions using Moodlerooms has seen a steady decline, it remains the largest individual Moodle hosting organization by far. Other US Moodle partners exist, and a small but growing number of institutions are hosting directly with the Moodle organization using their MoodleCloud solution.
Almost half of Moodle installations are currently running an unsupported version
Using Moodle’s official documentation as a guide, almost half of all Moodle installations are currently running an obsolete version of the product. At least 49 institutions are still running version 1.9, for which support ended in 2012, calling into question how committed these institutions really are to Moodle (or, to be fair, to online learning or to providing a modern digital experience for their students).
When Moodle institutions make LMS changes, they are much more likely to switch to another LMS completely than to swap out who hosts their Moodle environment
Four out of five institutions that were running Moodle in 2016 are now running Instructure Canvas. Blackboard claims the second highest number of migrations, to Learn. D2L Brightspace, Schoology, NeoLMS, and the LMS built into the Student Information System Jenazbar are some of the products that make up the long tail of LMSs to which Moodle institutions are switching. Though a small handful of institutions have switched which organization hosts their Moodle installation, it is much more common for an institution to switch LMSs completely rather than to switch how their Moodle environment is hosted.
What this means
Though the news of Blackboard and Moodle separating ties is surprising, and perhaps unsettling, Moodle began to see a drop in popularity in US higher education as far back as 2014. Moodle remains the most popular open source LMS; however, institutions should consider the solution’s history against the risk of the organization’s increasing corporate posture and need to raise external capital to fairly compare it against other new and incumbent LMS solutions.