The Learning Management System (LMS) market is a crowded one, but that isn’t deterring entry. Michael Arrington considers the launch of Canvas to be post-worthy. Its worthiness seems to stem from two aspects of Canvas: the founder, Josh Coates; and the video, which features a flamethrower.

Canvas is in some ways similar to Totara, which I covered about a month ago. The code is free/open source, and the intention is make profit from services, including hosting and support. In the case of Canvas, the for-profit organization is Instructure.

Canvas differs from Totara in that it’s for the academy, while Totara is for the enterprise. As you’ll know if you watched the video, Canvas has a very specific target. That would be (as Mike puts it) “the entrenched player in the University LMS space, Blackboard, and… its $377 million or so in revenue.”

As an entrant to the academic segment of the LMS market, Canvas resembles Schoology. So I’ll examine Canvas in terms of the challenges I identified in an earlier post about Schoology.

One set of challenges arises from the difficulty of being an entrant into a segment that includes a large gorilla, as well as other incumbents. Canvas/Instructure has certainly made a bold, aggressive, and well-funded entry.

Another set of challenges relates to that fact of student life, social media. A quick look at Canvas suggests that it provides integration with Facebook (to name a social gorilla) rather than building social networking into the Canvas LMS itself. If so, I think that’s the way to go.

I tried to start using the Canvas in the early hours of this (Tuesday) morning. I submitted a support request shortly after signing up. I’ll post again, or update this post, when I’ve received a response to my support ticket and/or signup.

I’ve posted before on Schoology, a Learning Management System (LMS) with social networking features. This post follows up by identifying some of the challenges facing the new LMS, and the startup behind it. I focus on Schoology as an LMS for educational clients (as opposed to enterprise clients) on the basis of its current testimonials.

The first challenge is awareness. Decision-makers, such as university information technology officers, need to be aware that there is an LMS called Schoology and that it offers social networking features. The LMS market is crowded enough that achieving awareness may not be easy.

The second challenge is articulating the importance of social media in an LMS. Students already have access to social media, in the form of Facebook, Twitter, etc. Is the LMS enhanced by including another set of social media tools?

The third is making the case that a new LMS is required in order to integrate learning management and social media. If those making the LMS purchase decision consider social media important, they are likely to communicate this to Blackboard and other incumbents. Schoology already includes social features, and hence has a head start, but the lead may not be insurmountable.

A fourth challenge relates to Schoology’s credibility. There are two aspects to this. Is Schoology, a new LMS, as well-developed in terms of features and robustness as established solutions such as Blackboard? Does it execute the basics, such as setting up courses and enrolling students, as smoothly as systems that have been used for these basics for many years at many institutions?

The other aspect of Schoology’s credibility challenge relates to Schoology, the startup, rather than to the LMS it offers. It is a fact of entrepreneurial life that many startups fail. Even startups that succeed often do so by being acquired, thus making their founders and investors money. But will the firm that did the acquiring continue to support the product, or did it make the acquisition in order to reduce competition or redeploy the talent of the acquired company? This is a concern often raised in the LMS market, especially in the light of acquisitions by Blackboard.

The above is rather unbalanced, as a list of challenges without discussion of how Schoology intends to overcome them. Rather than make this post longer by adding what I think Schoology is doing, or should do, in the light of these challenges, I’ll contact the Schoology folks to see what they have to say.

What are we talking about here? Well, according to Wikipedia:

A learning management system (commonly abbreviated as LMS) is a software application for the administration, documentation, tracking, and reporting of training programs, classroom and online events, e-learning programs, and training content.

The word social seems to crop up in connection with learning a lot these days. Maybe we add it to the stock term LMS to create a couple of new alphabet soups. I think that each of the terms is significantly different from regular LMS, and from the other, that the new abbreviations may be useful.

That the two terms mean different things is important. They differ with respect to the units of learning they emphasize. A SLMS emphasizes traditional units of learning: courses. It adds a social component, which may change the way in which learners engage with the content and with each other.

A NSLMS needs to encompass the units of learning content made possible by social media. This includes, to use an example from Bingham and Conner, short videos. It is interesting to note that their primary example of an organization using short videos, TELUS, did away with its existing LMS. It is also interesting to search the index of the book for LMS (or learning management system); there is no such entry.

SLMSs do not typically address the new social learning, any more than traditional LMSs do. SLMSs are more social because they add a social layer to the system for managing learning.

NSLMS, in contrast, are “new social” because they enable management of the new social learning. This means that they recognize smaller and less formal units of learning. To mix one of Bingham and Conner’s terms with one of my own, NSLMSs recognize microsharing as a means of learning.

To state all this is to raise questions about NSLMS. Can they enable the management of microsharing without becoming cumbersome? There are more units of learning, and many more combinations of those units, when microsharing starts to provide some of the learning formerly provided by more traditional learning. (Yes, I do mean “some of,” rather than “all of.”)

Then there are the more fundamental questions about NSLMSs. Who is working on them? How much do organizations need them? Which organizations have already developed in-house NSLMSs?

Perhaps the most fundamental question of all is: do NSLMSs exist?

A Course on Schoology

December 14, 2010

Schoology is a learning management system (LMS) with social media features. My wish to kick the tires was quickly granted, in the form of the verification of my signing up as a teacher.

I created a course on Schoology. I should clarify that. Do I mean I created a course about Schoology, or that I created a course at schoology.com? Yes, to both. What I created is very much a first version.

You can check out Schoology and the course by going to schoology.com and using access code GT24N-XBSBF. Hope to see some of you there. Since I need to approve registrations using that code, feel free to email me (andrew at changingway dot org) so that I can respond to your registration request promptly.

Totora is a new open source learning management system. It’s from Kineo, and the quote is from Kineo’s Cammy Bean.

Totara is a distribution of the free/open source LMS Moodle, aimed at Kineo’s corporate clients: I’m sure that it’s aimed to attract new clients, as well as to serve current clients.

Since Moodle is under the GPL, so is Totara. That means that when you get Totara, you get its source code, and are free to modify and redistribute your modifications. (It means more than that, but that’s enough about the GPL for this post.)

I plan to try out Totara when it becomes available. It looks as though that means January 2011. The LMS I’m trying out right now is Schoology, about which I posted last week.

If you ask most students and instructors what they think of Learning Management Systems (LMS), you’re probably going to get one of two responses: “What’s a Learning Management System?” or “I really hate the system we have to use.” (Typically, there’s a company name attached.)

Blackboard is the typically-attached company/LMS name. It’s the LMS I’ve had to use as teacher and as student, and the above paragraph reflects my experience. The paragraph by Audrey Watters at RWW. It opens an post about Schoology, “a startup that seeks to address many of the pain points of the LMS.”

Schoology apparently has the look and feel of the social networking sites with which students are familiar. That sounded interesting, so I signed up. I wanted to kick the tires right away. I signed up as a teacher, and went into verification limbo. I hope to be able to get going soon. It would be possible to start learning about Schoology right now, through relatively passive means such as reading blog posts (such as the recent post on updates to the service). But, as usual, I prefer more active learning.

I’m hoping that Schoology is a real LMS, focused on learning and on the student. Blackboard always felt to me like a TMS – a teaching management system – focused as much on the teacher as on the students.

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