3 Questions for "Formerly Known as the LMS" Panel

Questions for the CEOs of key companies.

May 14, 2013

Today (Wednesday, 5/15), a panel discussion is going on at The Learning Impact Conference in San Diego that is absolutely killing me that I can't attend.

The session is titled:  Rumbling Right Along: What's Next for the Thing Formerly Known as the LMS?

Here is the description from the conference program, with the list of panelists:

Each year at Learning Impact we ask if the Learning Management System (LMS) is dead. How can a billion dollar industry possibly be dead? Or is the LMS finally evolving from a monolithic, siloed platform to a modular, open platform that allows innovative faculty to bring together a myriad of learning tools and digital resources to make it easier to provide personalized learning? This panel of top LMS executives, and fierce competitors, will provide their perspectives about how social networking, online collaboration, mobile devices, and a staggering proliferation of digital content, resources and tools are forever changing the education landscape and forcing the “rebirth” of the thing formerly known as the LMS.

Featured Speaker:

  • Scott Jaschik, Editor, Inside Higher Ed


  • Scott Jaschik, Editor, Inside Higher Ed - Moderator
  • John Baker, CEO, Desire2Learn
  • Jay Bhatt, CEO, Blackboard
  • Josh Coates, CEO Instructure
  • Martin Dougiamas, Moodle Founder and Lead Developer, Moodle
  • Manoj Kutty, CEO, LoudCloud Systems
  • Matt Leavy, CEO, Pearson eCollege


Casey Green has already provided us with some sharp analysis of the issues at stake in this discussion in his Digital Tweed column on 5/12,  LMS 4.0: Will Semantic Remorse Lead to Student Engagement?

Please go read Casey's column, as he provides both context and a direction for discussion about where the LMS needs to go.

The quote that sticks with me from his column is:

"The challenge ahead is that the transition to LMS 4.0 is not about adding more features (better grade books, enhanced chat, collaboration tools, or analytics).  Rather, LMS 4.0 and its emphasis on student engagement – making the LMS sticky – will require a reconceptualization and redesign of the LMS as we now know it."

At the end of his column, Casey asks:

"....what say ye about the next generation of these applications – be they learning management systems or student engagement platforms? What do the current generation of these platforms do well? What must they do better? And how long are you willing to wait for better?"

I'll take Casey's request as an invitation to ask the questions that I would address to the panel if I had had the foresight to get myself to San Diego for this event.

Question 1: What Are Your Black Swans?

The events that move history, change our lives, and up-end our business, are never the ones that we expect.   Unexpected shocks swamp long running trends.   Taking your mind's out of daily tactical and competitive pressures in running your learning platform businesses, what are some of the black swans that should be keeping you up at night?  

Is it Google doing to e-learning what it has done to e-mail and productivity applications?    Is it Apple deciding that the operating system for learning should be iOS?   Is it a huge data loss or privacy breach with your hosted or cloud applications?  What are the low probability but high impact events that could upend the LMS market?

Question 2: Who Is Going to First Achieve Mobile Parity?

All of your learning platforms were designed first for the Web.  All of you say that you have wonderful mobile products.   But in reality none of you has a platform that I'd feel comfortable moving my online/blended program to a mobile only strategy.  

In 5 years there is every possibility in the world that the primary method that anyone interfaces with anything will be through their mobile device.  

Why not create independent spin-off divisions whose job is to build a mobile first learning platform from the ground up?  

Why not recognize that it is not possible to have it both ways, the browser and the app, and make the commitment to a future world where apps rule the learning ecosystem?

Question 3: Why Haven't Any of You Succeeded in a Low-Cost Platform and High-Margin Services Strategy?

The impact of the LMS on student learning is highly over-rated.   The platform, the technology, matters far less than the learning design and teaching strategy that leverages the technology.  Give me WebCT circa 1999 and a good learning designer / instructor team any day over any of your LMS platforms and no learning designer or motivated instructor.  

So why not follow a strategy of building a really simple platform, giving it away, and offering lots of learning design services for the price of an annual contract?  

This would align your success with the success of your customers, as business would grow with the growth of new blended and online programs.   

Get yourself out of the war for features, services are both more durable and provide a higher value add.    And a services first approach would insulate you from competitive shocks and technology disruptions.  

Which among you are betting the farm on services? Is a services+platform approach the way to go, or can you truly be platform agnostic?

What do you want to ask the panel?


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