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Inside Higher Ed's Joshua Kim has published a speculative piece this week about the future of the learning management system giant Blackboard. "Blackboard in 2015," posits Kim, will no longer be Blackboard, as he predicts it will have been acquired. "Blackboard will be Microsoft Education Services, or Amazon Education Services, or Tata Education Services, or perhaps Baidu Education Services."

Indeed, there has been lots of talk about Blackboard being up for sale, although by all indications, it will be a buyout by a big equity firm and not by another technology company.

As much as the disgruntled grad student who railed against Blackboard might have hoped for it, I'm not sure I see Blackboard going away anytime soon. It's not that I think that Blackboard will be ubiquitous. I think it has a lot of worthy LMS challengers right now to be sure. Nor do I see Blackboard becoming so fully integrated in how we view content or administration that it will slip smoothly into the shadows, as much as I'd love to see the LMS walls be torn down.

Rather, I think Blackboard is going to make a concerted effort to continue to fight for that elusive school contract. And not just at the higher ed level.

Blackboard's Next Target: K-12

I sat down with John Canuel, Blackboard's VP for K-12 Education Strategy at Blackboard this week at ISTE 2011 to talk about the company's plans for expansion into the K-12 market. And it's clear that that's an important part of the LMS's roadmap for the next few years. Canual talked a lot about the increasing demand at the K-12 level for online learning solutions, and Blackboard sees itself as well positioned to offer not just the administrative tools (Blackboard Learn), but a variety of offerings, including mobile and messaging components (Blackboard Collaborate).

The Enterprise Solution?

One of the things that fascinates me about ed-tech companies is the strategy that they take in order to get school adoption. I think it's particularly interesting in the case of the learning management system as it's both an instructional tool and an infrastructure tool -- two pieces of the educational tech ecosystem that aren't always in concert. Canuel spoke to me a lot about the necessity for a "complete enterprise solution" and about the leadership he sees necessary on the part of school administrators in order to move their schools forward with online systems. The latter may be true, but it's worth pointing out that that top-down implementation of systems (whether learning management systems or other ones) isn't the only way, or necessarily the best way forward.

And with budget crises aplenty, can schools afford Blackboard? I asked Canuel that question. His answer: can they afford not to.

The Blackboard Ecosystem

Canuel also talked about what he called the "open developer platform" that Blackboard has in order to build out its ecosystem. I've always thought that Blackboard eschewed the notion of a platform upon which others could build but instead acquired companies that could have added or attached offerings (such as Elluminate, for example). That's another piece of what I see as Blackboard's top-down strategy, but Canuel implied that the company was building an "open source, open market type of environment" and touted a community of developers working on the platform. I'm more than a little skeptical of that.

But the fact remains, despite the acquisition talks and its shrinking market share, I'm also pretty skeptical of Blackboard going away anytime soon.

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Audrey Watters


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