What is the “Next Next LMS?”

There is a certain restlessness for any university using any LMS. Faculty and students generally love their LMS after they have used it for 3-4 years and are opposed the idea of switching to a new LMS, often the IT organization starts to get restless about that time and starts a “Next LMS” evaluation effort. Perhaps there is a new Chief Information Officer and they want to “make their mark”. Perhaps the IT organization has gotten tired of broken promises from their old commercial LMS vendor and are looking for a new vendor who will again tell them sweet little lies. Perhaps, it is just that the beginning of a new relationship is just “so exciting”. In many ways by changing LMS systems every 5-10 years IT gets a “do over”.

It seems as though as soon as any commercial LMS vendor reaches a threshold of market share, they slow down, begin to take their customers for granted, and prioritize “shareholder value” . There is always the ascendant “Shiny LMS” and the descending “Rusty LMS” and the inevitable transition from shiny to rusty to restart the process. There is an active consulting business to advise CIOs on the rusty to shiny transition. Here is a simple table of these commercial LMS’s over time:

Year Rusty        Shiny
1997 emacs        Blackboard
2001 Blackboard   WebCT
2006 WebCT        Angel
2008 Angel        MoodleRooms
2012 MoodleRooms  Canvas
2019 Canvas       Desire2Learn

By this analysis – everyone should just choose Desire2Learn as their “Next LMS”. At this point with Canvas and Blackboard owned by private equity and focused on paying off $1B+ loans through revenue and profits – both are in the “Rusty” category.

The shiny to rusty transition of Canvas was pretty quick. Two years ago, they announced that they had a lot of learner data and “AI was the future”, then they did a “hostile sale” to private equity to cash out, and then announced that “AI was not the future” – but the damage was done. I know of at least one school that had selected Canvas during this time and as Canvas rusted before our very eyes, they called their consultants back and asked them to hurry back and re-advise the school to go to Desire2Learn instead. Whew! Skipped one unnecessary commercial LMS switch!

It is kind of scary that Desire2Learn (with a 15% and growing marketshare) is the only major commercial LMS vendors with its founder(s) still involved and not owned by anonymous billionaires. I have liked working with and partnering with all of the commercial LMS systems over the past 15 years – when their founders were still part of the company. I loved working with Michael Chasen, Chris Vento, David Mills, Phil Miller, and Brian Whitmer. They are gone – their companies are gone or run by accountants. John Baker is the “last founder standing”. D2L is the last commercial LMS vendor with “values” that go beyond shareholder value. For the time being.

The problem is that the CIO sheep are going to run from rusty Canvas to shiny D2L like they have always done. When enough switch so D2L has a 40% market share, then D2L will begin to rust and as things start to nose down, someone will write a $2B check for D2L and at that point 85% of the higher education marketplace will be owned by soulless billionaires. They won’t make the mistake that Blackboard made and forced new “recruits” to switch software – they will slow innovation to a crawl and put skeleton maintenance crews on Blackboard, Canvas, and D2L and drain higher education dry for a decade to pay off their $6B of loans.

It is difficult to imagine a new Canvas-like startup in a garage somewhere in 2020 that has any chance of success. You get your version 0.1 wander into the marketplace fighting Blackboard, Canvas, and D2L. The open source lane is well covered by Sakai and Moodle. The K12 market is no longer available as Google Classroom and Microsoft Teams have won. Community colleges have little interest in anything other than using the same thing they have always used. And R1 schools in higher education – decided to “outsource it all” to the big-three commercial cloud-vendors.

This suggests that by around 2025, the commercial LMS market will start feel like the opening sequence to Joe Versus the Volcano.

It seems inevitable – :(