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An Open Letter to the Education Community

Dear Clients and Community:

Today we are making some big announcements that we know will catch the attention of many members of the education community. Taken together, they speak to a broader shift in our strategy for serving education institutions so we are taking a moment to share some thoughts about our approach.

The high level change is this: Blackboard is becoming a multiple learning platform company that supports both commercially developed software as well as open source solutions.

Why?

Two reasons. First, this shift is the result of the broader perspective that has come over the past few years as we have updated our vision and mission. Rather than focusing just on the LMS market, we're looking at the entire student lifecycle within the education institutions we serve. That broader vision led us to add complementary platforms like Blackboard Collaborate, Blackboard Mobile and Blackboard Analytics. And it led us to extend our services reach with Blackboard Student Services and the development of our online program management offering. Only when one takes the institution-wide perspective do the largest problems in education come into view. In that position, we've seen first-hand how much the value of the foundational LMS is expanded when it connects with and empowers other systems with core impact for the education experience – mobility, real time collaboration, analytics, campus life and student services, and more. So, we wanted to pursue a strategy that gets us more involved in leveraging the power of these intersections for institutions, whatever LMS choice they make based on their particular needs.

Second, online learning continues to grow all around the world, applied to increasingly diverse learning challenges every year. As usage deepens, needs not only expand, they also become more specialized. The result for education institutions is the need for increased choice among systems with different strengths and deployment models to best suit their particular situation. We believe that Blackboard Learn is one of the most capable and versatile platforms available today. But we also understand that that no single technology platform provides all the answers for online learning in its varied forms. At the same time, we've developed robust consulting, support and hosting expertise that today's mission critical online education programs require. So today's news is about bringing that expertise to more institutions, whether they choose technology platforms we develop or other well accepted alternatives.

While this shift may come as a surprise, the reality is that we already support a large number of clients on multiple LMS platforms. Today we have over 3,000 clients on Blackboard Learn, about 400 clients on ANGEL, and over 1,000 clients running Blackboard Collaborate on an enterprise scale. Last year, we added over 20,000 schools running Edline. This makes us the largest company supporting online learning across K-12 and higher education worldwide.

In short, our long history working with a large and diverse community of clients across all education sectors, coupled with the evolution of the marketplace's needs and our offerings, led us to this place. We believe that we're now in a unique position to help more institutions put together the right blend of resources for their brand of online learning. By understanding their goals and objectives, assessing the different strengths of various learning platforms and related technologies, and adding the practice expertise needed to help them implement, integrate and manage that technology over the long term.

Four Key Initiatives

To execute against this strategy, today we are launching four key initiatives:

  1. Launch of a new business: Blackboard Education Open Source Services
  2. The acquisition of Moodlerooms and NetSpot
  3. The addition of Chuck Severance to drive our Sakai practice
  4. Continuation of support for the ANGEL platform

Now we'd like to describe each of these important initiatives in more detail:

1. Launch of Blackboard Education Open Source Services

To expand our multiple learning platform strategy, we are launching a new business: Blackboard Education Open Source Services. We will offer a full range of services to support open source learning systems including Moodle, Sakai and others. In fact, we already serve several hundred clients that today use Moodle or Sakai in combination with one or more of our other education-focused solutions.

Over the past few years, we have increased our support for openness in education, including greater openness in our systems and policies and our support for open standards through the IMS Global Learning Consortium. The launch of Blackboard Education Open Source Services is a natural next step in this evolution.

In supporting the open source community, we expect to make significant contributions in a number of ways. While our plans in this area are still developing, we know that at a minimum we will:

  • Expand contributions of code from products we support and from in-kind development activities conducted in partnership with community organizations like the Moodle Trust /li>
  • Provide financial support to the Moodle Trust and other open source community organizations
  • Continue support for community gatherings like Moodlemoots and other key open source conferences

Our work in the open source space will be guided by several key principles. First, we will work in a way that supports and honors the values of the community we serve. Second, we will strive to bring new value to institutions using open source through efforts like our digital content initiative and building the kind of partner ecosystem that can add tremendous value to the LMS experience. Finally, we will continue to focus on supporting open standards through organizations like the IMS.

2. Acquisition of Moodlerooms and NetSpot

We recognize that Moodle is the most widely adopted open source learning platform in the world, so our initial efforts will be more heavily focused on Moodle. To ensure that we can be a strong partner to our clients in this area, we are bringing on board some of the best experts in enterprise services for the open source LMS space with the acquisitions of Moodlerooms and NetSpot. By joining forces with these companies, we are adding over 700 Moodle clients to our client community.

Moodlerooms and NetSpot will continue to operate independently, but will also form the foundation for Blackboard's Education Open Source Services business. There will be no big change to the experience for current Moodlerooms and NetSpot clients, who will be supported by the same leadership groups and the same teams providing support, services and hosting. Client support models, day-to-day operations and pricing practices of both companies will remain as they are today.

We recently traveled to Perth, Australia along with Lou Pugliese and Tom Murdock from Moodlerooms and Allan Christie from NetSpot to visit Martin Dougiamas, founder of Moodle and Managing Director of Moodle Pty Ltd, where we presented our plans. "The decision of Moodlerooms and NetSpot to work under Blackboard may sound very strange at first to anyone in this industry," Martin commented, "but it's my understanding that these three companies have some good plans and synergies. I'm happy to say that Moodlerooms and NetSpot will remain Moodle Partners, and have promised to continue providing Moodle services, participating in the community, and contributing financially to Moodle exactly as they always have."

We are excited to have leading Moodle Partner community members join Blackboard, including Lou, Tom, David Mills and Phill Miller from Moodlerooms and Allan, Mark Drechsler, James Strong, Stephen Watt and Brett Buchel from NetSpot. They will help to ensure continuity of experience for existing clients and enhance our ability to support new ones.

3. The addition of Chuck Severance to drive our Sakai practice

To ensure that we also have Sakai expertise in house, Chuck Severance—founding Chief Architect of the Sakai Project and current Sakai Foundation Board Member—is joining Blackboard to lead the Sakai practice in our Blackboard Education Open Source Services business. Chuck has both the technical expertise in the Sakai project and the relationships in the Sakai community to guide our involvement in this important area.

4. Continued Support for the ANGEL Platform

As we expand the range of platforms we support, we have decided that we will continue to support ANGEL, a platform chosen by over 400 institutions. We previously announced that we would support the ANGEL platform until 2014. Today we've clarified that at the behest of ANGEL clients that continue to find this product the best fit for their needs, we will extend our maintenance and support indefinitely. We will evaluate this decision on an ongoing basis and provide sufficient notice of any future change to plans for support. We will also continue to build ANGEL features into future releases of Blackboard Learn 9.1 and into the Moodlerooms joule product. Both represent positive future destinations for ANGEL clients who wish to upgrade to a newer product line.

In Conclusion

Institutions have lots of options for using learning systems and open source. We think these changes will help Blackboard be an even stronger supporter of the work they do. As always, we welcome your feedback and input on our work in this area. Please don't hesitate to reach out to either of us directly at michael@blackboard.com and ray@blackboard.com.

Michael Chasen Michael Chasen
CEO, Blackboard Inc.
Ray Henderson Ray Henderson
CTO and President of Academic Platforms, Blackboard Inc.