Shifting Market Shares

Blackboard's competitors gain, budget cuts continue, mobile apps and lecture capture look likely to grow, annual technology survey finds.
October 14, 2010

ANAHEIM -- Blackboard keeps losing market share to competing learning management systems. Information technology departments keep losing money to budget cuts -- though not as many as last year. E-books, despite modest gains, are still marginal. Mobile apps and lecture capture are poised to explode.

These are among the findings of the 2010 Campus Computing Survey, the latest edition of the Campus Computing Project’s annual census. The organization released the new data, which are based on questionnaires filled out over the last month or so by technology leaders at 523 different nonprofit institutions, amid the hubbub of the Educause 2010 conference here, where such topics have been on the tongues of higher-ed technologists all week.

Blackboard’s popular learning-management platform, which has dominated the nonprofit market for about a decade, still counts more than half of responding colleges as clients -- 57.1 percent, technically a one percentage point gain over last year. However, last year’s numbers do not suggest any market share gain from the acquisition of Angel Learning, which owned 7 percent of the market before Blackboard bought it last year. That seven percent appears to have left Blackboard for its competitors. The open-source platform Moodle jumped from 11.6 to 16.4 percent. Desire2Learn, which offers a proprietary platform, went from 7 to 10.1 percent. Sakai, another open-source system, saw marginal gains.

Pearson's eCollege saw its market share survey respondents rise from a meager one percent to a marginally less meager 1.3 percent. However, in an interview with Inside Higher Ed, Don Kilburn, CEO of Pearson Learning Solutions, said the survey's insights into the learning-management market are limited by its exclusion of for-profit institutions. Pearson says it holds about 70 to 75 percent of the for-profit market. If for-profit institutions were included in the study, Pearson's learning-management platform would make a much stronger showing, Kilburn said.

For Blackboard, the data show, at best, that some of its customers are experimenting with some open-source elements on the side, while only a few have migrated to competing platforms. At worst, they show that more institutions are deciding that open-source alternatives are sufficient to serve the needs of the campus.

In an interview, Ray Henderson, president of Blackboard Learn, said that market share, while important, can be a deceiving measure. "There are a very large number of institutions out there that are counted in that survey that are actually quite small," Henderson said. Blackboard has not lost many big fish, he said, and thus the number of students served by the company's platform has not diminished as much as its market share might suggest. (The company is also making gains in areas such as alert notification and mobile applications, Blackboard officials say.)

There is something to be said, Henderson continued, of the fact that Blackboard's retention and client satisfaction have been on the rise, while the rate at which it has lost market share over the years has slowed. "We feel very strongly about that retention figure from the point of view of our financial retention and how we are operating as a company," he said.

'Ever-Arriving' Technologies

Although survey respondents reported that about a quarter more classes “use” e-books than in 2009, those classes still comprise less than 5 percent of all classes, as far as campus technology officers could estimate. “E-books remain a much wished for, ‘ever-arriving’ technology in higher education,” wrote Kenneth C. Green, director of the Campus Computing Project (and a tech blogger for Inside Higher Ed), in a press release. Given their prices and scarce native features, Green wrote, e-books still do not present students with “a compelling value proposition” compared to printed texts.

Yet the belief that e-book content “will be an important source for instructional resources in five years,” already held by three-quarters of tech leaders a year ago, has gotten closer to unanimity this year, with 86 percent in agreement (including 95.6 percent at private universities). Nearly 80 percent now believe the same about e-readers, versus 66 percent last fall — a change many will no doubt attribute to the release of Apple’s iPad, the idea being that the popularity of the iPad as a general-use e-reader (it is the fastest-selling gadget ever) will drive its relevance — and that of its imitators — on campuses.

That was, after all, the way of the smartphone. As of spring 2009, half of students at four-year institutions had smartphones, according to data collected by the Student Monitor. To wit, campus CIOs think mobile devices are poised to become a bigger part of campus life in the near future. In a new question in this year’s Campus Computing Survey, the technologists were asked whether they have a strategic plan in place for mobile applications, resources, and services. Overall, half said they either have a plan or are currently preparing one. Even more -- 70 percent -- agreed that “mobile [learning-management] apps are an important part of our campus plan to enhance instructional resources and campus services.”

Yet less than a quarter either have mobile apps in place for e-learning or plan to by the end of the academic year. On a scale of one to seven, the CIOs gave the mobile infrastructure on their campuses an average rating of three. It appears many campuses are poised to grow their smartphone-related services to match their enthusiasm for the medium. The question is, how quickly?

Lecture capture, though it is native to academe, appears to be following a similar arc. This year’s survey asked, for the first time, if lecture capture -- technology that records video of classroom lectures that can be streamed online, alongside supplementary documents or slides -- “is an important part of [your] campus plan for developing and delivering instructional content.” Overall, 76.3 percent of respondents agreed. Apparently, the publishers who actually make the instructional content feel the same way: McGraw-Hill bought the cloud-based lecture-capture company Tegrity last month, and Macmillan earlier this week teamed up with another lecture-capture company, Panopto, to start selling lecture capture access directly to students.

And yet, as with mobile computing, there is a substantial gap between how important technologists expect lecture capture to be in the future and how important it is right now. Lecture capture is still being used in less than 5 percent of classes. Strangely, the proportion of campuses that have or are preparing a strategic plan for lecture capture is lower overall (64.7 percent) that those who say the technology is an important part of their plan for content delivery going forward.

Amid so much potential growth and change, budgets for central I.T. services continue to fall at 41.6 percent of responding institutions. The silver lining? Last year it was 50 percent.

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