This morning's blogpost is coming to you from the fountain-filled lobby of the Gaylord Palms Hotel, the site of this year's Blackboard World, Developers' Conference and Institute. Last week's news about Blackboard's intention to acquire web conferencing companies Elluminate and Wimba has guaranteed that this week's event will be even a little more exciting than usual..When the word of the acquisitions hit the street last week, the ripples through the ether were palpable enough to pull me away from vacation and back to internet-connected devices to see what the heck was going on in the tweetstream and blog-o-spherer. I wasn't disappointed. Poor Tony Bates remarked that he was "as depressed as a Netherlands soccer supporter" about this news, noting that this was likely the end of the LMS as we know it.
But George Siemens wrote an insightful blogpost in which he offered a more positive perspective. Even though George noted that the company is "... is unable to write a press release that includes clear statements like “we have purchased these companies” he goes on to say that he wants to "give the company credit for their acquisition of Elluminate and Wimba. He further notes that: "Blackboard’s purchase marks an important shift in trajectory – even maturation – for the LMS marketplace. Integration, not the platform itself, is now the critical focus. LMS companies have for years formed partnerships with content producers and with synchronous tools – I believe both BB and Desire2Learn had partnerships with Elluminate and Wimba. To be effective in the long term, large LMS companies will need to pull more and more of the education experience under their umbrella. Why? Well, technology is getting complex. Very complex. Which means that decisions makers are motivated (partly out of fear of appearing ill-informed, partly out of not wanting to take risks) to adopt approaches that integrate fairly seamlessly across the education spectrum. Why buy an LMS when you can buy the educational process?"
I'm not really concerned that Blackboard is circumventing educational processes, per se...remember, people, we're still talking about platforms and tools here. I do think it's notable that for the first time in elearning history there actually is a solution provider in the distributed learning technologies that will be offering an integrated, full -service platform alternative. Especially to education customers. This is a big deal.
Several years ago the Chronicle of Higher Ed was contracted by Adobe Systems to do some market analysis on the elearning market in education. More than half of the people responding to the Chronicle survey indicated that when they thought of elearning in education, the company that they thought of was...drumroll please...none other than Blackboard. Even though Adobe has a strong education footprint, the fact is that when it comes to elearning in education the market turns toward Blackboard. In the past couple years Blackboard has made several smart strategic acquisitions, including what is now BB Connect, BB Mobile Ed and, of course Angel / Backboard Learn. Now we see the two educationally oriented web conferencing companies about to become part of the Blackboard brand. More than anything, this tells me that elearning has come back from the margins and is now a part of mainstream educational life.
Not suggesting that this is going to be right for everyone; like George and Tony, I would be happy to see open source alternatives have their day in the sun, as well. For me this is really about giving educators and trainers the right tools for the job, so I am all about choices. But I am also serious about having learning technology practitioners see they they are just as deserving of true enterprise solutions as a major corporation. For so many people, having to figure out how to make all the various piece parts of a platform work together can such the energy for elearning out of a room faster than just about anything I can think of.
I would hope that for those educators who are thinking that the world is over can remember that there are plenty of places where education needs revolutionary zeal and commitment. There are still battles to be fought and won. Maybe it's time for our elearning energies to move beyond the platform and to focus on the things we want to DO with the platform.