First Reactions to Blackboard Buying Wimba and Elluminate

Here I'm going on "Gut Feelings" and my "Blink" - an approach I wouldn't necessarily recommend.

July 7, 2010

Here I'm going on "Gut Feelings" and my "Blink" - an approach I wouldn't necessarily recommend.

I'd definitely read Ray Henderson's blog post about the acquisition - and the letter to clients is also worth your time.

I'm sure my reactions contain thoughts that will piss off everyone …. just remember that I may be wrong.

Gut Reactions:

--This is Very Smart for Blackboard: The future of the LMS involves knitting together various functions. Synchronous meetings, presence awareness, and voice-authoring/collaboration are all essential pieces of the online/hybrid learning experience. The danger for Blackboard is that their core product becomes essentially middleware - performing commodity functions such as enrollment management, gradebook, etc. etc. Tying the higher value-add services directly into the Blackboard product (as will happen over time) makes it more difficult to replace Blackboard with another LMS.

--Elluminate Needs Development: I have utilized Elluminate for Webinars, and I have to say that I find the platform lacking as compared to Adobe Connect Pro. Others will disagree - but whatever your synchronous collaboration tool preference I think you will agree that all the platforms need significant investment. I wonder how much better Elluminate will be than Adobe Connect Pro, particularly when the Adobe product is integrated with Blackboard using the building block. Even though I've never been wild about Elluminate, I think that the tool offers a quantum leap of functionality over the atrocious native Blackboard synchronous tools - and if Blackboard is smart they will quickly fold this Elluminate into their core offering.

--Wimba Voice/Chat Features Are Great: I've never quite understood why it was necessary to buy key voice and chat (presence awareness) tools on top of the LMS - but I think Wimba has been fulfilling an important need. If I were Blackboard I'd also integrate the Wimba features into the core - and make the money with services, integration, etc. etc.

--Bad News for Non-Blackboard Wimba and Elluminate Clients: I can't see how I'd be happy with this news if I'm running Moodle and Wimba or Elluminate. Ray is someone I trust - so his assurances that investments will be made to support and grow the products for non-Blackboard clients do carry a great deal of weight. Still … if I were a Moodle person I'd be reviewing my options about now.

--If You Are Worried About Lock-In, You Should Be: And you should be worried about lock-in, as it will be even more difficult to leave Blackboard once the core tool is also providing synchronous meetings and rich collaboration / student authoring functions. Many campuses will like the pre-baked integration and robust features that the eventual fully integrated products will deliver. Others will (wisely) decide to piece together open-source and consumer tools, leaving themselves with agility and flexibility.

--Kaltura or ShareStream or Ensemble Are Next: The big piece that is missing from Blackboard now is a way to do curricular media management. The Kaltura and ShareStream already offer robust Blackboard integration - wouldn't it make more sense from Blackboard's perspective if they could offer a full vertical solution - one sales cycle, one support model, one source for integration and localization?

--Good News for Blackboard Campuses (I Think): Overall, my gut tells me that this is good news for Blackboard campuses - as synchronous learning and collaboration will improve (I think) with both integration and focused resources. Getting rid of the need to have separate sales teams and back-offices, and combining developer resources, will mean more dollars and time can be spent on improving functionality. I'm also worried about lock-in, but perhaps more excited about the robust and seamless experience.

I'd also say this is good news for our industry. If I were working at Blackboard this is exactly the deal that I would have tried to arrange. This deal puts Blackboard in a very strong position in terms of their long-term relevance in higher ed, and I think addresses much of the risk that open/community source alternatives like Moodle were beginning to pose. I also believe that within 3 years time Blackboard will be acquired by Microsoft or Oracle or maybe even Google - as the education market will only grow. This acquisition will be seen as a smart move along the road to that destination.

Okay…I'm ready for you…..tell me where I'm deluded, missing the story, failing to be critical enough (or too critical), and basically wrong in this off-the-cuff analysis.


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