Today we announced the latest version of Blackboard Learn 9.1, which introduces new functionality for our thousands of clients around the globe that use our Learning Management System (LMS). But this announcement is about more than the continuous enhancements that we’re doing on behalf of our clients—it further illustrates our long-term commitment to Learn 9.1 and our self-hosted and managed-hosted clients.
Over the past 16 months at Blackboard under the leadership of our Chairman, CEO and President Bill Ballhaus, we’ve put forward a renewed focus on serving our clients. We understand that our clients’ success is our success, and we’re fostering a customer-centric culture within the company. How does that translate to our Learn product? It means that we’re going to serve our clients’ needs, whatever those may be.
Blackboard Learn 9.1: New Functionalities
Let’s start with Learn 9.1 for our self-hosted and managed-hosted clients. The Learn Q2 2017 Release features a host of enhancements designed to ensure the product will successfully support millions of educators and learners for many years to come. We have been listening to your feedback, delivering on the commitments we made to you in 2015 and 2016, and heavily investing in a multi-year roadmap for Learn 9.1.
The recent releases for Learn 9.1—including the Q2 2017 release—are further evidence of our long-term commitment. With these releases, we are investing in the following areas:
- Improved responsiveness for mobile devices – Students and educators expect to have the same experience on their mobile devices as they do on their laptops. To do so, we introduced the new Learn 2016 theme last year and began a long-term investment in making the interface responsive.
- Support for Blackboard Ally – Ally is our new, optionally-licensed service for improving the accessibility of course content. We made a significant technology investment to integrate this high-value service into Learn 9.1 for self-hosted and managed-hosted clients and the Original experience for SaaS clients.
- User efficiency enhancements – Users should be able to interact with the LMS just like they do with consumer technologies, in ways that save them time and clicks. Recent examples include the ability to drag and drop files for upload throughout the interface, a Dropbox integration, and the Grades Journey feature that automates the exchange of assignment and grade data between your SIS and Learn.
- Assessment enhancements – We continue to add enhancements to help students succeed in their courses. Ones that were highly requested include submission receipts that give students assurance about their work and missing coursework reminders from the Grade Center.
- Improvements to the underlying infrastructure and overall quality – In recent releases, we have updated the technology that Learn runs on to ensure a stable and secure product.
Next, our roadmap for Blackboard Learn 9.1 is larger and more robust than it has been in the past few years. Some of our roadmap plans include attendance tracking, improved student activity reporting, OneDrive integration, and IMS Caliper event support for self-hosted environments – just to name a few.
And we have been staying closely connected to you through our Blackboard Community site, and we are listening to what you want to see through the Blackboard Idea Exchange. For example, the top voted idea in the Spring of last year was Submission Receipts, which we then introduced in the Q4 2016 release. If you aren’t already, we encourage you to provide your input and help shape our roadmap.
We have also expanded our team in order to deliver on our commitments to you – we will have doubled the size of the Learn development team by mid-2017. A big area of focus of this increased investment is in the area of quality improvements.
Committing to Our Clients’ Unique Requirements
Finally, we want to reemphasize our commitment to serving our clients’ varied LMS deployment needs. Some clients need or want us to support their self-hosted and managed-hosted requirements for the foreseeable future. We want to be crystal clear – we are fully committed to serving those needs. This is evidenced by our continued development of Learn 9.1 for these clients.
For other clients, they want to transition to a Software as a Service (SaaS) hosting environment. In partnership with Amazon Web Services (AWS), we’re enabling that too. We’ve worked with more than 150 self-hosted and managed-hosted clients over the past year to successfully transition them to SaaS, and we have lots more in the pipeline ready to make the same transition in the months ahead.
To further support these clients’ needs, yesterday we announced the launch of a new Cloud Center of Excellence (CCoE), leveraging Amazon Web Services (AWS) best practices, to further enable a smooth, fast and successful transition to the cloud for our clients worldwide. Through the program, specialists from both companies working in the CCoE will support the entire transition process, enabling clients to rapidly realize the benefits of SaaS. Blackboard also has a dedicated cloud provisioning team that has 16 years of data migration experience and is focused solely on ensuring smooth, successful migrations.
Blackboard serves over 16,000 institutions around the globe across our product portfolio. As a result of our experience, we understand that no two institutions are alike. And we are committed to providing our clients flexibility to meet their unique needs. Our broad scope enables us to deliver on those varied needs in a way that is unmatched in the marketplace. That’s why we’re continuing to support our self-hosted and managed-hosted Learn clients at the same time as offering a SaaS deployment option, while continuing to add market leading features that support teaching and learning.
You saw the new Blackboard leadership team put a stake in the ground around being open and transparent with the Blackboard community, and the Blackboard blog is one of many avenues where we will continue to communicate our strategy and direction. We look forward to continuing the conversation at BbWorld 2017 in New Orleans, July 25-27.