Blackboard's launch of an open-source group -- and its acquisition of Moodlerooms and NetSpot -- further its strategy to move beyond learning management systems and position itself as an education software and service company.
On 26 March 2012, Blackboard announced the acquisition of Moodlerooms and NetSpot — both providers of Moodle open-source learning management system (LMS) services — while simultaneously launching Blackboard Education Open Source Services, an initiative aimed at clients using open-source education technologies.
While this announcement is a strategic move to position Blackboard as a full-blown education software and service company, it raises significant questions for current users of Moodle, Sakai and Angel, and for end-of-life WebCT customers — as well as the many organizations that are currently in the process of LMS software selection.
In simultaneous and parallel announcements, Blackboard made three distinct points:
The company will continue to focus on its flagship Blackboard Learn while also helping institutions manage open LMSs, including Moodle and Sakai.
Both Moodlerooms and NetSpot will continue their current programs with no changes to their leadership or support/service models.
Angel LMS, which was facing end-of-life in 2013, will now be supported indefinitely.
Although the acquisitions of two open source service companies surprised the education community, it is time to acknowledge that Blackboard’s strategy has for several years envisioned a broader role in the education market than solely being a provider of LMSs. Expect this growth strategy to continue.
At first, this move could appear to be taking a bite out of the open-source movement in education. But on closer examination, when major providers take on service and support for open-source applications, it is usually a sign of stability and general acceptance of the open-source applications. In this case, there is business opportunity for Blackboard to support open source in education, rather than to try to limit or eliminate its growth. In the future, expect services and support to be a growing part of Blackboard's revenue.
The extended life of Angel LMS beyond 2013 will bring some relief to institutions that were feeling pressure to migrate before the end of Angel support. Although the clock is no longer ticking on an Angel decision, Blackboard plans to make enhancements to Angel 8.0 to ensure Angel's viability until customers are ready to migrate. We also expect Angel-inspired features to find their way onto the Moodle platform.
The NetSpot acquisition opens more service and support opportunities for Blackboard in Australia, New Zealand and Asia. In addition to service and support of Moodle, NetSpot supports or hosts other products such as Equella Digital Repository (a Pearson product), Blackboard Collaborate (previously Wimba), Echo360 and Mahara (an open-source e-portfolio system).
Educational institution IT leaders:
Consider Blackboard as an educational software and service provider, even if your institution is not using Blackboard-developed products.
Recognize that open-source LMS is not going away. In addition to Blackboard’s service and support of Moodle and Sakai, expect more providers to offer open-source support and development.
Although the clock has stopped on the end of support, continue to consider the need to replace. This decision should take place before renewals and continued course content developed for the Angel environment.
Moodlerooms and NetSpot customers:
Review contracts and relationships with your providers. Blackboard is not planning to reorganize these companies, but continued communication with these providers over the next 12 months is essential.
Some documents may not be available as part of your current Gartner subscription.
"Building Learning Stacks for an Evolving Learning Environment" — Learning stacks offer a mechanism for integrating and leveraging content from outside the immediate academic environment. By Marti Harris
"The Expanding Education Ecosystem: A World of Choice" — We offer frameworks to help education players understand the dynamics of the multilayered world of education and make better, more informed decisions. By Jan-Martin Lowendahl