Blackboard Collaborate formally launched at BBWorld 2011

Blackboard Collaborate, launched today at BBWorld, is the marriage of Elluminate and Wimba. Can it be greater than the sum of its web conferencing parts?
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor

Blackboard currently owns over half of the higher education LMS (learning management system) market. While the company has seen erosion of its market share to open source competitors (particularly Moodle) and, more recently, Instructure and Sakai (as well as to Pearson's proprietary eCollege, which dominates the for-profit educational space), it remains a robust platform with a large ecosystem of third-party developers and a very large user base in higher ed.

Blackboard has been on something of a buying spree in the last couple of years, not only purchasing competing learning management systems, but also purchasing synchronous teaching and collaboration tools, including Elluminate and Wimba. Both systems were mature and widely used and remain popular individually even after the acquisitions. However, Blackboard has officially launched the results of extensive integration and development around the cores of these two learning platforms. Called Blackboard Collaborate, the union of Elluminate and Wimba was revealed today at the Blackboard World Conference in Las Vegas.

While BBWorld officially kicks off tomorrow, Blackboard is holding a special Collaborate Summit to talk about the new platform. According to their release,

Combining the strengths of the Elluminate and Wimba products, the...platform goes beyond Web conferencing to deliver...video and voice conferencing as well as presence, instant messaging and voice authoring.

The platform integrates seamlessly with an institution’s learning management system and can also be used independently to enable a wide range of informal interactions across the institution including office hours, school services, student-to-student interaction, and...can also support administrative interactions, staff meetings and professional development sessions as well as larger events.

As with Wimba and Elluminate, Collaborate will work not only with Blackboard, but with several other LMS products:

The new platform continues Blackboard’s commitment to openness and interoperability, and can be integrated with learning management systems including Blackboard Learn™, WebCT, and ANGEL® as well as Desire2Learn™, Plateau, Pearson LearningStudio, Sakai® and Moodle™. The platform also includes an open Application Programming Interface (API) to support custom integrations and enhancements.

WebCT and Angel are both owned by Blackboard, so their integration is hardly surprising. However, Blackboard will also offer professional services to leverage Collaborate APIs and integrate the product with other systems.

The real question is what effect this new product will have on Blackboard's bottom line. Will the diversification mitigate emerging threats to its core LMS business? And will the open APIs and turnkey integrations revealed today help Blackboard grow the collaboration market share they purchased when they acquired Elluminate and Wimba? The answer to the first question is a pretty likely yes. The answer to the second remains to be seen. Whether Blackboard Collaborate can grow beyond the sum of its parts will depend on the value the company can deliver versus its competitors in the web meeting space instead of the LMS space.

By way of both disclosure and invitation, I will be at BBWorld on Tuesday and Wednesday, wearing both my ZDNet hat and my WizIQ hat. WizIQ is a Blackboard development partner and, ironically, a competitor to Collaborate (when Blackboard talks about openness and interoperability, they aren't kidding). Feel free to stop by booth 701 on Wednesday to say hi and talk learning management systems, general ed tech, web conferencing and collaboration, or whatever else strikes your fancy. Wacky competitive relationships aside, the launch of Collaborate is a big deal in both higher ed and K12 and deserved reporting here.

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