Tag Archives: open source

5th Annual LMS Data Update

For the fifth year, we are pleased to share our annual market share analysis of LMSs used by higher education institutions in the US and in other areas around the globe. The numbers below quantify those institutions running an LMS (or LMSs) to deliver live course materials at a program, department, or institution-wide scale. Sales/demo environments, and LMSs used by a single instructor or to teach a single class, are excluded.

To briefly review our methodology, we utilize a combination of techniques to automatedly identify LMS implementations that are materially-connected to those higher education institutions officially recognized by the US and Australian Departments of Education, the Department of Employment and Social Development in Canada, and the Department for Education in the UK. We also use sources including social media, student newspapers, listservs, press releases, and other official communications to verify and validate our data. The results are then reviewed by a team of analysts familiar with the subject matter to identify and resolve any anomalies or inconsistencies.


Since Fall of 2016 we have observed some of the most massive shifts in LMS usage we’ve seen since this project began, driven primarily by factors including:

  • The increasing desire for more-pleasing student and instructor user experiences that more-closely match consumer-grade software and apps
  • The increasing popularity and convenience of reliable, vendor-managed LMSs
  • A trend towards hosting LMSs using cloud providers for reasons that include flexible scalability, predicable cost, business continuity, and the challenge of attracting and retaining relevant technical talent on staff
  • Forced upgrades and migrations such as those caused by the revised end-of-life of ANGEL (acquired by Blackboard in 2009) and the impending end-of-life of Pearson’s LearningStudio (formerly eCollege)

As universities switched LMSs over the past year, there has been a clear and increasing level of comfort and reliance on LMS vendors (and through these vendors, typically also a third-party cloud services provider such as Amazon Web Services or Rackspace) to host and maintain their learning platform infrastructure.  Even when an institution chooses to manage its own LMS, it is often still hosted on third-party cloud infrastructure. Almost no new LMS implementations are self-hosted on-premises (the exception here is mainly Moodle at smaller institutions).

It is also clear that institutions are moving with more deliberate intent away from legacy LMS architectures and older LMS versions towards the compelling, modern user experiences provided by Instructure’s Canvas LMS, D2L’s Brightspace Daylight user experience, and Blackboard’s Learn SaaS LMS with the Ultra user interface. Fewer institutions than ever are running outdated LMS software – likely because of dated user interfaces, frustrating glitches and incompatibilities with modern web browsers, and the risk of security flaws in older, unmaintained software.

LMS changes have been most-pronounced among larger schools (having more than 2000 students) in the US. Here we see the continued, significant growth of the Instructure Canvas LMS and the gradual rise of D2L’s Brightspace LMS. Moodle, Sakai, and Blackboard have each fallen slightly-to-moderately out of favor. Institutions of this size continue to responsibly migrate away from the legacy ANGEL and Pearson LearningStudio LMSs which are, or soon will be, no longer supported by their vendors.

When considering schools down to the smaller size of 500 students, we see that these trends still hold. Smaller-to-medium sized universities (between 500-2000 students) exhibit more diversity in their online learning platforms. Specifically, you will see in the figure below that when compared to the one above “Other LMSs” are used by a larger proportion of institutions. Smaller institutions are more likely than larger ones to utilize less-conventional LMSs and LMS-like solutions such as Absorb, Agilix Buzz, Edmodo, Epsilen, Focus, Google Classroom, Haiku, Learner Community, NEO LMS, Notebowl, OpenClass (to be retired in January 2018), School Loop, and Schoology. Smaller institutions are also more likely to use the LMS bundled with their SIS (such as Jenzabar’s eLearning, formerly eRacer, LMS) or with other campus software (such as Campus Cruiser’s Knosys). 

By the Numbers

Overall, the market share among the major LMS platforms continues to become more balanced. Though its share continues to decline, Blackboard still leads the US higher education LMS market with just under one-third of institutions and just over 40 percent when measured by student enrollments. Instructure has more than doubled its market share position, both by number of institutions and enrollments, over its next nearest commercial competitor, D2L. Moodle has entered a gradual decline, picking up fewer than 20 new institutions but losing around 50 since this time last year. Sakai continues an accelerating decline losing 20 percent of its installed-based year over year and picking up no new significant institutional deployments in the US. ANGEL has gone extinct, and we expect Pearson’s LearningStudio to experience the same fate by this time next year.

Global Highlights

While the US LMS marketplace is largely dominated by commercial LMSs, each region of the world has a different LMS footprint. The figure below shows percentages of each LMS used as a total of all LMSs used by country. Because the US has such a disproportionately high number of universities, small changes in other geographies can shift market share numbers significantly.

