Education learning management system trends

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Many in the education market are still in love with open source systems, such as Moodle. However, they often do not realize – until it is too late, that “free” isn’t really free because customization has to constantly exist, support, among other things.

That is why there is an uptick in the number of commercial systems available in the education sector.

With that comes trends.

Available at your local college and school – NOT!

Trend 1

Mobile Learning

This is one of the most shocking trends in the space – the significant lack of mobile learning in these systems. What makes this so bizarre is the extensive amount of data, that clearly shows students of all ages are using mobile devices.

  • Access to smartphones has more than tripled among high school students since 2006, according to a survey report from Project Tomorrow®  350,000 U.S. K-12 students
  • 50% of all college students are using mobile devices to access on a daily basis the Internet (Educause)
  • In the first week of the semester, the number of students using mobile devices like tablets instead of computers to access the Internet, went from 22% to 71% between 2010 and 2011 (ITS)











So why the delay in using mobile learning, especially with tablets in education focused LMSs?

An even more disturbing trend is the lack of SMS (text messaging) in education systems, even though numerous reports have found that students of all ages are using text messaging more than e-mail. 

The irony of course, is that systems are heavily focused on e-mail notifications and built-in email systems for students.

Trend 2

File Repositories

There is often a level of confusion when it comes to file repositories.

A file repository in the LMS world is the ability for end users/administrators to places files into a library or folder if you will whereas students can access, view and download the files (documents, video/audio etc.).

For many education systems this is becoming the norm rather than the rarity. 

I am seeing an increase in the ability to send these files to fellow students (virtually non-existent in corporate systems) and the ability to track in the back end – how many times the file has been viewed and downloaded.

I am projecting the analytical part to significantly increase and to expand the capability to use solutions such as online storage (which a few vendors are offering) and product like Dropbox and CalenGoo.

Why?  Because students are already using such products in their daily lives.

Trend 3

Social Learning

Continuance of lack of new capabilities with social learning.   For the life of me, I can’t figure out why systems on this side of the space are sticking with the same garbage as the corporate side.

That said, this has become the norm in these systems.

What are they using?

  • Ancient features such as discussion boards/text chat/forums – I offered these babies back in 1995 on my web site. Time to move on!
  • Facebook like page with profiles — snooze-ville
  • Built-in text chat – awesome – okay not really

At a minimal why not offer solutions similar to Instagram or Pinterest?

Trend 4

Integrated e-mail

A huge number of vendors are offering this feature in their system. We are not talking about e-mail notifications here, nor being able to send an e-mail to one person and e-mails to a group of folks, we are talking about actual e-mail messaging going from teachers to students.

Trend 5

Parent Portal

Clearly this exists in the K-12 sector. Some systems offer parents the ability to see their students homework – including what needs to be accomplished, communicate with teachers and even chat with other parents.

Staying with the portal angle, many systems offer them for teachers. On the teacher side, they can communicate with fellow teachers around the world, often within their own subject.


Trend 6


What really disturbs me is the general lack of this feature set on the corporate side. It should be mandatory, but on the education side it is growing exponentially.

Everything from teachers/professors offering something similar to answering students questions via a Social Q/A angle to having students mentor other students (a peer to peer approach).

Another feature that is seeing growth is the use of Skype – built into these systems, which data has found is popular with teachers because it enables their students to communicate with fellow students around the world.

More trends than you can shake a ruler at

  • Ability to integrate with a SIS (student information system) or SMS (student management system)
  • Google apps – free for education – as long as you follow their specific guidelines
  • Exam management – no big surprise here

Something strange is going on here

There are two trends in the space that is quite surprising, because in the brick and mortar setting is just doesn’t exist.


Another uptick with systems offering e-commerce including built-in shopping carts, ability to accept credit cards/Paypal, discounts/promo codes and various types of currencies.

All at no cost.

This trend is being seen at the higher education/academia level and it makes sense, especially when you are able to purchase courses – i.e. online courses.

