Recent LMS Selections Hint at Continuing Market Changes

Now that we’re in the middle of June – near the end of the fiscal year for many schools and leading up to user conferences for many LMS vendors – we are starting to see some significant LMS and learning platform announcements. While we typically have a surge in announcements this time of year, this year there are indications from the recent decisions on the continuing changes to the LMS market.

San Jose State University selects Instructure Canvas to replace Desire2Learn

According to this article from the student newspaper in February, initial indications were that SJSU might leave Desire2Learn for Moodle, primarily based on cost considerations.

Students who have learned Desire2Learn, D2L, over the past three years may have to learn a new learning management system next fall.

In the Academic Senate meeting on Feb. 13, Provost Ellen Junn announced that SJSU may be moving to a new system, called Moodle, after the spring semester.[snip]

According to Provost Junn, SJSU’s contract with D2L cost $361,198.31 each year, while Fresno State spends about $75,000 on Moodle.

“(The price) varies from institution to institution,” Junn said.  “The more students you have, the more (the learning management system’s) charge.”

Update: Fresno State uses Blackboard, not Moodle, as their campus LMS, so direct comparison of costs does not make sense as reported. The relevant point is that cost was a driver for the SJSU re-evaluation.

The task force mentioned in the article has now finished their work, and the decision was made to switch, not to Moodle but to Instructure’s Canvas LMS. In a letter to the campus last week, the provost notified of the decision.

To my knowledge, this decision is one of the very few client losses for Desire2Learn, at least in the past 3 or 4 years. While this decision cannot be good news to Desire2Learn, the very fact that there is little precedent for such news is a reminder of Desire2Learn’s claims of 98% client retention rates.

What is also significant is that the majority of recent LMS changes (an institution moving from one vendor to another) have come from clients leaving one of the platforms that Blackboard has acquired and placed in end-of-life status (e.g. Campus Edition, Vista, ANGEL ). Now we have a high-profile LMS change coming from another vendor. Given the rapidly changing LMS market, which is becoming a learning platform market, we should expect to see more of these non-Blackboard changes in the future.

Disclosure: I advised SJSU on the LMS RFP process in 2009 leading to the Desire2Learn selection, and I gave market analysis input on this recent selection. In neither case did I make recommendations.

Georgia Department of Education selects Desire2Learn

Balancing the news from the west coast, Desire2Learn recently announced that the Georgia Department of Education selected their Learning Suite for K-12 students.

In an ambitious plan tied to the Race to the Top initiative, Georgia DOE will leverage Desire2Learn as a key partner in delivering a solution that will provide early intervention and empower teachers with access to specialized learning objects within their classrooms.

The focus of the initiative will be to support new approaches to early intervention and assessment that can better prepare students to succeed in college, the workplace and the global economy. Georgia DOE has built a robust online data system, reporting tools, a content repository, and other modules to support their data requirements but needed a partner to provide a delivery system for these content and assessment activities.

This is an important win for Desire2Learn in the K-12 market, and it illustrates the effort that most LMS vendors are making to expand beyond their natural higher education market.

I suspect that the Georgia DOE decision was affected by Desire2Learn’s major win last year with the University System of Georgia, particularly with the DOE focus on college preparation.

Washington State Board of Community and Technical Colleges selects Instructure Canvas to replace Blackboard ANGEL

In late May, the Washington State Board announced that they had completed their 9 month RFP process and selected Instructure Canvas as the new LMS to replace ANGEL. The process was driven by the ANGEL end-of-life, although Blackboard subsequently announced continued support for ANGEL, taking it off end-of-life status, in late March of this year. I asked them if the continued support for ANGEL affected their decision, but Connie Broughton – the State Board’s director of eLearning and Open Education, indicated that continuing with ANGEL was still viewed as a risk even with the continued support decision. From the Campus Technology article:

The Washington State Board put together an LMS migration committee composed of representatives from multiple staff and faculty groups and released a request for proposal in December. By the end of January three finalists were selected and committee members and others began testing the top contenders, which included Blackboard Learn 9.1, Desire2Learn, and Canvas. According to the State Board, 800 people–instructors, students, IT staff, administrators, and others–provided feedback, including nearly a hundred “designated reviewers” who worked through a detailed rubric.

