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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.

Kolowich writes:

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:

  • WebCT
  • Angel
  • Wimba
  • Elluminate
  • Blackboard Analytics
  • Mobile
  • Connect

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.


  1. Being responsible for a very large Bb install and having just gone through a major upgrade I’ve been following Bbs acquisitions with interest. I think that the purchase of Elluminate and Wimba last year were particularly interesting and suggest that Bb sees its future in real time collaboration tools which of course will be facilitated best through its LMS.

    This probably not a bad bet. I like to think that the future is much more open than what traditional LMSs have provided us which has generally been a closed and poor content management system with low end grouping, grading and collaboration tools.

    The way forward is to open up content, not close it down in walled gardens. There are certain things that you might use the remnants of todays LMSs for in the future but they really don’t need to do most of the things that they do when there are better and cheaper options available for achieving the same objectives.

    It is hard to see Bb fundamentally altering its LMS in the short or medium term. In the meantime the inherently more flexible and open Sakai and Moodle will continue to be attractive options for those facing a major LMS upgrade. Having said that, I agree that institutional inertia is very difficult to overcome even when maintaining the status quo is clearly not in the institutes best interest so existing Bb users will remain so. Bb entrench the inertia by going down the real time collaboration route and they add a considerable revenue stream and add value to Bb Learn.

    I think we’ll see great interest in Big Blue as an open source competitor to Wimba and Elluminate or whatever they’ll be called in the new Bb product range from those who use open source solutions.

    If I were investing in shares I might put them into companies that can provide a whole range of open source solutions for an institution as a managed hosting offering and with with the facility to provide flexibility around the openness of the products.

    Just my two cents.



  2. Having just used Wimba under Blackboard all I can say is what a disaster. VOIP is problematic. We have major echo problems, set up issues, students unable to get in etc. Compared with our existing Cisco WebEX Arkadin product that uses the telephone system there is no comparison… Personally I can only see there market share decreasing. A large proporation (about 1/3) of universities in Australia that used Blackboard have now migrated to moodle…

  3. While this company may be trying new things, I think it may have some fierce competitors. I have seen Desire2Learn gaining popularity as many people make the switch as well as many other companies emerge with their own take on the application. With so many competitors, it has to do something drastic to stay at the top.

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