Three leading learning management system (LMS) vendors hosted user conferences within two weeks of each other last month. Anthology (Blackboard Learn) and D2L (Brightspace) offered in-person and hybrid events, while Instructure (Canvas) maintained the single-day virtual format it introduced at the beginning of the pandemic. The tight timing across the three events allowed for an easy comparison of strategic themes and product roadmaps. Overall, LMS vendors appear to be interpreting the post-COVID LMS market similarly, with some minor differences in operationalization.
COVID-19 triggered widespread controversy surrounding online testing and proctoring, student rights and experience, and academic rigor (see this Tambellini blog post if you need reminding). Most public protests have subsided since students returned to campus, but the heightened awareness of assessment experience and the need for flexibility remains.
LMS providers understand that their assessment and grading functionality should be more configurable and user friendly for instructors and students. Anthology is focused on assessment flexibility and student testing experience. D2L refreshed its instructor interface for assignment and quizzing tools (currently in beta testing) to make quality assessment development more intuitive and efficient. Instructure continues to improve New Quizzes, assignment submission workflows, and grading efficiencies.
After one or more years of remote instruction, most educators agree that exclusively synchronous online education (“Zoom School”) is neither desirable nor sustainable. However, the pandemic demonstrated the virtues of a well-designed virtual classroom as a valuable tool when used in conjunction with other instructional methods. To that end, Anthology is firming up Blackboard Learn’s integrations and analytics associated with best-in-class virtual classrooms—especially, but not limited to, Class Technologies products (Class is acquiring Blackboard Collaborate from Anthology).
In recent years, D2L Brightspace has led in embedded asynchronous video features, and it continues to invest heavily in this area. Brightspace video notes (native video capability within rich content editors that supports spontaneous instructor video announcements, explanations, and feedback) were popular during remote instruction and continue to be a user favorite. D2L is expanding video note availability throughout the platform, including discussion forums. The company also announced the ability to stream video directly from Brightspace course content in a way that does not impact its storage capacity.
Deepening Microsoft Teams integrations for easier meeting scheduling and calendaring is a theme across LMS vendors as they seek to support the most sustainable post-COVID videoconferencing trend: virtual office hours and spontaneous one-to-one meetings between students and instructors. Instructure is also investing heavily in the Canvas Studio video learning platform and deepening its integrations with Canvas.
For years, higher education institutions have known that many students gravitate to their mobile devices to complete their coursework. However, COVID-19 drove home the fact that the use of phones and tablets for school was often necessary and not just a preference. In response, Anthology and Instructure are releasing redesigned mobile applications to improve user experience. Anthology anticipates that the new Blackboard Learn app will be available within the next one to three months. Meanwhile, Instructure announced that it aims to release a “mobile app that people love,” including dark mode and a redesigned discussion forum.
COVID-19 also intensified competition for prospective students and enrollments and increased the prevalence of less traditional learning journeys. As an industry, higher education is just beginning to recognize that the “nontraditional student” is the majority student and that supporting lifelong learning and personalized learning pathways may be the most effective way forward for students and institutional financial stability.
D2L has a long history of supporting nontraditional, continuing, and competency-based education. While the company is actively growing its new reskilling platform (D2L Wave), it is also rolling out additional professional development, continuing education, and badging capabilities for Brightspace. Instructure is also enhancing its support for learning pathways with its reintroduction of Canvas Credentials (formerly Badgr Pro). The company is also investing heavily in Canvas Catalog, its noncredit course storefront and management system.
Accessibility, belongingness, and personalized (yet scalable) student engagement are currently top of mind for higher education leaders. As such, Anthology, D2L, and Instructure plan to deliver improved captioning, immersive reader support, and overall accessibility in the next year. Anthology is catching up with the field by introducing embedded pronoun and pronunciation support and improved messaging workflows for early intervention and student outreach. Instructure plans to offer better inline student technical support and next-generation nonverbal communication (emojis for comments and confetti “celebrations” for assignment submissions). D2L is the outlier in this category, sticking to a pedagogical interpretation of student engagement and success. It announced a fall 2022 launch for general availability of the Creator+ package—a redesign of the current Engagement+ package for better interactive content development and advanced course authoring support.
The next few years promise to be interesting for the LMS market. After a period of remote instruction, many higher education institutions have a better idea of what they want from an LMS and an LMS vendor partner, and they are making demands. Intuitive, mobile-friendly interfaces; engaging and flexible functionality; and modern data integration and analytics support are not negotiable anymore. The rise of Microsoft Teams (and, to a lesser extent for higher education, Google Workspace) as a lightweight alternative to an LMS has also increased the need for LMS vendors to read and respond to the market. Tambellini will continue to watch market trends and vendor responses as part of our ongoing teaching and learning coverage.
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