LearningStudio and OpenClass End-Of-Life: Pearson is getting out of LMS market

Pearson has notified customers that LearningStudio will be shut down as a standalone LMS over the next 2-3 years. Created from the Pearson acquisition of both eCollege and Fronter, LearningStudio has been targeted primarily at fully-online programs and associated hybrid programs – not for simple augmentation of face-to-face classes. The customer base has mostly included for-profit institutions as well as not-for-profit programs that are often packaged with an online service prover model (e.g. Embanet customers). As of this year, LearningStudio has approximately 110 customers with 1.2 million unique student enrollments.

This decision is not one isolated to LearningStudio, as the end-of-life notification caps a series of moves by Pearson to get out of the LMS market in general.

Less than a year ago I wrote a post about Texas Christian University claiming that Pearson was “getting out of the LMS market”, although during research for that story the administrator requested a change in the campus newspaper.

“Pearson is out of the learning management system game,” Hughes said. “We need something to evolve with the Academy of Tomorrow and where we’re moving to at TCU.”Hughes said Pearson withdrew from the LMS search process for TCU but remains an LMS provider.

From 2007 through 2012, Pearson aggressively moved into the LMS market. In 2007 the company acquired eCollege for $477 million, taking it private. In 2008 Pearson acquired the European LMS provider Fronter. In 2009 Pearson announced LearningStudio as the rebranded combination of eCollege and Fronter, predominantly from eCollege. Then the big PR move came in 2011 with the splashy announcement of OpenClass, an “completely free” and “amazing” LMS that dominated the discussion at EDUCAUSE that year, partially due to “misleading headlines” implying a partnership with Google.

In the past year, however, Pearson has reversed all of these strategic moves. Announced last September, OpenClass will no longer be available as of January 2018. In November Pearson sold Fronter to itsLearning. And now LearningStudio (and in effect eCollege) is being retired. To be more precise, LearningStudio is being retired as a standalone LMS. What is not publicized it that LearningStudio internally provides the infrastructure and platform support for Pearson’s MyLabs & Mastering courseware. That internal platform will remain, but the external product will go away.

For this story Michael and I interviewed Curtiss Barnes, Managing Director of Technology Products for Pearson Global Higher Education[1] Barnes confirmed the story and said that all LearningStudio customers have been notified, and that there are no plans for a public announcement or press release. Barnes said the decision to get out of the LMS category was based on Pearson’s continuing efforts to reorganize and streamline the diversified company, and being competitive in the LMS market just doesn’t help meet corporate goals.

So what platforms and technology products do meet corporate goals? Barnes said that Pearson does courseware really well, with over 12 million students on these platforms overall and approximately 2 million per day. He sees large distinctions between content-agnostic LMS solutions and courseware. Courseware might require certain features that overlap LMS features, but the fundamentals of what’s being delivered goes well beyond content management store, calendaring, and other LMS basics to include instrumentation of content and science-based learning design. Barnes said that learning design is the key element they’re looking for as a company.

The front page for OpenClass now describes Pearson’s view on LMS and courseware markets.

On January 1, 2018, OpenClass will no longer be available to faculty, students, or administrators, and as of today, no new accounts will be created. You will be able to sign in and access OpenClass and we will maintain SLAs until January 1, 2018. We will also continue to provide Community Forum support and OpenClass Knowledge Base until this date.

At Pearson, we are relentlessly committed to driving learner outcomes and we see a bigger opportunity to provide value to our customers via programs such as MyLab & Mastering and REVEL, and through our professional services, such as curriculum design and online program management.

While the LMS will endure as an important piece of academic infrastructure, we believe our learning applications and services are truly “where the learning happens.” In short, withdrawing from the crowded LMS market allows us to concentrate on areas where we can make the biggest measurable impact on student learning outcomes.

Pearson has told customers that they still have engineers and operations teams to fully support continuing operations and mitigate bugs or issues affecting LearningStudio, but they are not developing new features. LearningStudio will remain available for customers through their existing contracts, but the earliest loss of support for any customer will be December 31, 2017 to allow customers whose contracts expire before then more time to select a different LMS and migrate their courses.

Michael and I pressed during the interview to see if Pearson is favoring one solution over another in their discussions with customers, but Barnes said that Pearson has decided to remain neutral. Customers are not being given recommendations on alternate solutions.

This move out of the LMS market by Pearson has a parallel with last year’s sale of PowerSchool, a Student Information System for the K-12 market. Pearson acquired PowerSchool from Apple in 2006, but it no longer made sense to try and be competitive in the SIS market.

Like the forced migration caused by WebCT and ANGEL end-of-life notices, there will now be more than 100 LMS changes triggered by this announcement. While the for-profit sector has taken big hits in enrollments over the past 3-4 years, there are still some very large online programs that now have to select a new LMS.

This has been an eventful year for the LMS market already, and it’s only one month old. Expect to see more movement and changes.

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  1. Disclosure: Pearson is a client of MindWires Consulting on an separate project. []

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About Phil Hill

Phil is a consultant and industry analyst covering the educational technology market primarily for higher education. He has written for e-Literate since Aug 2011. For a more complete biography, view his profile page.
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