One of the trends that I’ve been tracking in the LMS market is a move away from the monolithic, all-things-to-everyone enterprise LMS solution. There are several different approaches challenging this model, but the general theme is that the ed tech market needs more flexible, targeted approaches to directly support teaching and learning needs.
The news today is that LoudCloud Systems is officially announcing their LMS solution’s entry into the general higher education and K-12 markets as described in a Campus Technology article. In this announcement, LoudCloud promises what they describe as the “first fully adaptive and configurable Learning Management Systems for Higher Education and K12”. While I cannot judge yet how successful this vendor will be with their strategy, I think the announcement is significant for the LMS market for two reasons.
- LoudCloud appears to be providing the first disaggregated LMS on the commercial market; and
- The system has an integrated analytics engine that supports personalized content delivery.
Disclaimer: I do not endorse any one company over another and am not doing so here. My point here is to describe the general product release and to describe how this announcement further changes the LMS market.
LoudCloud is a two-year-old company based on a team formerly at Tata Interactive Systems, a provider of corporate LMS solutions. This team, led by CEO Manoj Kutty, started LoudCloud in 2010, and in 2011 had some significant wins in the for-profit sector of the higher ed market (Grand Canyon University with an enrollment of 40,000 students, and Career Education Corporation with an enrollment of 116,000 students) as well as the K-12 market (Jefferson County, the largest K-12 school district in Colorado with 84,000 students).
… During my phone call and online demonstration, they mentioned that Career Education Corporation is migrating to the LoudCloud LMS from their homegrown LMS, tool by tool. This is significant – LoudCloud has designed their system as a suite of web services, where each tool is designed to use role-based authentication and to be available on its own merits – architectural disaggregation. Furthermore, LoudCloud Systems has been designed for personalized learning environment driven by analytics. As the system tracks the students usage and a demographic profile from the Student Information System, the LMS will serve up specific content that appears to fit that students learning preferences and learning style.
At the time of the previous posts, LoudCloud was working on projects with these early customers, but it was not clear if they would develop a business strategy to support this approach for other customers. It now appears that they are fully releasing the products and marketing to the broader higher education and K-12 markets.
LoudCloud is betting on a vision of each customer configuring the system they need, based on choosing learning tools in a best-of-breed approach – using IMS standards and having each tool with its own API. The idea is if you already have a working LMS ecosystem but mostly need to change a discussion board or adaptive reader, for example, why should you have to change the whole system? In addition to this vision, I’m sure that they would be happy to sell the entire LMS as well.
This concept of a disaggregated LMS is not new, and in fact goes back at least to the SUNY Learning Network (SLN) effort from 2005 that would have leveraged open source components and built a Learning Management Operating System (LMOS). As described in a SLN2 whitepaper:
After considerable research, SLN has identified the best solution to be a component strategy, as no single-platform LMS solution exists today to meet our needs. This powerful component strategy would integrate several carefully chosen Open Source projects, each with strong technical compatibility, resulting in a whole far greater than the sum of its parts.
Collectively, the component technologies provide the requisite compatibility through standards compliance, complementary function, and strong alignment between their supporting communities.
Unfortunately this vision was not realized at the time, partially due to organizational resistance, but there has been progress in terms of the standards such as IMS LTI (Learning Tools Interoperability). From the open source world, Sakai 3 is also offering portions of a component approach.
Adaptive Content Through Analytics
The second part of LoudCloud’s bet is that analytics are the key to allowing a personalized learning experience that is adaptable to each student. The analytics engine in the LoudCloud LMS appears to take data from three primary sources – assessment results, demographics, and student engagement. According to Kutty,
We also believe that to deliver a better educational experience, a high quality educational platform must capture, profile, statistically analyze, and help improve content, student learning, and instructional engagement.
Most other LMS providers are also investing heavily in analytics, particularly in the ability to visualize and report assessment data. What appears to be new with LoudCloud is that their analytics engine can adapt the end-user experience for both instructors and students. According to the Campus Technology article:
Adaptive Reader Technology is a retention tool that captures and statistically analyzes more than 300 variables from student demographics, course engagement, and assessment data to deliver preferred learning resources, remedial instruction, tutoring support, and personalized feedback based on each learner’s individual profile.
What to Watch
For this strategy to work and LoudCloud to succeed, I see two big issues that need to be addressed.
- Market Acceptance – This announcement is significant, but the real judgement will come from the LMS market and whether LoudCloud can pick up new clients. There are a lot of changes to the market with new approaches, not to mention that the incumbent LMS solutions are not standing still. Will LoudCloud be able to expand beyond the for-profit sector and sell to public online programs and even to traditional higher ed? I would have expected to see more progress in terms of signing up new clients by now – the higher education market relies strongly on word-of-mouth, so sales success and momentum is important for this business strategy to succeed.
- Interoperability with Other Systems – While the IMS LTI standards are making tool interoperability easier and richer in end-user experience, early system integrations will most likely arise where the institutions control the product. Note that CEC was one of the first customers to implement components of the system, and they have a home-grown system. I suspect that clients with either a homegrown solution, or using Moodle and Sakai will be in the best position to take advantage of LoudCloud’s best-of-breed solutions.