The learning management system Blackboard announced today that it has acquired both Elluminate and Wimba.
Elluminate and Wimba both offer tools for synchronous and collaborative online learning. And while the acquisition is clearly a win for Blackboard (well, duh), as it will expand beyond its current asynchronous offerings, I do wonder what the implications will be for other LMS platforms, as well as for schools that are (and aren't) Blackboard customers.
I'm not a fan of Blackboard, I confess. To me, the adoption (and enforcement) of Blackboard by the UO was a sign that the university was committed to walling off, rather than opening, access to education. Rather than creating a webpage for my classes -- with handouts and syllabi -- I had to use the clunky Blackboard system for course content, course administration, course communication, and grading. I had no control over the design, the access, the modules. The university did, of course, and I'm sure they paid handsomely.
My complaints are different than many educators, however, who experience a steep learning curve when moving their course materials online, who want better collaboration tools, who want the ability to move to online, synchronous learning -- who want LMS 2.0, not just an online gradebook and discussion forum. And Blackboard's acquisition will certainly move the company forward in that respect.
But what will the impacts be on education? It seems as though schools who use Blackboard will find themselves increasingly locked in to the vendor as the company will provide not only the course administration but the course delivery and collaboration tools as well.
And what will the impacts be on the industry? Wimba and Elluminate offer fairly similar services, and it does seem a little odd (if not foreboding) that Blackboard decided to spend $116 million to buy them both, rather than investing in one or the other or in helping establish some sort of open API standards so that add-ons like these offered by Elluminate and Wimba can be easily integrated into any LMS.
I think (I hope) more and more schools are going to pursue the open source path, and perhaps Blackboard's acquisition today is an attempt to corner what market they can, while they can. It's a shame, because I think we need more innovation in education technology, not less, and monopolies simply don't foster that. To the contrary, I believe that open source does.
Open source alternatives: Moodle Sakai Claroline