Sticking with Blackboard

Over the last year, our college underwent a thorough review of its learning management system. After considering all the options and running a trial of Instructure’s Canvas, we decided to stick with Blackboard Learn. Blackboard has established a dominant position in the market over the years often by buying out its rivals. Canvas, our trial system, has mounted a substantial challenge to Blackboard mainly by employing a fresh approach to this category of software. It adopted a truly cloud-based platform and focused the design on the user experience. The LMS market has been both fluid and complex as illustrated by this infographic created by Phil Hill.

LMS msrket trends
It has been interesting to see the changes that have taken place.

The reasons our college decided to remain with Blackboard, despite having some problems with it over the years, are varied. Partly, it may have been a feeling of better the devil you know but also there was undoubtedly the influence of positive change at Blackboard under the new management (see A new Blackboard? ). In particular, there seems to be a reaction to competition from Canvas in the area of user experience.

Last month I attended Blackboard’s world conference for the first time to get a sense of its path forward. I was impressed with the scale of the event and the new emphasis on the user experience. A user experience lab was accessible throughout the conference so participants could test forthcoming improvements that will make the system “friendlier”. It is a substantial and real change over Blackboard’s previously clunky approach to interface design when doing something simple could take multiple clicks. The recent hiring of Jon Kolko, who is well known within the human-computer interaction and design communities, illustrates Blackboard’s new approach. Jon will be focused on improving the company’s mobile apps.

Blackboard’s move to the cloud was a major announcement (see this video for a short non-technical explanation of the cloud). During our review of Canvas vs Blackboard there was some confusion over what was meant by a cloud-based system. Blackboard was thought to be on the cloud because it was hosted on Blackboard’s servers and not on a College server. A hosted service gives each user its own copy of the Blackboard product (often different versions) running on dedicated resources. A true cloud system is one in which users have separate data and custom views but everyone shares the same version of the product. Blackboard will run its new cloud version on Amazon Web Services just as Canvas does.

Blackboard has a number of products (57 in all). In addition to being an LMS vendor, it offers a leading tool for synchronous learning (Collaborate) and tools for analytics. These tools have been sold separately and operated under separate business units but will in the future be merged and integrated. The next versions of Blackboard products will be sold under four levels of integrated services:

Learning Core: The Learn LMS (with some added tools)
Learning Essentials: Learn plus Collaborate
Learning Insight: Adds Analytics for Learn to track learning outcomes
Learning Insight & Student Retention: Basically everything Blackboard offers.

In addition to the many presentations on Blackboards products and how they are being used, the conference featured two very inspiring key note speakers. One is posted online.

A shorter version of the other can be found in this TED talk.

For another perspective on the conference see:
Blackboard’s Big News that Nobody Noticed
Posted on July 18, 2014 by Michael Feldstein

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