Schoology, a social cloud-based LMS known mostly used in the K-12 market, has set its sights on expanding into the higher education market using their recent $32 million funding round. Last January, Colorado State University’s Global Campus selected Schoology to replace Blackboard Learn, yet the market impact of this decision was limited, partially due to the non-traditional nature of the online-only campus. What Schoology has needed to gain more market credibility and awareness is a second set of higher ed institutions selecting Schoology in an open competition. Enter Wheaton College in Illinois, which recently selected Schoology as its new LMS. This is the most significant new selection that I have seen.
I interviewed CIO Wendy Woodward from Wheaton to find out more on the nature of this decision. For context, Woodward became Wheaton’s CIO in January 2015, moving from her previous job at Northwestern University. Based on her listening tour to understand campus needs, the decision to replace the LMS was listed near the top of the list. Given Northwestern’s recent move to Canvas, Woodward related that there was a common assumption that Wheaton would do the same. The faculty committee fully went through the evaluation process, however, and ended up selecting Schoology after inviting responses from 10 different solutions. The campus has already begun pilots and plans to be fully migrated to the new system by Fall 2016.
Woodward related that she personally has a bias for working with underdogs, and she likes being an early adopter if there is significant upside. She therefore seems to relish the opportunity that the campus decision enables to work with Schoology and provide guidance on what the higher ed market needs. One area mentioned, which I have also noticed, is the need to clean up the language and avoid referring to “districts” and “teachers”. Words matter, particularly in signaling that a vendor understands their customers.
I asked if there were any major functional gaps from a higher ed perspective in the Schoology LMS. Woodward mentioned some issues with testing and scoring, but she related that there were no major gaps. Issues to be addressed, but all manageable. Wheaton College is also putting a priority on serving the 80% needs before worrying about the 20% needs.
The summary of why Wheaton College selected Schoology from a functional perspective:
- It’s simple and easy, and faculty seemed to understand how to build courses and use the system after just 15 minutes orientation;
- The stream-based social interface moves beyond a course-centric view of an LMS; and
- Wheaton evaluators were impressed with Schoology’s analytics approach.
My view is that many higher ed customers are looking for modern alternatives to Canvas – not in frustration but in terms of wanting real competition. There should be more choices for cloud-based systems, leveraging interoperability standards such as LTI, and engaging user experiences. Significantly, Schoology is neither a brand new startup nor a legacy provider needing refactoring. Schoology was founded the same year as Instructure, and the comments on functionality gaps and 80/20 rules are based on the differences between K-12 needs and higher ed needs. I have seen demos, and this is a feature-rich system. The question is whether they have the right features.
If Schoology can prove through CSU Global Campus and Wheaton College that they can fully provide the institutional LMS needs of higher ed institutions, I suspect we’ll see them on many more short-lists for LMS evaluations starting this year.
Update: Removed description of “first CIO”, as Wheaton College did have a previous CIO role although through a different reporting structure.