Blackboard Aquires Angel

Blackboard has announced that it is acquiring Angel Learning. Whether this is a “good thing” or a “bad thing” of course depends on who you are and on what happens with the two companies. It is certainly another aggressive move by Blackboard to protect/increase it’s market share. When viewed in light of the acquisition of WebCT and the flurry of legal action against Desire2Learn, it certainly appears as if Bb is trying to reduce the amount of competition it faces in its traditional market, even as it goes after new territory (K12 and other product offerings). Nothing wrong with this as a goal assuming it passes muster with the relevant competition laws. As Trace Urdan (one of the best industry analysts in my view) once said of Blackboard: “They’re sharks operating in this universe where you don’t see a lot of sharks. They’re smart.”

This leaves very few commercial players in the market. The question is whether this is a problem or not for higher education. Personally, I do like the idea of Higher Education having plenty of viable alternatives. From this perspective the acquisition seems to be a negative development as it is extremely unlikely that Blackboard will offer two CMS products in the long run. And, anecdotally at least, some have been scared away from D2L because of the ongoing legal battles (I don’t think you should be concerned about the IP issues in the long run–the original patent has been invalidated and the new one is also of suspect quality). So there is a narrowing of proprietary choices.

On the other hand, Sakai and Moodle are viable alternatives from the world of open source. In fact, the acquisition is likely to be a good thing for Sakai (and Moodle). However well Bb manages the acquisition, it is likely to result in some customers (and prospective customers) looking for alternatives.  Sakai has proven its worth in real productions situations and has a very bright future. The commercial affiliates from Sakai are likely to see increased inquiries over the coming weeks and months.

So what is there to worry about?

Well, for one thing, much of higher ed world still doesn’t feel comfortable enough with open source solutions enough to consider them. If you’ve been following the Educase CIO forum over the past week you’ll see this referred to implicitly and mentioned explicitly in a few cases–for these people, then, their choice has really been drastically reduced in the last few years.

Of course, in this day and age, I find this a bit perplexing as open source solutions form a larger and larger part of the typical enterprise stack. So, I’d offer three points to those unsure about open source alternatives:

  • You can get commercial support and hosting for open source software. You don’t need developers in house. I personally think you’ll get more out of an open source solutions like Sakai if you invest some staff time in the community, but you certainly can adopt it as if it were a commercial product. So the “should we adopt” and “should we invest” decisions can be separated. Moreover, you’ll get great service–a company that has to survive on support revenue will have to do a great job with support.
  • It’s about managing risk and uncertainty. Neither Blackboard nor Sakai is a risk free alternative. Which risks are you most comfortable managing? Sakai adopters believe in the product, of course, but also understand that unlimited access to the source code is a powerful risk management tool. And a license that lets you add as many users as you want without increasing license costs (because there are none) provides a level of flexibility that will help them manage future uncertainties.
  • Investing in innovation is important. Teaching and learning are, arguably :-), a core competency of higher education. And technology continues to permeate student life on and off campus. It seems that open source communities like Sakai are an ideal place to invest in the future of these technologies–I strongly believe it is one area of technology research that higher educations institutions should consider being directly involved in.

So, if you’re interested in Sakai, send me a note. Or, better yet, contact one of our Sakai commercial support providers for an introduction to the product and the community. Or even better yet, come to the 10th Sakai Conference this July in Boston where you can meet hundreds of your peers doing amazing things with Sakai on campus.

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2 Responses

  1. My post “The Real Angel” provides a little History on Angel Learning evolving out of Cyber Learning Labs at IUPUI.

  2. […] Feldstein has a recent post regarding the financial impact of the latest ruling).  And with the acquisition of Angel and the open source patent pledge providing protection to Sakai, ATutor and Moodle, it seems […]

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