Instructure Makes Its Move into the K-12 Market

The learning management system upstart Instructure is unveiling Canvas K-12 today, a version of its platform aimed — as the name suggests — for the K-12 level. The company says that it’s already had over a dozen school districts adopt Canvas, even before this roll-out of a specially designed LMS.

Traditionally the LMS has been something implemented primarily by colleges and universities, but as more and more K-12 schools move to online learning and digital curriculum, there’s a growing demand at that level. It’s a hot market, and according to research published in December 2011 by Simba Information, “the LMS segment is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 7.3%, reaching $377 million by the 2014-2015 school year.”

As such, it’s hardly surprising to see some of the big education companies make their move to offer schools these services. The acquisition of Edline by Blackboard last fall made it clear that the learning management giant was serious about its push into that market.

But as the Simba research suggests, it’s a market that’s still up for grabs. While Blackboard still holds a little over half of the higher ed LMS market, Blackboard, Pearson and Moodle altogether share only about 30% of the K-12 market.

That provides an interesting opportunity for Instructure, which officially launched its cloud-based LMS this time last year.

Its new K-12 offering includes several new features aimed at this level: it contains Common Core standards and objectives so that it’s easy to align assignments with them. There are also analytics for districts, schools, teachers and parents to be able to assess student progress. And that parent piece is particularly important as parents will have access to their child’s information, and just as importantly, have access to Instructure’s messaging system — so you can get an SMS when your child doesn’t turn in a homework assignment or an email with the week’s spelling list and so on.

Despite competition from some of the big LMS players, Instructure has made some inroads into higher education. Can it do the same at the K-12 level? When I spoke to CEO and founder Josh Coates yesterday, he noted that the company’s recent trip to FETC made them realize that a lot of K-12 teachers are fairly unfamiliar with the idea of what an LMS even is. (That’s something that should make us ask if an LMS is even necessary.) Of course, Instructure isn’t selling to teachers (although it does offer a free product that any teacher can adopt). It’s selling to districts.

But that the LMS is a new(ish) thing to the K-12 level might just work in Instructure’s favor, even if the startup remains a relative unknown. If schools choose to adopt an LMS because of their move online, then a Web-friendly, user-friendly, cloud-based tool (with easy Google Apps for Edu integration) might just fit the bill. That is, if the price is right, something that makes the future of that K-12 market — what with shrinking K-12 budgets and options for free and low-cost alternatives (“apps” not “systems”) — more than a little uncertain.

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About Audrey Watters

Audrey Watters is a writer and rabble-rouser. Her work appears in O'Reilly Radar, KQED's MindShift, and Inside Higher Ed, as well as on her own blog Hack Education. For more information, see her profile page.
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