Reflecting on 2018: Laying the Ground Work for the Next 20 Years in Education


I was in San Diego this month for our annual Sales Kick Off conference, and I’m feeling energized and optimistic about the path we’re on as a company. I’d like to share with you some news about the progress we made in 2018 and how we plan to build on that solid foundation in the year ahead.

2018 Recap

First, I’d like to share a high-level recap of where we are financially.  We continued to be a highly profitable business with a proven business model, which is a unique position among our direct competitors.  We had strong growth around the world and exceeded our profitability target, which will enable us to continue to invest in our core teaching and learning products, among others, for the benefit of our clients and continue our momentum towards being a fully SaaS business. 

SaaS/Ultra Progress

All of our products are now in the cloud, and our clients are reaping the benefits of that continuous delivery model. And we continued to see very strong momentum last year with moving many of our Learn clients to SaaS deployment, putting them on the path to Ultra, our next-generation user interface. Learn Ultra provides a modern and easy-to-use design, and by streamlining the most important workflows, it provides immediate access to personalized information and embedded analytics to help drive better learning outcomes.  We announced earlier this month that 500 of our clients around the world had made the move to SaaS, and in just the past few weeks that number has grown to 516.  And out of those using SaaS deployment, 123 clients have enabled Ultra and that number is growing quickly every month.

Momentum with Products

We’re also seeing strong progress across our broad portfolio of products, which are part of our vision of delivering a flexible, connected experience through our Edtech platform. And we’re excited that in 2018 we added more than 200 new LMS clients around the world. 

We made tremendous progress with the Blackboard app. The app has now been downloaded 10 million times, and its rating in the app store has significantly improved to 4.6 today – a strong indicator of client satisfaction with the product. 

Also, I wanted to call out our K-12 business, which is making terrific progress. We have a long history of partnering with schools and districts in the teaching and learning space, and Blackboard Classroom is really gaining adoption and has helped us cement our proven solution in that space. In the area of community engagement, in 2018 we enhanced our teacher-to-home communication tool by launching a mobile send app for teachers. This allows teachers to communicate with parents on-the-go from their mobile devices. Finally, we launched the School Safety Solution to help educators coordinate efforts around crisis preparedness and response with our new product, SafetyList. Even after launching just several months ago, we already see a huge interest in this solution. Overall, 1 in 2 U.S. students is served by a Blackboard product in their school district – that’s 24 million K-12 students touched by our products and solutions every single day, and we couldn’t be prouder.

Finally, another significant achievement in 2018 was our first-of-a-kind innovation with Apple to support student ID mobile credentials in Apple Wallet on iPhones and Apple Watches. Using near-field communication (NFC) technology that allows our integrated readers and Apple devices to work together, students have a seamless experience navigating campus with their Mobile Credential through secure access to facilities, residence halls and more; and payments for dining, laundry, vending and retail.We are the first company to offer NFC-enabled contactless mobile IDs for iPhone and Apple Watch, and we already have agreements with 12 institutions across the provide this solution.

In summary, we made a ton of progress in 2018 and accomplished what we set out to do. I’m proud of the hard work of the Blackboard team to make it happen!

What’s Ahead in 2019

With that strong foundation in place, we are well positioned for 2019 and beyond.  In our first 20 years, teaching and learning was at the core of our business, and that’s not going to change. We have what no one else in the market has: the ability to deliver multiple products to our clients that work together better than any other combination of products. And no one can match the value of what we can deliver economically.  

In 2019, we’ll continue to add features and functionality to Ultra and our core products. At the same time, we’ll also continue to evolve the broad set of capabilities in our Edtech platform, providing our clients a better user experience and better value. But more broadly, because of the progress we’ve made, we can now focus on driving the future direction of the market. 

The last 20 years was a period of wide-spread adoption of education technology and specifically online learning – and Blackboard was a catalyst for this progression. Going forward, we will be focused on driving student success and enabling our clients to achieve better institutional performance outcomes through new capabilities based on data and data driven insights and leveraging a new wave of technologies like AI. 

We’re already seeing the momentum from 2018 spill over into the new year. I’m excited by what’s ahead, with our renewed focus on driving student success and institutional performance, and with new products focused on instructional quality like the Blackboard Digital Teaching & Learning Series and our work on Blackboard Data, the next-generation data and analytics platform for education. We look forward to continuing to be your partner in change.