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LMS Smackdown 2015 Preview: A very different future for the LMS in HED and K-12 is upon us

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More than nine years into the IMS and I have to say that right now is the most interesting time regarding “the future of the LMS.”

Every year at the Learning Impact Leadership Institute we have an ending panel that is the place where attendees can hear the leaders of the LMS industry “tell the truth” (quoting Pearson executive from prior year). However, we no longer call this panel the LMS Smackdown because some prior participants objected to that connotation. So, this year’s session is entitled, “What Will Become the Core Learning Platform for K-20 Education?”

IMHO the future regarding the LMS has never been more uncertain across K-20 than it is right now. Here’s why:

Higher Education:

  • Canvas seems to be taking market share from everyone – high end and low end – but does Canvas have a sustainable business model? Is Canvas in market share grab mode much like WebCt, Blackboard, etc in the early days with the price increases coming down the road?
  • Does Canvas success mean the beginning of the end for the open source models of yesterday, Moodle and Sakai?
  • EDUCAUSE and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have neared completion of phase one of the Next Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE) project – explicitly looking at what comes next. EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative Leader Malcolm Brown who has led this effort is moderating this year’s panel. Having participated in all three NGDLE face-to-face meetings I can tell you that there is unanimous agreement from institutional leaders that major evolution is required.
  • Alternatives are numerous. There are now over 40 Learning Platforms certified as IMS LTI consumers and growing. They include traditional LMSs, MOOCs, learning object repositories, competency-based learning platforms, portals/mobile app launchers, instructional management systems and custom institution-specific learning platforms. Thus, evolution is happening at a rapid pace.
  • Working on the NGDLE and seeing what is transpiring in IMS it is very clear that institutions want more than their ANY LMS can currently provide in many areas, a key one being as a provider of analytics. And they want it now. In some sense this makes one wonder why so many seem to be switching horses now when it is unclear how they get to what they want?

K-12

  • Leading districts are adopting K-12-oriented Learning Platforms to organize their digital content – an absolute necessity going forward. School districts have 100’s of grade and subject specific learning resources moving to digital. The standard functionality they require is different than the HED LMS, but has some overlap. There are no clear front-runners or market share leaders yet in this new category.
  • Due to the large number of digital resources noted in the previous point, the K-12 sector is AHEAD of the HED sector in several critical areas as it relates to content and platform interoperability. The K-12 sector is pushing the envelope when it comes to interoperability for mobile apps, metadata, search and recommendation engines. Things are moving much faster right now than the traditional HED LMS ecosystem is used to. Can the HED LMS’s keep up? Some are, some are not.
  • e-Assessment, whether summative or formative, is much more important in K-12 than HED. Integration of world-class assessment is a critical success factor for K-12. But, there appears to be renewed interest in e-assessment integration in HED now, too.
  • Since IMS standards allow all types of apps to interoperate, whether via an LMS or not, some districts are wondering if they need an LMS at all? Or just a portal/learning object repository?

HED + K-12

  • Despite some differences, it is very clear that there is potential for convergence in terms of the learning platforms that could support HED or K-12. The HED LMS is short some key functionality needed to serve K-12 – but not too far off.
  • It is 100% crystal clear that the developments in each sector are affecting the other. For instance, K-12 leadership in e-assessment and content interoperability is enabling advancement in HED e-assessment.
  • The content as the LMS? IMS Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) has enabled content to be both the application and the learning platform. It is very clear that smart publishers will be providing lots of LMS-like functionality from within their content.
  • More bespoke and customized learning environments. Interoperability make it easier to roll your own portal or LMS. Indeed IMS interoperability makes it possible to configure a set of the 40 certified learning platforms and 100’s of tools to configure a comprehensive set of functionality, old and new – including the multi-LMS institution.

Net-Net

In summary, my sense is that right now is when institutional leaders should be paying attention because we are rapidly moving into a new phase of “LMS.” It is time to understand what is possible and how the leading suppliers are enabling the future.

For suppliers my simple advice is that this new phase will require working very closely with your customers and future customers to give then what they need. You are going to need to move faster than in the past. Being able to adapt rapidly to your customer’s needs is going to be more important than large stacks of features built in.

We are very pleased to be at the forefront in IMS in making those conversations happen, and more importantly, putting the technical foundation in place that makes sustainable progress possible.