Is Blackboard the Galactus of Learning Management Systems?

Now for some background. For those not familiar with the “villain” in the Fantastic 4 comic book, Galactus is the most powerful being in the universe and must devour planets for energy to sustain his own life (yes, a comic book reference …you realize that you are reading an article in a journal with “geek” in the title don’t you?). According to Wikipedia, “Galactus is depicted as the primary antagonist or super-villain. Nevertheless, he is not an evil being, and harbors no ill-will to any living creature. Because Galactus brings balance between the two opposing universal forces of Death and Eternity, he considers himself to be outside of the concepts of Good and Evil.” While this being will destroy civilizations and planets, without him the universe would collapse. Stay with me here.

Am I a huge blackboard fan? Not really. In fact until we recently upgraded to CE6 I was a die hard WebCT guy, but that is another discussion all together. Do I think the company is evil? Probably not. Does Blackboard have an appetite for absorbing the competition? Absolutely (WebCT, Prometheus). The three “opposing universal forces” that bring balance in this scenario are open source/other LMSs, Blackboard, and Educators and Students.

Let’s face it; Learning Management Systems leave a lot to be desired. All of them. A year ago, it was WebCT vs. Blackboard vs. the rest of the little guys. Everyone had (and has) their own proprietary way of doing things. With the merger, we can expect increased standardization. I see this trickling down to the smaller companies and open source folks as well. Once everyone “falls in line” with this standardization so to speak, they will continue to improve upon their products and be able to respond more quickly to market demands while the bloated Blackboard conglomerate counts it’s profits (Microsoft/Apple anyone?). Let them. Educause and the US Patent and Trade Office have made it clear that Blackboard’s actions are under the microscope. I anticipate Galactus will remain in check for the foreseeable future now that the other opposing universal forces have made it aware of its limitations. Who are the big winners in this scenario? Educators and students. I’m not saying the hybrid/online education universe would cease to exist without Blackboard, but I definitely see online course delivery thriving more because of it.

Is this fair to Angel and Desire2Learn? No. Would they have done the same thing as Blackboard did if they were in the driver’s seat? Probably …but I will choose to believe they would have been a whole lot smarter about it. Blackboard must have been eating intergalactic paint chips when they came out with the assertion that they essentially created the learning management system concept and therefore have the exclusive rights to all associated functionalities. Following that logic, Al Gore should be getting a cut every time a webpage is opened (he did invent the internet you know). In fact, shouldn’t Blackboard be paying him?

Darren Crone
Darren is a sarcastic, odd, bald man with a very dry sense of humor. He originally hails from Albany, N.Y., but claims Charleston, S.C. as his hometown.He joined the Air Force soon after graduating high school. This decision was made because a) working as a busboy wasn’t quite cutting it, and b) he had zero desire to ever attend college. While in the Air Force, he traveled the world as a Combat Cameraman, documenting both natural and man made disasters in places such as Thailand, Namibia, Armenia, Germany, Panama, Italy, Croatia, Japan, Singapore, and probably more than a few places that have changed names since you began reading this bio. There are many stories about his travels locked away in a vault somewhere and it is said that Samuel Adams holds the key.

While in the Air Force, he was given the opportunity to attend a year-long Video Journalism program at Syracuse University. Much to his amazement, he found that higher education didn’t suck at all. Having been bitten by the education bug, he completed his BS and MA in education and training from Southern Illinois University and Webster University respectively. He then completed his doctorate in instructional technology and distance education form Nova Southeastern University.

Darren currently works as an Instructional Designer at The University of Texas at Dallas and enjoys spending time with his wife, children, dogs and fish. His hobbies include weight training, watching the Texas Rangers (yes, really), and trying to appear smarter than he really is.

5 thoughts on “Is Blackboard the Galactus of Learning Management Systems?

  1. Katrina Adams

    It’s fun drawing parallels between the LMS industry and the software/OS industry. The whole Blackboard–D2L/Angel–Moodle relationship is very similar to the Microsoft–Apple–Linux relationship. Recent events are furthering this correlation and the shift(s) in power.

    • Microsoft’s long-overdue release of Vista turns out to be a massive memory hog with much-touted features that have long existed in Linux and Apple’s OS. Long-time Windows users (including myself) are seriously considering moving to the other side.
    • WebCT/Bb’s horrible excuse for a release – CE6 – has many university’s seriously considering other options, including open source.

    These two giants, in my opinion, have become too large, are too unresponsive to user requests and problems, and are long overdue for a dramatic reduction in market share. And as a result, I think the ‘smaller players’ (Apple, Linux, D2L, Angel, Moodle, etc.) will enjoy a steady increase in users.

    BTW, love the (rather geeky) metaphor, Darren!

  2. Matt Crosslin

    I think that would mean that Moodle is the Fantastic Four – they are the underdog that brings in the powerful weapons that put the smack-down on Galactus. Moodle 1.7 is incredible, and Moodle 1.8 is already in Beta. At work, we just started using Blackboard 7.1, and they are just now getting some of the functions Moodle has had since 1.4. Soon, hopefully, the US Patent office will see their mistake and put Blackboard in its place.

    I actually did read the Blackboard patent, after I did a crash course in patent law. It’s all bogus, no matter how they spin it. It’s hard to believe that they are not evil when they come out with the so many statements that begin with the Enron-ish “We’re so embarrassed by the reaction to this…” Can they sound a little less diabolical than that?

  3. Matt Crosslin

    Wow – I was just looking at a function of Moodle 1.8 – Moodle Network. It will allow separate Moodle installations to speak to each other, and allow users from each installation to log in to the other. They mentioned how each department at a university could have a separate Moodle installation, but students from the university could follow links across the installations without logging in and out. They started talking about Peer to Peer networks and community hubs using this. Wow…. take that Galactus!

  4. Matt Crosslin

    Okay – just to be clear. I say ‘hard to believe they are not evil.’ I don’t really think that Blackboard is evil – they are a legitimate business that fills a legitimate need. I just think they themselves are not making a good case for themselves by the way they are acting. I think that ready to go services like Blackboard will always be needed. And, if they want to patent their specific program design (the code), then I say go for it – you have a right to do that in this country. But they are trying to patent the concept of what a Learning Management System has become – the specific designs that the end users require to exist in an LMS before they will even buy it. To me, that stifles competition. The current configuration common to all current LMS applications was designed in the global marketplace, with all ideas and applications being contributed to by thousands of programmers, papers, presentation, publications, etc, etc.

    And, you can’t really blame them for trying. But now that they have been busted, it would serve their cause better if they would just say ‘okay – we just wanted to try. We take it back.’

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