Massive Increase in LMS and Synchronous Video Usage Due to COVID-19

As we near the completion of the COVID-19 transition to remote teaching and learning for virtually all higher education students in North America, and for most across the globe, two of the EdTech platforms that are carrying much of the increased load are the learning management system (LMS) and the synchronous video tools (aka virtual classroom).

Our current data collection with our partners at LISTedTECH on higher education COVID-19 transitions shows that we are not completely done with the transition, but we are beyond the two biggest spikes – March 23 and March 30. The view below is scaled by enrollment totals for North America (US and Canada).

Based on email information requests along with some public posts from the vendors, we can get a sense of this increased usage on the two primary EdTech platforms experiencing increased loads (self-reported across global customer base).

  • Instructure: The Canvas LMS usage has increased more than 60% in terms of maximum concurrent users in the past two weeks, and the number of video uploads has increased by a factor of 10x.

  • D2L Brightspace: Its Virtual Classroom has seen an increase of 25x in the past two weeks.

  • Blackboard: The number of logins for the Learn LMS has increased 4x in the past few weeks, and the number of daily Collaborate (virtual classroom) users has increased 36x.

  • Moodle: Its open source model along means that they don’t fully know of the usage numbers; however, the number of registered Moodle sites increased 30% in just one day, and the MoodleCloud usage increased 4x in the past few weeks.

  • Schoology: Its LMS usage has increased 4x over the previous maximum.

One thing that is obvious from the data is that synchronous video / virtual classroom usage has increased far more than the LMS usage. This preference of teachers to first try to replicate their face-to-face class in a virtual environment is the defining feature of Phase 1 of the transition. And Zoom usage in higher education has likely increased increased more than the LMS-associated virtual classroom or video systems. While Zoom does not separate out their education usage numbers, overall they have experienced a 20x increase in usage.

Graphic showing four phases of higher education response to COVID-19 in terms of online learning adoption.

I believe these numbers will change over time during Phases 2 and 3 of the transition, as new online teachers realize the limitations of synchronous video, particularly for disadvantaged students, and as teachers have time to digest the advice and support from instructional designers. I would expect to see a reduction in synchronous video usage, and a further increase in core LMS usage.

These increases come at a cost, however, both for vendors and for educators. Both Canvas and Schoology systems have experienced fairly significant performance challenges this week. But given the scale and timeframe of the transition, I think it’s actually quite remarkable how few problems we have seen.

Beyond maintaining performance during increased usage, there is the financial impact to consider. LMS vendors have to pay for increased usage without necessarily gaining any increased revenue due to the licensing terms based on a school’s enrollment (and not on usage). As the Wall Street Journal reported, “One Business Winner Amid Coronavirus Lockdowns: the Cloud”.

“If we think of the cloud as utility, it’s hard to imagine any other public utility that could sustain a 50% increase in utilization—whether that’s electric or water or sewage system—and not fall over,” Matthew Prince, chief executive of cloud-services provider Cloudflare Inc. said in an interview. “The fact that the cloud is holding up as well as it has is one of the real bright spots of this crisis.” [snip]

“If you look at Amazon or Azure and how much infrastructure usage increased over the past two weeks, it would probably blow your mind how much capacity they’ve had to spin up to keep the world operating,” said Dave McJannet, HashiCorp Inc., which provides tools for both cloud and traditional servers. “Moments like this accelerate the move to the cloud.”

I think those sentiments apply to EdTech. Cloud usage has helped EdTech platforms largely manage the massive usage increases, and we will likely see an acceleration of cloud adoption for the remaining LMS implementations on self-hosting models and for other product categories. But we will also see financial impacts on LMS vendors as they deal with increased internal costs.