Blackboard Adds MOOC Platform to Learning Management Products

Education technology giant Blackboard Inc. has announced that 15 additional colleges and universities have signed up to use its massive online open course platform, Kelly Sheridan of Information Week reports. The company, which was founded in 1997, was one of the first to bring aspects of online collaboration to college campuses, and its entrance into the MOOC space could signal that online courses are here to stay.

According to Sheridan, the company’s MOOC platform will be made available free to colleges that already license Blackboard’s learning management system Blackboard Learn. Now, Blackboard is opening up its CourseSites platform to those who don’t take advantage of the company’s LMS.

Colleges will be able to use CourseSites to create and manage an unlimited number of MOOCs. Instructors at schools that don’t have a relationship with Blackboard will also get free access to CourseSites, however, the number of simultaneous MOOCs they can create and run will be limited to 5.

The company altered its software licensing to accommodate open education after noticing the rising popularity of MOOCs. “We found that [institutions] were offering MOOCs for one of three reasons,” said Katie Blot, president of education services at Blackboard. Schools wanted to make educational content accessible to global students, test programs in a safe environment, and market their services by giving students a firsthand look at how classes were run, she said.

The new schools bring the total number of institutions partnering with Blackboard to offer MOOCs to 24.

Although many schools wanted to try them, most MOOC platforms did not suit their needs. “When you give a taste of your institution, you really want to make it look like a course,” said Blot. “MOOCs at the beginning weren’t like that.”

Because partnering institutions are familiar with Blackboard services, it’s easier for them to stick with a familiar system, she said. “We will be the only people who can give [that familiarity] to our clients.”

Although Blot the company is not charging its partners for the use of the MOOC platform is because the courses are being offered at no cost to students, if schools choose to charge tuition for the classes in the future or give students credit for them, they will not have to pay any revenues over to Blackboard.

Syracuse University is one school that successfully used Blackboard’s MOOC platform last year. Prior to settling on CourseSites, Syracuse’s School of Information Studies considered Coursera and Udacity as an option, but in the end, administrators thought that their familiarity with Blackboard products made the company the optimal choice.

Institutions soon will be able to launch open education on a specialized, more flexible Blackboard MOOC platform. Blackboard recently announced that it plans to release an updated version of Blackboard Learn, its flagship learning management system, which will include social learning capabilities as well as course management and student engagement functions.

Benefits will also include rule-based learner identification, last name searches to filter through large numbers of students, and automatic group creation, which will help large classes feel smaller to participants.