LMS - A quick view of the landscape

February 02, 2019

Introduction

Moodle was first released in 2002 -- that's 17 years ago. Its fame is not due to it being the first, but rather that it was the first dominant open source LMS. We have to go back further to the 90's to see the first ones. That's 30 years ago!

At the time, LMS' were more for remote or e-learning than for in-classroom use. They functioned as placeholder for classroom content and assignments. As technology became more ubiquitous, the LMS's have changed, but have also lost their dominance. Educators access so much online content, that the online LMS is just one of many resources they use. Add to that the availability of free platforms (Google Classroom, Edmodo etc.) LMS' have lost their dominance in the K12 classroom.

In this article, we will go through how LMS' have evolved from their first days till today.

Original Scope

When they were first created, the intent was to serve corporations and higher education. Even today, the largest LMS companies serve these segments first. This meant that their primary intent was to hold courses (e.g. videos, pdfs) from third-party so that corporations can meet their training objectives (some of which are set by law, e.g. harassment, ethics, fraud). Usability was second to those requirements.

Standards such as SCORM were created to allow content makers to target all LMS providers, and help the latter ensure compatibility as corporations source their content from different suppliers.

Higher Ed

In higher education, LMS' are a key component of the student's learning. Colleges and universities can have enrolments in the hundreds of thousands, making the LMS central to grading and reporting. An important consideration for these institutions is integration with their other systems, such as financials and grades. The three major players are Blackboard, Canvas and Moodle.

These three players also try to cater to K12, but their offering and the bulk of their revenues do not come from that market. You can see this in the way their interfaces are designed, typically not for younger students. High schools are likely to be satisfied if their primary needs are content management, testing and placeholders.

K12

This market is more diverse with far more players. There is no clear dominance. However, owing to its price (FREE!) Google Classroom has grown dramatically in the last few years. They don't release numbers, but as an anecdote you have to make a conscious effort not to see them in today's schools.

Other players include ItsLearning, Schoology, EdModo (and of course ClassroomAPP, while we don't position ourselves as an LMS, but more of a complete platform). The churn between them is high -- in other words, we notice little customer loyalty. This simply means they are not as integrated in classroom life when compared to higher ed. Teachers use a wealth of online resources and the LMS is just one of them. It is no longer central to learning as it used to be.

The features are almost identical among all these players: you are looking for course, roles, content, links, tests and reports. Some more advanced features would allow you to link to your online resources, such as Google Drive, One Drive or Dropbox. But all in all, they are so similar in features none will stand out.

SIS' jumping in

Sensing this change in market dynamics, the major SIS providers now provide their LMS' too. After all, if it's such a basic tool (according to their thinking), why not provide it, improve the integration and lock your customers in.

While many SIS' are state or district-mandated you are likely locked in to your SIS but there is typically some freedom with the choice of LMS. No SIS provider has yet provided an LMS that has stood out yet in the market. So your best bet is to hold out. The market is evolving, and many platforms (us included) are moving upstream to also provide the SIS - which is much easier to implement than a classroom tool.

Conclusion: What classrooms really need

If you are reading this far, congratulations. You are questioning the relevance of technology that is 30 years old with today's connected classroom. And you would be right. In itself, the traditional LMS can no longer offer the full range of capabilities needed in the classroom, where the browser has become the central tool.

You can buy an LMS and try to bolt on a tool like NearPod, but you are still missing the aspect of classroom control. You would also likely need an actual classroom management tool (CMS), like NetSupport or something similar. Now you have 3 tools to have an efficient classroom. And you are juggling between them, and likely challenged by the lack of complete integration. If you want to send students to an LMS page, you have to go to the CMS, get them on the LMS page, then juggle back to your LMS. And if you are using NearPod that's another additional step.

We may be biased in this thinking, but we believe a single tool is needed for the classroom. This is why we developed ClassroomAPP.

The last integration point would be upstream to the SIS. You need to pull data from the SIS and push grades back. A good LMS already does that. And given that the SIS is not a classroom tool, students are not disrupted by having another tool to worry about. And in the near future, it will all be one tool. Many teachers can't wait for that day.

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