Overall, the LMSs used in these non-US regions have been stable recently, largely because they have been isolated from the churn caused by the discontinuance of legacy commercial LMSs that were rarely or never licensed outside of the US (e.g.: CourseInfo, Prometheus, ANGEL, eCollege/LearningStudio) coupled with a lack of viable local competition. The last major period of LMS churn outside of the US followed Blackboard’s acquisition of the Canadian LMS company, WebCT. With the incumbent LMS vendors being largely stable, we do not expect massive shifts in these regions in the near-term.


Almost all institutions have successfully and responsibly chosen replacement LMSs for this solution which reached its end-of-life last October.

Blackboard Learn
Blackboard continues to push forward with improvements to its many deployment models. Since we started tracking deployments of Learn SaaS last Fall, Blackboard has slowly and steadily been adding to or converting its client base to this new model while reducing the number of self-hosted institutions. This should help the organization to gradually overcome the challenges posed by the many technology and version combinations that it currently supports.

D2L Brightspace
D2L Brightspace experienced a bump in growth this year driven mainly by conversions from Pearson LearningStudio and continues to experience healthy, gradual growth. The organization has also had much success with its continuous delivery deployment model which keeps the majority of its customer base on a consistent, supportable version. Brightspace also continues to be the most popular commercial LMS among higher education institutions in Canada, where its parent company is headquartered.

Instructure Canvas
Instructure Canvas continues to experience consistent, rapid uptake by institutions migrating away from all other major LMSs and even by some schools that previously did not have a LMS. Last year, Canvas proved capable of breaking into each of the global regions that we track. This year, it continues to expand its presence, most notably in the UK.

Despite recent improvements, particularly in the area of user experience, Moodle does not seem to have gained any significant, new traction. A portion of the decrease in the number of Moodle institutions was caused by smaller institutions that have either merged or ceased operations. Moodle continues to have a much larger footprint, by percentage of total institutions, outside of the US.

Pearson has chosen to exit the LMS market by discontinuing its LearningStudio and OpenClass LMS products effective at the beginning of 2018. A much larger proportion of Pearson’s LMS customers were large, multi-campus, for-profit institutions that have ceased, or decreased the footprint of, their operations. (Most of these institutions were accredited by ACICS which has also undergone significant challenges recently).

Sakai is experiencing consistent yearly declines in every region that we are tracking globally. These declines come despite recent functional and technical improvements. At least some migrations away from Sakai appear to have been driven by the reported ongoing challenges and uncertainty in the Sakai vendor/partner community.

No single “Other” LMS has yet experienced the significant traction that Instructure began to have with Canvas in 2012/2013 though there are several mentioned above that have smaller footholds. The only micro-trends that we have begun to detect are (1) a greater exploration of LMSs that operate more like learning communities than content delivery systems and (2) early signs that medical and business schools in particular, after a period of LMS consolidation, are again starting to explore LMSs that are separate from the core institutional LMS for specific pedagogical or marketing/branding reasons.

For press inquiries, please contact marketdata@clientstat.com



The Untimely Death of Community Source

I was disappointed to learn recently of the passing away of Community Source.  Like many efforts in higher education that have aimed to enhance and support institutional collaboration around software, the primary effort highlighted in this piece, Kuali, provides evidence that it, too, is falling short. My feelings of concern for Kuali began in April when the Chronicle celebrated Kuali’s 10-year anniversary but revealed that only 74 dues-paying members participated in the organization with only dozens actually using its software. This is simply not the momentum that is needed to sustain an effort of this type given its goals.

Kuali is not, however, the only education-related organization that has experienced challenges recently and needed to transform itself in some way. My feelings for Kuali are actually not too dissimilar from the feelings I had when JASIG and Sakai merged to form Apereo when each of the organizations was under financial duress. Jisc, previously an entity of the UK government, recently reorganized into a registered independent charity to continue and sustain its work triggering similar structural changes to CETIS and OSSWatch. Edtech start-ups and established for-profit companies, too, continue to shift strategy and pivot, transforming to survive through mergers and acquisitions, new business models, or by going public or private. Even whole universities themselves are considering shifts in structure to become more nimble.  In the ways that these organizations live on despite change, I’m not entirely convinced that Kuali’s “pivot” indicates that the spirit of community source is dead nor does it indicate that a successor to community source is not viable.

There are many reasons that Kuali in particular may not have taken off as well as had been hoped (some might even argue that it actually has taken off). Maybe the project is too large or all-encompassing. Maybe it is trying to meet too many diverse needs. Maybe institutions just don’t want to accept the level of risk associated with using new software, particularly for administrative systems, for which as a foundation they are directly responsible. After all, it’s easier to blame and penalize a vendor. Maybe investment in a switch or migration would be too complex or cost prohibitive at this moment in time. There are many considerations to ponder.

But even so, I hope that we collectively take the time to reflect on both changes in the software industry and the opportunity that collaboration around software in higher ed affords us rather than simply writing these efforts off as dead. Maybe community source just needs a nudge of its own to transform into a new and more successful model. If this is the case, what are the things that we should consider and ask when making a determination of what a successor to community source might look like?

