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LMS History - A Time to Reflect

Community Coach
Community Coach
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This morning Phil Hill posted a new blog on the "State of Higher Ed LMS Market for US and Canada: Spring 2017 Edition." The main focal point of this is the "squid graphic" he puts together showing LMS providers and their growth (in terms of number of Institutions) since 1997.


One of the main takeaways according to Hill is that, "As has been true since 2012, the fastest-growing LMS is Canvas. There is no other solution close in terms of matching the Canvas growth." Honestly this doesn't surprise me because I've personally noticed the shift in my local online consortium in Illinois. When I first joined in 2008 it seemed like most people were Blackboard, WebCT, or Angel. Almost 10 years later and the Canvas users outnumber the Blackboard users and the rest are a smattering of MoodleRooms and D2L.

Something else I see when I look at this squid graphic is the history of my Institution. We started teaching online courses in 1998 and Instructors had the option of using WebBoard, WebCT, or their own individual websites. Looking at the squid graphic it's interesting to note how small the market was for LMS's at this time and that WebCT was running almost even with Blackboard. For the next 4-5 years our Institution continued to have a mash-up of different systems until 2003 when our College made the switch to only using WebCT for our online courses.  This also coincides with a trend towards more LMS usage in general and for WebCT their highest number of Institutions. Shortly after that BlackBoard bought WebCT and the number of Institutions started to decline. We were one of those Institutions that noticed a decline in the quality of the product and the support, and in 2008 started the search for a new LMS.

The 2008 search committee did a thorough review and eventually signed the contract with Angel in December 2008. I was hired as Director of Online Learning in December 2008 and my first task was to get the College switched over to Angel... by June 2009.  This was a little crazy, starting a new job and transitioning an entire College, but luckily Angel was a stable LMS that had great support; looking at the squid graphic you can also see that Angel was growing pretty steadily at this time. Unfortunately just as we were ramping up our trainings and really pushing how wonderful Angel was (WebCT kept crashing and faculty weren't happy with it) we got the news that Blackboard had bought Angel. This announcement was in late spring 2009 and the May Angel user conference was hands-down the strangest conference I've ever attended. People wore black shirts and wristbands with sayings like "Angel, been nice to know you" and "Blackborg." We initially gave Angel/Blackboard a chance, but similar to what we had seen with WebCT, the product and service went downhill within the first 1-2 years.

In 2011 we once again started the search for a new LMS to replace Angel. Faculty weren't super pleased about switching to another new LMS (three LMS's in 4 years!), but they were already growing unhappy with Angel and didn't want it to get as bad as it had with WebCT. We did another thorough review of LMS's that included Blackboard, D2L, Jenzabar (our SIS), and this newcomer to the market... Canvas! Our Committee was made up of faculty from every division on campus, a Dean (who had taught online), Online Learning staff, and IT staff. The biggest thing for us was that we knew faculty and students had to be happy with the LMS since they were the ones in the trenches really using it. Online Learning and IT were only there to make sure the LMS was secure and would integrate with our systems, otherwise we let the faculty take the lead and this included having faculty and students try the LMS's and provide their feedback. After everything was said and done in Spring 2012 the committee unanimously chose Canvas as our College's new LMS! We officially got access to Canvas in June 2012 and started developing our integrations and training materials, including our mandatory student orientation and faculty training. Classes started piloting Canvas in Fall 2012 and we made the full switch in June 2013.

Based on this history, our experience using Canvas for the last five years, and that our faculty and students are still happy with it, I'm not surprised at all that Canvas has been the fastest growing LMS since 2012. It also doesn't surprise me that Canvas has been growing pretty quickly in the global LMS markets. Canvas might not be perfect, but overall it's stable, is always giving us cool new features/tools, is good about communicating information, listens to its users, steps-up when something goes wrong, and of course has the coolest most awesome Community of all the LMS's!!