Kolowich, S. (2011) Blackboard’s next phase Inside Higher Education, February 22
I’m catching up a bit on some old news feeds, and thought this was worth a mention.
Last fall, close to 95 percent of institutions had some learning management system in place, according to the Campus Computing Project. Accordingly, Blackboard’s business strategy is changing: with the company adding four new, separately licensed products to its menu in the last three years, Blackboard expects that it will soon no longer rely on Learn, its popular learning management system, to bring home the bacon.
Here’s some of what Blackboard has bought or now owns, as well as its LMS:
- Blackboard Analytics
Blackboard is looking to the other non-LMS tools to diversify its sales.
In addition, of course, Blackboard tried to drive out other competitors in the LMS market through aggressive patenting challenges, which it seems to have at last backed off, but which did not win it many friends in education.
While Blackboard’s LMS is reaching market saturation in North America, and indeed is under growing competition from Desire2Learn and open source software such as Moodle and Sakai, the world market for e-learning is rapidly expanding, but marketing Blackboard abroad, and especially in non-English speaking countries, is a tough sell. An LMS is not a difficult project to duplicate or modify under a new patent in those countries that don’t respect international patent law, and language and culture issues make it difficult to compete with home grown LMSs in countries such as India and China.
Indeed, many people are questioning the future of LMSs generally. The move to incorporate social media and other low-cost or free web 2.0 tools such as WordPress and the development of customizable personal learning environments raise questions about the need for an LMS, which have also been criticized on pedagogical grounds as being too teacher-controlled, and behaviourist.
Nevertheless, I think LMSs will be around for some time, mainly because they are convenient and have become familiar to not only instructors but also students. They provide a useful ‘template’ for organizing online teaching, and other web 2.0 tools can either be incorporated or worked around an LMS. Lastly there is institutional inertia, which should never be underestimated.
However, I’m not buying any Blackboard shares (but then I never did). I suspect that a bigger company – possibly an ERP company such as Sunguard or SAP – will instead buy-up Blackboard, mainly for the steady income it provides from licensing. But given my knowledge of mergers and acquisitions, don’t bank on it.