I have been at Blackboard just over two years, having joined in the summer of 2013. When I started, Blackboard had already built a hugely successful company with the best products in the world for K-12, higher education, and corporate and government institutions. I was struck by how passionate and committed the team here was to our customers and to improving the way education is delivered.

At the same time, our products had been designed, developed, and sold separately. Many of these products are time-tested, incredibly stable and feature-leaders in their space. For instance, Blackboard led the market in many of these categories and in fact popularized the Learning Management System (LMS) and we continue to lead the LMS market with our Learn and Moodle products; adding more and more functionality for the most fervent and loyal power users. While that leadership has empowered Blackboard with the most full-featured and powerful feature set, it also created a classic “Innovator’s Dilemma”where we served our primary customer (system administrators and power users) versus focusing on the emerging needs of the user—the growing base of tens of millions of learners who use our products every day. Part of our journey these past two years has been to continue to support the IT admin and the power user, while reorienting the company to serve an additional and arguably the most important audience, the learner.

As a result, since 2013, we have transformed Blackboard and our product portfolioleveraging the size and scale of our companyto drive innovation that meets the needs of today’s ‘new learner.’ This transformation has focused on six key pillars:

1) Focus on the learner: Be the advocate for the ‘new learner’ and integrate this thinking into the way we build products and solutions

Today’s learners are immersed in technology. They grew up with it. They have a different set of expectations and a different set of needs. More and more, they want flexible options and the best value for their money as it relates to their educational experience. They need their education to fit into their life. And lastly, they want and need an integrated, holistic and always-on experience. With all the websites, apps, MOOCs, and other educational resources now readily available to learners, they are true consumers of education, and have choices as to what and how they learn. With almost 100 million learners using our software, Blackboard needed to take a step back and look at how to bring our technology together with the educational experience for these users. By dramatically shifting our focus to meeting learners’ needs we are creating consumer experiences that learners want to use, with delightful user experiences, on the platforms and devices where they live—all while building on, and improving, the most trusted education technology on the market today.

2) Support life-long learning: Commit to supporting the new learner on their entire life-long journey

Learning is not bound to an age limit, socioeconomic status or to the walls of an individual institution. So the technology and content that delivers ‘anytime, anywhere’ learning should always be available to the learner—and those that support him or her—in a connected and seamless way. Blackboard has provided solutions in K-12, Higher Education and into Corporate and Government learning environments for a long time. Now we are focusing on connecting these experiences, allowing and enabling participation across segments, among peers, and across institutions—bringing the community together with the learner to participate, engage, and improve the learning experience. At the same time, we are enabling learners to bring their identities, profiles, competencies, experiences and content with them along their life-long learning journey.

3) Drive design thinking: Build delightful user experiences that respond to learners’ emotional needs

Along with our emphasis on the learner, we are using design centric practices and changing our culture to focus on the learners’ experiences. We’re tapping into their technological, educational, and most importantly, their emotional needs, to create solutions that are easy, intuitive, and fun. Blackboard’s design leader, Jon Kolko, has widely espoused the virtues of empathy in design and design thinking to reimagine education. Now we are embracing it as a differentiator and a way to change our culture such that serving learners, and building solutions to meet their unarticulated, and more emotional needs, takes center stage. Instead of asking users what features they want, we ask them how they ‘feel,’ which matters as much, if not more than, features and functionality.

4) Build workflows, not products: Build solutions for learner workflows

Blackboard has built and acquired the best portfolio of products in ed tech—from mass notification, to engagement, to collaboration, to the LMS. Until very recently, they were all designed and built separately —despite the fact that the majority of our customers use and own more than one of our products. We figured it would make their world far simpler and better if we integrated them all to create a seamless workflow. So we set out to do just that – that’s what the New Learning Experience (NLE) is all about. So, as much as feature development, the workflows among our products are a major R&D focus. We now spend time solving holistic educational workflows, and how the combinations of technologies from across Blackboard can drive better experiences for learners and the institutions that serve them.

5) Embrace the cloud: Provide an accessible, up-to-date, and always-on environment

Little known fact: most of Blackboard’s products have long been cloud-based. Moodlerooms, Collaborate, Connect, Engage, and many more, are all cloud-native offerings—which means no downtime upgrades, no deployment events, high scalability, and built-in resilience. Over the past year, in addition to offering Learn as self-hosted or through managed hosting in our data centers, we launched Learn SaaS. Among these three Learn deployment options, we offer a range of choices and the utmost flexibility to those who administer our Blackboard solutions. Why? Because one size does not fit all in today’s complex educational ecosystem and we want to ensure that every customer has the quality, reliability, and continuously delivery of innovation to the learners who use our solutions.

6) Make data actionable with integrated data and analytics

With tens of millions of users across dozens of products, Blackboard is sitting on petabytes of data, that we should be using to help learners better their outcomes. We’ve traditionally focused on analytics within individual systems—our Bb Analytics product, for instance, is the leading solution today for helping institutions analyze and share information from their campus systems. We believe that there is so much more to unlock and act upon when we integrate and look across the data from all these systems and domains together. And Blackboard is uniquely positioned to give this view across SIS, CRM, LMS, campus security and payments—to help paint a picture of what is happening across all aspects of the student lifecycle, from enrollment, though learning, and advancement.

Over the past year, we have shipped so many new products and solutions that deliver against these six key pillars. It makes me incredibly proud. We are truly delivering on what we are calling the New Learning Experience, building on these pillars to foster better engagement, interaction, and quality learning. We believe that through the delivery of leading-edge technology, services, and data capabilities, we can help make an enormous difference in meeting learners’ needs and driving their success.

Here are just a few examples:

  • Learn SaaS Ultra experience – The new, Ultra experience for Blackboard Learn is a new, modern, learner-focused user interface that provides an intuitive, delightful experience. The Ultra experience, which is consistent across Learn, Collaborate, and our new Bb Student app, is a foundational element of the New Learning Experience.
  • Bb Student app – Over 85% of students want to access their learning primarily on their mobile device. Bb Student enables the Ultra experience for students today, whether their institution is running Learn 9.1 or Learn SaaS.
  • Collaborate Ultra experience – We’ve redesigned the entire product, creating the most intuitive way to remotely interact with instructors and peers. The product focuses on quick startup, seamless sharing, and easy chat between participants. The tool uses webRTC technology, meaning there’s nothing to install and no plugins to download – it just works.
  • Moodlerooms Snap – Snap is a simple, intuitive, responsive theme for Moodle. Snap allows you to provide a delightful and consistent experience for users across any device.
  • MyEdu and Learn Enhanced Cloud Profile – We integrated Learn Profiles with MyEdu to deliver an Enhanced Cloud Profile. The Enhanced Cloud Profile provides users with their first professional profiles, helping users demonstrate competencies they have developed through their educational journeys in a visual and compelling way.
  • K-12 Community Engagement – K-12 student success depends upon connecting the learner, the teacher, the parents, and the institution – creating a supportive K-12 community. We’ve integrated our Schoolwires and Engage classroom and school websites, ParentLink mobile app, Connect notifications, and Sociability social media management, to create a K-12 Community Engagement solution.

These offerings are just the beginning. We will continue to push the bounds of innovation because at Blackboard, that’s what we do. We will continue to test the limits of what technology can do to help reimagine education. We’ll do it for the learner, we’ll do it for the institutions that serve them, and we’ll do it because when we succeed the world will be a better place.

There is so much more to do – so keep pushing us, because we’re just getting started.

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