What is really cool is that it is going beyond the college to student angle – to the B2C or B2B – in this case the university/college selling courses to anyone (not necessarily enrolled) and companies. 

At the brick and mortar level, many colleges offered the opportunity to partner up with a company, so that their employees could take a variety of courses, so it is a natural fit on the online side.

Talent Management

In just the past few months, I am seeing education systems offering something similar to talent management features. One system actually is an education talent management system.

I get it from a market standpoint – revenue wise, but I don’t get it as a whole.

As a former educator at both the high school and college level, the succession planning, 360 feedback and alike really never existed.

Oh sure, you would have a colleague come in and observe your class – i.e. teaching – and rate it for our yearly review, but who in the heck is offering leadership development at the high school level for teachers (unless you are enrolled at a university and are working on an educational administration degree).

On the principal side, many systems fail to understand, is that often an assistant principal will leave the school to become a principal at another school – so the leadership development – often used to identify leaders within that institution doesn’t apply.

A few systems are offering the HRIS angle.

The majority of school districts, universities on the administration side – have zero idea on what a HRIS solution is, let alone the advancement of technology within their own schools.

I would rather see an on-going focus targeting the students, rather then this bizarre component.

Fun Facts

Comparison Time!

  • Corporate side – still focusing on text dashboards, heck even the lack of dashboards
  • Education side – dashboards with graphs, pie charts, etc.
  • Corporate side – still awful navigation and UI – on both sides (front and back end)
  • Education side – similar
  • Corporate side – a lack of the “wow” factor on the front end
  • Education side – similar
  • Corporate side – ad-hoc  reports
  • Education side – rare, not the norm – heavily focused on canned reports

Online Learning vs. ILT

Interesting data, showing why schools and universities are moving heavily into the online space.

  • International Association for K-12 Online Learning, or iNACOL, estimates that more than 1.5 million K-12 students were engaged in some form of online or blended learning in the 2009-10 school year
  • 48 of the 50 states including the District of Columbia offer some type of online learning
  • A meta-analysis of thousands of studies conducted by the Department of Education (2009 and updated in 2010) concluded that students in online only instruction performed modestly better than their face to face counterparts

Bottom Line

Education as a whole is getting a bad rap and it shouldn’t at least when it comes to online learning.

The reason behind this is simple, educational learning management systems.

While these systems continue to offer a wonderful set of features, they still have a long way to go.

User interface should be a priority for all involved, especially with ease of use as the cornerstone.

Because when you focus on what is really important for the students, educators and even administrators on the back end, the rest will follow.

Which will change the way brick and mortar schools/universities educate.

For the better.

E-Learning 24/7


  1. Great post Craig. Firstly your point that ‘free isn’t really free’ is one I have been hammering on about for quite some time. I would extend this point from just being about systems like Moodle that require hosting and customisation to free Web based LMS systems (such as OpenClass), which also aren’t free as they rely on a monetization plan somewhere on the back end, whether by advertising, introducing a paid version, selling content or building user numbers so the company can be acquired.

    Your ‘trend 2’ – File repository and ‘Trend 4’ – Integrated email are two I feel strongly about and led us to design CourseDirector, an LMS which sits on top of Google Apps, so Google Drive is the file repository and gmail is the email. We’ve banked on the continuing penetration of Google Apps into schools so made our system as light as possible to keep the users in Google Apps.

    Social learning I’m still not sure about so we havent done any development in that direction, apart from integration of Google Groups and Google Chat into courses and I still have yet to see a well executed social integration of an LMS. Mobile as well the jury os still out for me. I see the massive increase in use of mobile devices by students but I still believe (for now) the bulk of their work they are doing on laptop or desktop computers.

    ‘Parent portal’ and ‘mentoring’ I think you are spot on. All in all great article.


  2. Well e learning is growing and has become important. It is an innovative way of learning and teaching. It is growing in many ways, such as mobile learning, ecommerce and many more. Thanks for sharing this helpful post.

  3. There are clearly some interesting point here. I especially liked you mentioned parent portals and phone integration: I have never though about these directions of development. Nice article!

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