The project team has a very useful web site up with the selection documents available.

While the RFP process was run by the State Board, the contract is written such that any public institution in the state has the option to adopt Canvas. Like Georgia, we are also seeing in Washington the opportunity for a winning LMS vendor in one category of schools (e.g. community colleges) to expand their offerings to adjacent schools (e.g. universities). It will be interesting to watch and see if any of the universities adopt Canvas under this contract.

This selection seems significant in terms of size – up to 40 institutions and 200,000 students, depending on whether any universities join the community and technical colleges – and as an early signal of how the ANGEL continuing support decision might or might not affect ongoing LMS selection projects.

UMassOnline selects Blackboard Learn 9.1 to replace Blackboard Vista

After a two-year process, Blackboard was successful in retaining one of their highest profile accounts when UMassOnline selected Learn 9.1 to replace their end-of-life Vista system. Based on the announcement from May 31:

Spanning nearly two years, the evaluation was one of the most thorough and closely watched in the industry. The process was led by UMassOnline and driven with input from officials, advisors, staff and users across the University of Massachusetts system.

A longtime leader in online learning, UMassOnline supports 15 campuses and over 125,000 users. The evaluation emphasized “functionality over features and an unflinching examination of the true and comprehensive underlying costs of our current and any future LMS solution,” according to a summary report.[snip]

Progress on the evaluation was communicated openly and publicly throughout the process using a public Wiki site created by UMassOnline which organized communications, documentation and project management. The site was leveraged by UMassOnline to solicit input from the community and also became a knowledge base for users and others interested in the evaluation. The site includes over 100 pages, 500 comments and more than 80 supporting documents.

The wiki presents a wealth of information on the UMassOnline process, and it is well-worth other schools reviewing the site. In particular, the approach used by UMassOnline based on user stories to capture requirements – rather than focusing on LMS features – is a welcome change to the standard RFP process in higher education.

What is also noteworthy, as seen in the wiki, is that Blackboard offered Learn 9.1 under the same perpetual license terms and conditions as the Vista contract, where UMassOnline “pays only for an annual maintenance/service agreement“. While the financial analysis is not publicly available, the extension of perpetual license terms should be significantly cheaper on an annual basis than the subscription model that Blackboard uses with most other customers. Put another way, this is another sign that Blackboard is willing to be quite aggressive in pricing and terms to retain customers.

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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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6 Responses to Recent LMS Selections Hint at Continuing Market Changes

  1. Phil, I found this incredibly helpful — thanks so much. The UMassOnline wiki is extraordinary.

    But again it makes me think that for educators to see real change, we’re going to need the platform model to fragment still further, and to become significantly more open to BYOS (Bring Your Own Solution).

    Our institutional analysis has shown us that a much larger number of individual educators than we can comfortably account for on our many, many spreadsheets are discreetly operating their own LMS-style learning environments using cloud and open systems. The problems kick in when institutions want analytics; but then the opportunity cost is an LMS or platform that really struggles to engage anyone in anything worth analysing.

    How much do we know about the scale of BYOS, I wonder?

  2. Phil Hill says:

    Patrick Masson and team’s work at UMassOnline does far more than just the user stories approach – they also provide a framework around BYOS. The higher the adoption for individual applications, the higher the level of service from central IT in supporting the application. They also help ‘spread the word’ where individual applications are taking off and proving useful.

    If you have a very short hour to spare with a pot of coffee, watch the WCET webcast archive where Patrick and I presented – http://wcet.wiche.edu/connect/no-lms-rfp

    You make a good point about analytics being a downside of this approach. Eventually the big data approach – where we don’t attempt to place all data in one pre-planned database – may hit higher ed analytics.

  3. Max Tsai says:

    Fresno State has Blackboard as the LMS
    http://blackboard.csufresno.edu/

  4. Phil Hill says:

    Max, you are correct and I verified this with a source from the school. I’ll update the post with a clarification after the quote. Thanks.

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