From what other examples of community source can we learn?
Michael mentions Apereo OAE as one project that has seen greater success by being freed from the consortial/foundation approach. I would also argue that the Sakai CLE also continues to experience more rapid improvement now that the encumbrance of decision by committee has been removed. Are there any others?

Are there any other organizations that have similar collaboration models but have achieved greater success?
If we strip the software pieces away, the IMS Global Learning Consortium (the organization behind popular, open edtech standards such as LTI and Common Cartridge) essentially operates in a similarly-closed consortial approach to the development of open standards. Yes, though these standards end up being open, one must pay to have a seat at the table in driving these discussions. The difference is that while foundation-based, consortial-driven efforts like Sakai and Kuali have faced challenges, IMS has become more successful than ever. Why is this?

How has the perception of open/community source changed in the past 10 years?
Open source software at one point in history was pitched as a way to beat commercial software providers at their own game – as an alternative or a check to commercial software rather than a flavor of commercial software. Now, I hear open source increasingly referred to as an “insurance policy” to avoid vendor lock-in rather than a competing model for building software outside of commercial channels. Does software really need to be developed in a consortial, non-profit manner if the goal is for the code to become open sourced? If collaborative software efforts were managed more like products than projects, would this make a difference?

How has software development changed over the past 10 years?
Several environmental factors have changed since Kuali (and community source) were first envisioned. Software itself is easier than ever to develop. Infrastructure is easier than ever to acquire for purposes of developing and running software. Technical limitations related to performance and scale have become more easily addressable. Standards allow software to be delivered in a more modular manner. The barriers to develop software continue to drop. In light of these changes, should the challenges Kuali faces dissuade similar development approaches or strengthen our resolve to try and find a better way?

How do these changes impact community source software adoption?
Increasingly, institutions prefer cloud or SaaS-based software solutions to in-house ones. Data centers are expensive and so is the experience necessary to keep them running. Because of this, not only has the nature of software development changed but also that of software delivery. Should institutions find a way to operate and run software on shared infrastructure?

Have dominant designs emerged for particular categories of software used in higher ed?
Software tends to become commoditized over time forcing it to compete in different ways – for example by supporting better usability or in edtech, pedagogy. Has the maturity of the types of software that higher education institutions use – such as the LMS and the SIS – led to any dominant design that would provide a good candidate to replicate in a community-source-like fashion?

Does a decision to collaborate make financial sense?
Once a dominant design emerges for any type of software, it becomes increasingly difficult for incumbents to sustain competitive advantage. Competitors and open source options eventually encroach on the existing product’s customer base as features and functionality become easy to replicate. Michael mentioned Instructure in his post. In the case of Canvas, there was a business case to be made to build a new LMS – with better usability and a superior delivery model, but nonetheless still an LMS. Instructure managed to build their product on an incredibly short timeline and now have a software solution that rivals the best and has even surpassed the community-source-based LMS Sakai in terms of market share. They proved that it is easier than ever to launch a new, competing software product in higher education, and their product is (mostly but not completely) open source. Related – just because it would be easy to build a product, does that mean it should be built?

Is certain higher education software more amenable to community source than others?
While administrative software like Kuali is not sexy, it is exorbitantly expensive. Universities are most likely never going to “compete” based on what back-end software they use. For some systems that are expensive and handle back-office tasks, maybe a development model like community source does make sense. For front-end software that directly impacts the student experience, however, maybe institutions want to reserve some way to differentiate themselves and not choose to collaborate on a common one-size-fits-all solution. Alternatively, maybe front-end software would prove too cumbersome to support from a browser/device/end user perspective. Or maybe a common, front-end software experience would open up new possibilities for collaboration among multiple universities for which a community-source-like approach could accelerate new opportunities.

If the goal is open source, do other models besides community source perform better?
There are a couple models where open source software tends to be most successful. One is when the software is a component or framework of a solution rather than the solution itself. Another is when a small, core group (for example, a commercial entity) contributes most of the heavy lifting but freely distributes the code and accepts smaller contributions from others who have interest. Instead of relying on employees from several universities (each having separate employers) to contribute to a community source project, could it make more sense to organize the core development team under a single organization to better-align getting the work done?

Could/should institutions partner differently or in lighter-weight manners but still get the benefit of community?
Maybe it’s worth considering that institutions partner in different ways for different reasons all the time, and not all of these necessitate a new foundation, a huge software development project, or a governing board. Sometimes collaboration is as simple as a virtual handshake and an e-mail between a group of individuals – when we choose to let it be so.

At the end of the day, Kuali may be facing issues, but I would not be surprised to see a successor to the Community Source model emerge. While the original model may have its flaws and potentially have run its course, building on lessons learned from its challenges and shortcomings, we can do better.

This post written by George Kroner