I have not spent my career working in higher education, let alone EdTech. Since I finished my graduate degree I have lived my professional life in the “business world,” primarily working in marketing roles at various technology start-ups.

About 5 months ago I was given the opportunity to start working at Motivis Learning, once again in a marketing capacity. I very quickly had to familiarize myself with Motivis’ products, the market opportunity they are chasing, and all of the intricacies that come with working in education technology. The long sales cycles and complex budgeting and approval processes that are old hat to EdTech veterans were all new to me.

When I joined the Motivis team, I found an extremely passionate group of educators and technologists hell-bent on delivering technology that is important because of it’s potential to improve student outcomes from time to degree to student retention to job placement rates. Their energy and passion is palpable and infectious. But from a marketing perspective, there were a few reasons for me to be concerned. Chief among them were…

  1. Motivis Learning is pioneering a brand new “category” of education technology—a Learning Relationship Management (LRM) platform. Creating a new category in any industry is an uphill battle.
  2. Higher ed institutions are generally slow to adapt to new technologies… at least compared to their counterparts in the business world.

Prior to joining Motivis I knew very little about education technology in general. During my undergraduate years I was an end user of Blackboard, so I knew vaguely what a learning management system was. But SIS and campus community technology, for example, were altogether unfamiliar to me.

The good news is that now that I’ve been at Motivis for a few months and have a better understanding of the technology that higher education institutions rely on, my excitement about the emergence of “learning relationship management” technology has grown exponentially. I’m surprised that it’s taken this long for this technology to emerge; and I’d be surprised if it doesn’t become foundational at higher ed institutions over the next decade. Here’s why.

The widespread use of CRM technology in business

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software has been table-stakes technology in the business world for years now. If you search Google for a definition of “customer relationship management” this is the first result you come across.

“Customer relationship management (CRM) is a term that refers to practices, strategies and technologies that companies use to manage and analyze customer interactions and data throughout the customer lifecycle, with the goal of improving business relationships with customers, assisting in customer retention and driving sales growth.”

Simply put, what “CRM” is to business “LRM” is to education—conceptually and in principle these systems help to accomplish the same thing.

  1. Just as a business has leads, educational institutions have applicants.
  2. Just as a business has customers, educational institutions have students.
  3. Pulling together a single record of all customer or student information can help a business, or a school, improve the success measures they care about most. In a business that could be selling additional goods or services, retaining a customer, or using information on past customer support interactions to better serve your customers. In an educational setting that could be improving time to degree, student retention, or job placement rates.

With a clear understanding of these parallels in mind, it quickly becomes apparent that the value of the technology is the same—the more “complete” your understanding of your customer or student is, the better you can serve them.

Simply put, if your customer or student data is in disparate systems, if it’s not easily accessible, or if it isn’t up to date then the customer or student’s experience will suffer. If you took a CRM away from most businesses today, chaos would ensue (not to mention poor performance). It’s kind of amazing to me that higher education has lived with the siloed technology and data accessibility problems that are so prevalent today for as long as they have.

The size of the CRM market is an indication of this technology’s value

Let’s take a brief look at the size of the market for CRM technology. There’s no doubt that it’s a “mature” market, yet according to Gartner, the market grew 12.3% from 2014 to 2015, to a total market size of $26.3B.

Yes that’s billion with a “B.”

Another such measure is a quick search of “CRM software” on software evaluation site Software Advice—a mere 441 products are returned from this query.

Salesforce is the dominant player in the CRM market. According to the company’s 2015 Annual Report, approximately 150,000 unique customers and about 3.75 million people use the CRM. And get this—the company’s 2016 revenue was $6.67 Billion—up 24% from the previous year.

Clearly the business world is getting enormous value out of of CRM software—according to Wikipedia, “Through the CRM approach and the systems used to facilitate it, businesses learn more about their target audiences and how to best cater to their needs.” If we rewrite that sentence for the education market, doesn’t it make just as much sense?

“Through the LRM approach and the systems used to facilitate it, schools learn more about their students and how to best cater to their needs.”

Now, isn’t that something that Deans and higher ed Provosts can get behind? Isn’t better-catering to each individual student’s needs the best way to improve student success measures? In an industry filled with new and controversial viewpoints, this simply doesn’t feel like one that’s really up for debate.

If the adoption of these technologies is so widespread and prevalent in the business world, isn’t it only a matter of time before higher education catches up?

The market for LRM technology will never be the size of the market for CRM technology, but that’s not the point. There are fewer schools than businesses, fewer students than consumers. But with hundreds if not thousands of CRM vendors out there, there seems to be a disconnect in the sense that there’s only a handful of companies today that have developed LRM technology. And it will be the early adopters of LRM technology that reap the competitive advantages over other higher ed institutions who wait until LRM technology is more broadly adopted.


I could go on and on making parallels between businesses and their customers, schools and their students. Paul Leblanc, President of Southern New Hampshire University, recently published an article on moving from the transactional LMS to the transformational LRM. In the article he gives specific examples of how a more complete understanding of each individual student can be leveraged to improve student success measures. There are countless similar articles out there highlighting how CRM technology can be leveraged to improve business outcomes. The entire business community is probably not wrong.

If you need further evidence of the similarities between CRM technology and the emergence of LRM technology, look no further than this—companies like Motivis Learning built their first wave of LRM technology on top of the same technology stack on which Salesforce’s CRM is built. The skeleton of the platforms is nearly identical.

As I said, I’m new to the education technology space—but knowing what I do from the business world, I can’t image a future where LRM technology does not become widespread within higher education. For those of you who have lived your careers in EdTech, I’d love to know if you disagree; and if so, what are the fundamental differences you see between the business to customer and school to student relationship?