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Snapshot of LMS Market for Large Online Programs in the US

This article was originally posted at e-Literate

The transformation of the higher education LMS market continues, and I expect more changes over the next 2 – 3 years. However, it seems time to capture a key segment of the market based on two recent announcements that directly impact large online programs.

UMUC Selects Desire2Learn

Following a multi-year strategic study and product selection, the University of Maryland University College (UMUC) selected Desire2Learn to replace the homegrown WebTycho LMS in use for over a decade. While there has been no press release, there are now official documents publicly available that describe this effort. Per the Faculty Advisory Committee (FAC) Newsletter:

As announced last year, UMUC is planning to replace WebTycho with another learning management system. After a great deal of questions for the vendors, references checks and tests of functionality, Desire2Learn was chosen. More than 200 faculty, staff and students worldwide were part of the decision which was reported to have been by an overwhelming majority. The roll out will occur gradually over the next year or two. [snip]

Not only is UMUC moving away from the WebTycho platform to the Desire2Learn (D2L) learning management system, but additional changes are in the works which will transform the online learning experience for our students and faculty.

UMUC is part of the University of Maryland system, and it has a global focus – serving over 90,000 students worldwide.

Mississippi Community Colleges Select Canvas

The Mississippi Virtual Community College (MSVCC) provides the LMS for the system’s online program as well as for all 15 campuses. After a 6-month RFP process, MSVCC will be migrating from Blackboard Learn and Desire2Learn and implementing Canvas as the new LMS. From the press release:

The Mississippi Community College Board and the state’s 15 community colleges recently selected Canvas by Instructure as the learning platform for the Mississippi Virtual Community College (MSVCC). This partnership marks the beginning of a five-year engagement with Instructure, an innovative company in eLearning technology. Canvas will provide the critical tools necessary to ensure that the MSVCC accomplishes its strategic goals centered around teaching and learning. Because Canvas runs in “the cloud,” MSVCC will recognize a cost savings of approximately $1.5 million per year. The MSVCC is expected to “go live” on the Canvas platform beginning with the summer 2013 term. [snip]

The MSVCC is a collaborative effort among all 15 community colleges to offer the full array of academic, career, and technical courses necessary to earn an Associate of Arts or an Associate of Applied Sciences online. The MSVCC dates back to fall 2001 and is recognized nationally as among the best eLearning models in the nation. During the initial launch of the MSVCC, a total of 4,781 students were enrolled in 8,281 classes. During the fall 2012 semester, 28,576 students took 60,883 classes.

Disclosure: I have advised on both UMUC and Mississippi projects as well as several additional schools listed below. All information for this post, however, is based on public information unrelated to the consulting projects.

Growing Role of Non-Profits in Online Education

Both of these selections highlight the growing role of non-profit institutions – both public and private – in online education. Throughout the 2000s, for-profit institutions such as the University of Phoenix and DeVry provided the bulk of large online programs, with only a handful of non-profits providing online programs at scale. In the past two years, however, traditional non-profit programs have grown significantly while most for-profit schools have shrunk in enrollment.

In the following graphic, the size of the bubble represents enrollment in online programs or courses. For example, the University of Phoenix has almost 300,000 online students, while UCF has approximately 30,000 online students. Bubble sizes are estimates only, as there is no standardized method for accredited institutions to report online enrollment. The source of enrollment numbers is a combination of IPEDS data, web site research, press releases, and secondary studies such as Parthenon Group’s report.


A few notes:

  • One major difference between large online programs and the broader higher education market is the strong usage of homegrown systems in online. Michael and Ihave written about the University of Phoenix and their investment in learning platforms, but Rio Salado, WGU and ITT also use homegrown systems.
  • The online program market is where Pearson eCollege (aka LearningStudio) does most of its business. The commonly-cited numbers from the Campus Computing Project – that eCollege has a 1% market share – does not include for-profit schools and is based on number of institutions. By looking at enrollments, it is clear that Pearson is one of the biggest players in this segment of the market.
  • Like Pearson, LoudCloud Systems has focused on the online market, particularly with for-profit institutions.
  • Blackboard faced a dangerous situation with the end-of-life of WebCT and ANGEL product lines (with the ANGEL line subsequently revived). As seen here, Blackboard has successfully moved many of their large online customers into Blackboard Learn – including UMassOnline and SUNY Learning Network. Blackboard still has online schools (e.g. Excelsior) facing an LMS decisions due to perceived or real end-of-life of LMS products.
  • Desire2Learn has built up a niche of public online programs, particularly with the UMUC selection, added to the Colorado Community College Online program.
  • While Canvas has based its growth mostly on traditional face-to-face programs, the additions of University of Central Florida and MSVCC give Canvas its most significant presence for large online programs.
  • American Public University is the only large online program in the US using Sakai.


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