The Vital, Hidden Role That Learning Management Systems Play In The Education Market


Learning Management Systems (LMS) are the dashboards or operating systems of technology-enabled classrooms and schools. Designed to centralize, scale and measure the education ecosystem, they’ve become ubiquitous and indispensable.

School attendance, discipline, assignments – both giving and receiving – tests, study materials, they all go throw and exist in an LMS. And at every level of education from kindergarten to graduate school. As such, LMS serve hundreds of millions of students and are a multi-billion dollar market all by themselves.

A few of the major players are Canvas, Moodle, Blackboard, and Schoology. Even Google is in the game.

But on top of their direct missions, LMS are also playing an outsized, make-or-break role in the wider education technology market, especially among young companies and startups. Increasingly and somewhat indispensably, LMS providers are gatekeepers, vetting authorities and massive distributors of education products and services made by others.

This new and evolved LMS role is so large that, if you’re a start-up in the education space, getting a deal to imbed your tool in one or more LMS can be the difference between making it or not.

The gatekeeper role that LMS not occupy is by no means bad. To the contrary, it has several real benefits. For the LMS, adding integrated tools makes their systems more powerful, more essential, allowing them to provide more services to their schools, teachers and students. For students and teachers, they get more and better services, all in one place, seamless access and integration. For education companies, they can reach millions of students at once, through one contract instead of trying to win over teachers or schools or districts one at a time.

TJ Hoffman, the Chief Operating Officer at Sibme, a professional learning software solution for educators, said his company struck integration deals with LMS companies Canvas and Schoology and “plans to integrate with other LMS in the future.” And while he said going in with an LMS was not a “deal-breaker,” he also described its benefits.

Being with an LMS, Hoffman said, “is a great reduction in friction for users and has boosted engagement. For example, we work with a major university in Texas and, once their users started engaging with Sibme through our native Canvas integration, engagement went up 70%.”

He also cited a spin-off benefit – an increase in users engaging with Sibme directly – after they encountered the solution in the LMS. A sort of passage of vetting effect. Hoffman said, “Showing that, once users are more comfortable using Sibme through the integration, their desire to engage with the application in our native apps also goes up.”

ReadSpeaker, a leading text-to-speech learning tool, announced an integration deal with LMS Moodle in September and had similar things to say about the importance of LMS arrangements.

“LMS companies are diligent and demanding.” said Roy Lindemann, CMO of ReadSpeaker. “So, being integrated with one or more LMS providers not only increases your reach and scale, it’s also a marketplace stamp of being best in class in education.”

And while LMS as market-maker is a boon for the companies that get in, it means new companies or smaller enterprises may have to make choices because signing on with LMS isn’t easy. It requires a company to invest resources in product design and functionality. As a result, some companies simply choose not to try, even though they see the benefits.

Elliott Goodman, co-founder of Tiro, which provides teachers detailed, actionable analytics based on assessments they build, said his company had to decide whether to chase an LMS.

“We had to decide whether we would prioritize LMS integration in our product roadmap. We saw the major benefits to integrating with an LMS like Schoology being twofold: gradebook reporting and discoverability,” Goodman said. “However, we are early in Tiro’s development and we ultimately decided that it would be better to dedicate engineering hours to building out its features,” he said, adding that, given the number of big LMS systems, his team would have to pick one and prioritize working with it and within it.

The secondary but major role that LMS systems now play in education technology is not lost on the LMS providers themselves either.

“At Moodle, we take our partnerships very seriously. We understand that anything we sponsor and include as part of the Moodle product ecosystem has a direct and meaningful impact on the learning experiences of millions of learners worldwide. We don’t stop at assessing just the tech, we also focus on understanding the pedagogical relevance of the offering, as well as the nature of the organization that provides it to check if their values align with those we champion at Moodle.” said Marie Achour, Global Head of Product at Moodle.

“When we partnered with ReadSpeaker, as an example, we went through a comprehensive evaluation process and decided that the value they provided would enhance and compliment the teaching and learning resources offered by Moodle and that together, we could offer richer tools for educators and more effective learning opportunities for their students,” Achour said.

The ability for LMS to super-charge education startups is not a trend – it’s a new normal and a dynamic of the market that feels deeply significant. What strategy an education company plans for LMS integration ought to be one of the primary questions investors and founders ask, if they don’t already.



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