Published on 2013/12/13

The Uncertain Future of Learning Management Systems

The Uncertain Future of Learning Management Systems
The learning management system marketplace is ripe for change as older providers are being sidelined by new innovators.
Learning Management Systems (LMS) are currently alive and well. However, this is in spite of the recent challenges regarding their conceptual rigidity and overall complexity. Even the term ‘LMS’ seems tainted and outmoded, and some have tried unsuccessfully to substitute it for things like “e-learning platform.”[1]

The LMS landscape has changed dramatically in recent years, with old players having had their doomsday announced continuously, new players stepping in and climbing up, waves of mergers and acquisitions and changes in LMS architecture, feature sets and aesthetics. The conundrum of systematic complexity and user-side simplicity remains, much as a consequence of the growth and evolution of the online learning market. The model of teaching and training over the Internet is still dominated by LMS products, despite the extensive variation of offerings in the market. Major trends are certainly clear and in sync with the trends in the eLearning field overall.

All of the pieces once conceived in the process of development, delivery and tracking of student information in a traditional environment have their places inside most commercial LMSs today. They have enabled integration of data, security and structured recorded interaction, which go far beyond anything available in the traditional environment — so much so that in many traditional settings, LMSs are also being employed as supporting environments for face-to-face learning. LMSs have grown in functionality to now include features related to academic administration, learning analytics, student and faculty monitoring and various reporting functions. This has represented a significant growth in the almost $2 billion LMS market, which is also diverse, encompassing in-house systems, open source options and out-of-the-box set-ups.[2],[3] Current trends in the LMS landscape include: expansion to mobile platforms; connection with existing social networks and information streams; tools for course development; diagnostics and adaptive learning systems based on learning analytics; and personalized interfaces and instruction.

In the last five years, the social web has been offering myriad tools that support everyday communication, productivity and collaboration. In many cases, such tools are superior in quality and functionality when compared to those previously found exclusively inside the LMS. This phenomenon has pushed staff and faculty to become increasingly aware of the inflexibility of LMSs, despite their continuous central role in the business of colleges and universities. These are also the same traits expected from an LMS. Given its openness, accessibility and distributed nature, social media applications play an authoritative role in building online communities and supporting online collaboration. Online instructors are enhancing the learning experience with activities that include social media tools such as blogs, wikis, podcasts, Twitter, social networking sites, etc. Social media also enhances the management of sharing and collaboration, and in many situations enhances the ease of managing the learning experience. The use of social media has also affected students’ ability to use technology. Learning the skills and competencies to use new technologies is essential for 21st-century professionals in all areas. The backdrop is always one of empowering users to use their own customized toolbox, which is counterintuitive to the essence of LMSs. The inherent nature of such tools is one opposed to entrance barriers or centralization of functions, which has been common in the architecture of many LMSs.

These trends are noticeable through new initiatives, heavily influenced by the rise of social networks and the user-generated power of social media sites. This is the case of Canvas and LoudCloud which, despite their small market share, have caught the attention of some respectable institutions and demonstrated that although the LMS market is mature, there is still space for newcomers and innovation.[4] One interesting related effect is the recent association of providers directly with instructors, circumventing the intermediate presence of institutions. These developments are also intrinsically related to the hype of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), which have brought attention to a narrow form of online education and free access, still in its infancy. StraighterLine is one example of such an initiative.

Meanwhile, institutions face an enormous burden when changing providers, establishing standards for course development, maintaining course relevancy, ensuring data security and providing user training and support around the clock, without becoming tied to vendors’ software update schedule and pricing. Attempts to integrate the personal and academic worlds have yet to achieve any scalable success in terms of significant student achievement.

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[1] Steve Kolowich, “Cracking Up the LMS,” Inside Higher Ed, January 11, 2012. Accessed at

[2] Roger Riddell, “12 Learning Management Systems and What They Bring to Classrooms,” Education Dive, February 6, 2013. Accessed at

[3] Carl Straumsheim, “Not Dead Yet.” Inside Higher Ed, November 8, 2013. Accessed at

[4] Kolowich, 2012

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Readers Comments

Beth D 2013/12/13 at 12:30 pm

As online learning develops, it’s no surprise that LMS architecture will change to address emerging needs. One of the challenges older LMSs need to overcome is their tendency to dictate system requirements to institutions rather than listening to what they’re looking for. There’s a notion of, “This is how it’s always been done, and we’re the technical experts to do it” among LMS designers. What they need to do instead is work with institutions to ask, “What is it we couldn’t foresee five years ago that has now become an issue we need to address?”

Interesting read overall.

Henry Smalling 2013/12/13 at 2:18 pm

I see the future of LMSs as having only a few standard functions and being easily customizable to capture more specialized functions.

Institutions increasingly want a role in designing their back end, as the demand for improved data and accountability and the pressure to produce greater outcomes at a reduced cost grows.

Adam Hilson 2013/12/14 at 8:41 pm

I support Beth D in this case. It’s simple that LMS architecture is changing and will be getting complex day by day. That’s not what I’m here to say. But I’m wondering why on earth the Management sector is only going ahead this fast?
Let me know about your thoughts.

Cori Espinoza 2015/03/10 at 7:26 am

I understand and agree that trying to manage all the Learning Management Systems one at a time each day can be time consuming and frustrating. However I feel that tools like “LMS” are good for students.

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