August 14, 2018

Is Blackboard dying? The latest instalment in LMS wars.

Feldstein, M. (2018) Canvas Surpasses Blackboard Learn in US Market Share, eLiterate, July 8

Kroner, G. (2018) Sensationalizing LMS Market Share in an Era of Fake News, edutechnica, July 13

Don’t assume nothing happens in online learning during the long summer vacation. This little bombshell landed on my screen: 

Blackboard’s continuing loss of market share is at the tipping point of changing from a serious problem to an existential threat.

So speaks Michael Feldstein, reporting that Canvas is now ‘installed’ in two more universities/colleges than Blackboard. From Feldstein’s blog:

Kroner challenges these figures and quotes Phill Miller, chief learning and innovation officer at Blackboard, who said:

the data shared by Feldstein were “not consistent with our own,” which show that “Blackboard remains the dominant ed-tech company around the globe.”

Purely on this data, Feldstein’s claim does appear to be ‘fake news’. Kroner probably is more correct when he says that there is a nice market balance between several competing companies:

  • Blackboard: 28%
  • Canvas: 28%
  • Moodle: 23%
  • Brightspace (D2L): 12%.

But two other factors need to be born in mind.The first is the trend (see the diagram at the start of this post, from the eLiterate blog). The trend is clearly moving away from Blackboard towards other LMS providers. The diagram shows that from being dominant in the 1990s, Blackboard’s market share has declined considerably while that of Canvas, Moodle and D2L have consistently grown. 

However, note that Feldstein’s data apply only to North America (USA and Canada) while Phill Miller claims that globally Blackboard is still dominant. Also, Feldstein reports that Canvas’ focus today is increasingly on the corporate market, suggesting that Canvas sees relatively little room for more growth in the HE market.

Much more significantly, Feldstein claims that Blackboard is in serious financial trouble, needing to make increasingly large interest payments to its private equity owner, Providence Equity, arising from the time that Providence Equity bought Blackboard. To quote Feldstein:

So because of its financing, Blackboard’s continuing loss of market share is at the tipping point of changing from a serious problem to an existential threat.

All worrying if you have a lot of courses in Blackboard.

My views

They are probably not worth much, because I haven’t used an LMS in the last 10 years. However, I was somewhat involved at UBC in the creation of WebCT , which was later bought by Blackboard, so I use that rather tenuous connection as justification for my comments.

What surprises me is that in an age of multimedia and social media, and particularly given the low cost of developing apps and the growth of cloud computing, anyone is using an LMS at all – so 20th century, man! 

As I have said many times, an LMS is merely a digital filing cabinet, somewhat useful to store and arrange your digital learning materials and student activities. An LMS – a specialised database – is just one way to do this. The main issue is not the storage but the interface: how easy is it to store what you want, arrange it and find it, both for instructors and more importantly, for students. Security of course is another issue. Unfortunately so many things have been bolted on to the original database that the interfaces have grown increasingly unwieldy and confusing to students and instructors alike.

I think the LMS has had a much longer run than it deserves. Even though many instructors now are moving to video and web conferencing, evidence from the recent Canadian survey of online learning shows that nearly all institutions are still using legacy LMS systems.

However, today we should be using much more accessible, flexible and simpler tools for online learning. This would involve integrating from scratch mobile and social media tools to give much more power to student content creation and management so they can develop the skill of knowledge management, among other skills. This ‘collage’ of tools would be assembled according to the type of learning that will best enable students to learn skills as well as to access and reproduce content. The LMS does an adequate job on content management but does nothing for skills development, and more importantly the LMS perpetuates the transmission model of teaching where instructors control all content development and management.

So fighting over LMSs systems is like fighting over dying star systems. Move to another world, dude.

For further posts on this topic see:

Why is innovation in teaching in higher education so difficult? 3. Learning management systems

Why is innovation in teaching in higher education so difficult? 2. Legacy systems

Comments

  1. Excelent analysis, LMS will be replaced pretty soon. Artificial Intelligence tools, multagent systems may be helpful looking for apropiate content for each teacher and student.

  2. I couldn’t agree more Tony, when you say “… today we should be using much more accessible, flexible and simpler tools for online learning. This would involve integrating from scratch mobile and social media tools to give much more power to student content creation and management so they can develop the skill of knowledge management …’

    At BCIT we have struggled with using these tools and offering flexibility vs the “straight-jacket” learning afforded by the LMS. Furthermore, as issues of protection of privacy dominate the education arena, faculty and instructional designers at the Learning and Teaching Centre have their hands tied as they must comply with FIPPA. Carrying Privacy Impact Assessments (PIA) for each one of the tools that can be used becomes not only time-consuming bus extremely expensive.

    I would love to hear your insight on potential strategies to deal with these issues. It pains me so much to have to design for the LMS. 🙂

  3. Maybe we should try to focus on qualitative adoption vs.quantitative scoring. What software application construct is “winning” in terms of faculty adoption and creativity in learning design? What overall course design archetypes are driving scalable student success? What’s unique about the attributes of these enterprise platforms that enable scaled adoption?

  4. I like the idea of the post-LMS world, but I don’t see it arriving right now. The advantage of an LMS over a disparate set of tools is that they are easy for organisations to purchase and run as one system that integrates learning materials, learner records and assessment.

    I’d love to be able to do something unique but at the end of the day, my organisation is a hospital (NHS) training medical and allied health professionals in a regulated field. Moodle isn’t ideal, but it is convenient and cheap (certainly compared to some – I recently reviewed Docebo and was looking at £14k per year minimum, and that’s like £11k more than we pay for moodle. And I found out they don’t even support rubrics…

    If we wanted to move in this direction, where would you suggest we start?

    On another note, I’m currently planning a community of practice and am investigating ways of using moodle to host it. By creating a contributing learner role in moodle that will allow learners to create their own content in the community course area, I think I can make it work. If anyone else has set up a COP in moodle or another platform, I’d be interested in hearing from you…

  5. I think Lou’s questions above are excellent and should be in the mix as decision-makers determine the best solutions for their communities. My take is that integrated solutions, like LMSs, just make it so much easier to implement in already-complex digital ecosystems than a collection of discrete, best-in-class apps. Help implementers make it easier, more flexible and attentive to learner outcomes and instructor/designer inputs (oh, and less expensive) to build their own, and they will.

  6. ger tielemans says:

    A quote from one of my favorite cartoons: “I don’t want to use your complex LMS, I only need a place to host the modules, target the training to the right people, bookmark their progress, keep track of who is doing what, give them completion certificates when they pass, and roll up reporting across the organization…”

    Organisations like Surf in The Netherlands try to connect a core educational system with products from other parties… seems not that easy as using a rich LMS

    Blackboard is also offering Moodle, so…

    With the new privacy laws in Europe (and soon in the rest of the world too), you cannot be responsible for all the apps you connect to the core of your educational system.

    Of course it is a good idea to train the students for a world after they leave the LMS of your “school”

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