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ANGEL LMS: Dead or Alive?

This article was originally posted at e-Literate

After the recent news of two significant ANGEL LMS customers leaving for other vendors – Washington State Board of Community and Technical Colleges selected Instructure’s Canvas LMS in the spring, and Michigan State University selected Desire2Learn’s Learning Suite in the summer – there is an interesting question of whether ANGEL is still a viable LMS solution, at least for current clients.

ANGEL was created at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis in 2000, and after a successful 9 years Angel Learning, the company behind ANGEL, was purchased by Blackboard in May 2009. Shortly after the purchase, Blackboard announced they would place ANGEL in end-of-life status by 2014. This decision to end ANGEL, along with a similar decision for WebCT product lines, has been fueling a large percentage of the LMS market churn over the past 2 – 3 years (more from WebCT than from ANGEL, however).

In March 2012 Blackboard changed their strategy – no longer pushing all new “acquired” customers to migrate to the Learn 9.x platform, and instead looking to support multiple LMS solutions. The least discussed part of the March announcements was the decision to cancel the end-of-life notice for ANGEL. As described in an open letter to the community from Blackboard:

The high level change is this: Blackboard is becoming a multiple learning platform company that supports both commercially developed software as well as open source solutions. [emphasis original, snip]

As we expand the range of platforms we support, we have decided that we will continue to support ANGEL, a platform chosen by over 400 institutions. We previously announced that we would support the ANGEL platform until 2014. Today we’ve clarified that at the behest of ANGEL clients that continue to find this product the best fit for their needs, we will extend our maintenance and support indefinitely. We will evaluate this decision on an ongoing basis and provide sufficient notice of any future change to plans for support. We will also continue to build ANGEL features into future releases of Blackboard Learn 9.1 and into the Moodlerooms joule product. Both represent positive future destinations for ANGEL clients who wish to upgrade to a newer product line.

This strategy relies on Blackboard maintaining a critical mass of ANGEL customers to justify the ongoing investment in maintaining the product line. It would be useful to look at a subset of ANGEL customers to understand the likelihood of such a critical mass staying together.

Luckily we still have a description of ANGEL’s key customers as determined by Angel Learning themselves – a leftover profile page that includes a nice summary of the company’s history and key milestones. In this page Angel Learning lists their most important clients, which we’ll call their Named Accounts. I have put together a table summarizing the current status of these clients’ LMS solutions [Updated to capture Penn State decision].

Taken together, as assuming that roughly half of the SUNY campuses were on ANGEL, this list represents almost 1.25 million students, not including the publisher usage. There appears to be three categories from this list.

Still on ANGEL with no current plans to change or plans migrate to Bb Learn

  • Jefferson County Public Schools appears to have no ongoing plans to change their LMS.
  • Penn State has been going through a long-running LMS evaluation, including pilots, and they have decided to stick with ANGEL as their LMS. [Updated]
  • Elsevier appears to have no ongoing plans to change their LMS.
  • Miami-Dade College started an evaluation process last year, but there have been no recent updates on when (or if) the formal selection will occur.
  • SUNY does not have a clear decision on their future direction – the evaluation report recommended migration to Desire2Learn, yet the SUNY Learning Network still shows ANGEL as the commercial LMS; some campuses have indicated they are delaying migrations from ANGEL to Learn, however.
  • Georgia Virtual Technical College appears to have no ongoing plans to change their LMS.

Already decided to migrate off ANGEL

  • Houghton Mifflin Harcourt terminated their contract with ANGEL prior to 2010 due to an ongoing lawsuit, but it is not clear (to me at least) what the replacement LMS is for HMH.
  • Washington community and technical colleges made the decision in the spring to migrate to Instructure’s Canvas LMS.
  • Michigan State University just selected Desire2Learn as their new LMS.

Started evaluations but no updates on when the formal selection will occur

  • Penn State has been going through a long-running LMS evaluation, including pilots, and they have decided to stick with ANGEL as their LMS. [Updated]
  • St Petersburg College started an LMS evaluation, but in spring 2011 decided to put off the decision at least until 2014 (see page 5).
  • Miami-Dade College started an evaluation process last year, but there have been no recent updates on when (or if) the formal selection will occur.

What does this mean?

Michael Feldstein wrote recently that Blackboard’s strategy change is not just about supporting multiple platforms, but is also about redefining the LMS and moving into the cloud.

That’s right. Blackboard has announced its intentions to peel off pieces of what have traditionally been considered core LMS functions and offer them as separate SaaS offerings. While Ray [Henderson] couldn’t comment on the details, it seems likely that these pieces will be true multi-tenant applications built on modern web technologies, and they will have some functionality that will be bundled with the core Learn product and additional functionality that will be licensed separately.

Seen in this light, the decision to cancel the end-of-life for ANGEL is an effective method to buy time and delay decisions by key customers while Blackboard’s new strategy develops. The old strategy of forcing everyone to migrate to the Learn LMS was not working, and what we now have is an intermediate stage during the strategy transition.

By looking at the named account customer list, it is apparent that there is still a critical mass of ANGEL customers, for the time being. Now that Penn State has decided to stick with ANGEL, Miami-Dade is probably the remaining bellweather that will determine the answer of how long Blackboard can maintain the ANGEL product line.

Update: Penn State has made their decision to stick with ANGEL – spreadsheet and bullet point adjusted accordingly. I’ll share documents in the comments when available.

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