The new, Ultra experience for Blackboard Learn is a redesigned user interface that provides a more intuitive, personal, connected, and always-on experience – so it’s easier than ever for educators to adopt and for learners to stay engaged from any device. The Ultra experience, which is consistent across Learn, Collaborate, and our new Bb Student app, is a foundational element of the New Learning Experience we introduced at BbWorld.

The Ultra experience was built on top of the same cloud computing architecture as the SaaS deployment for Blackboard Learn. Because of the dependencies on this cloud computing architecture, the Ultra experience is only available as an option with the SaaS deployment of Blackboard Learn.

During BbWorld, many Learn customers asked us when the Ultra experience will be coming to self-hosted and Managed Hosting deployments. Blackboard is exploring the ability to bring Learn SaaS and thus the Ultra experience to Blackboard-managed data centers and perhaps even customers’ own data centers. However, this does not mean that the Ultra experience is coming to self-hosted or Managed Hosting implementations as you know them today.

Part of the challenge in communicating this has been that for most of Blackboard’s history, “deployed in a Blackboard-managed data center” has meant our Managed Hosting infrastructure and “deployed in a customer’s own data center” has meant the traditional enterprise Blackboard Learn technology stack. With the introduction of Learn SaaS and the Ultra experience, though, we are talking about a new architecture and a new infrastructure (even though it might be in the same physical location).

As noted above, the Ultra experience was built on – and thus must sit on top of – a cloud computing architecture. The Learn 9.1 Managed Hosting deployment option available today does not use that type of cloud architecture. The same is true of self-hosted Learn 9.1 implementations. Therefore, it is not possible to bring the Ultra experience to self-hosted or Managed Hosting implementations as you know them today.

We are working on the ability to deploy Learn SaaS on a cloud architecture in a Blackboard-managed data center, because that will be required in some regions of the world. However, even though Learn SaaS may be deployed in a Blackboard-managed data center, that’s not the same as what we call “Managed Hosting” today – it is a different infrastructure and a different way of deploying and maintaining the product.

Similarly, we are exploring the ability to deploy Learn SaaS on a cloud architecture in a customer data center.  However, again, even though Learn SaaS may possibly be in your data center, that’s not comparable to what you consider “self-hosting” today. It is a different infrastructure — and a much more complex one at that. The processes to deploy, maintain, and support a SaaS application on a cloud infrastructure in a customer data center are quite different from today’s Learn 9.1 self-hosting option. We are still investigating scope and requirements, and, if we move forward with this option, we would not expect to bring it to market any earlier than late 2016.

To summarize:

  • The Ultra experience sits on top of a cloud architecture that is different from what self-hosted and Managed Hosting customers currently use today.
  • Thus, the Ultra experience will not be coming to Managed Hosting or self-hosted implementations as you know them today.
  • A cloud architecture that can support Learn SaaS and the Ultra experience will be coming to Blackboard-managed data centers in some regions and potentially even to customers’ own data centers in the future.
  • However, this will be a different infrastructure than today’s Managed Hosting and self-hosting options.

It is also important to note that we are fully committed to Learn 9.1 as well as self-hosted and Managed Hosting deployments.  We have quality improvements, workflow enhancements, and entirely new features (like improved grade exchange and competency-based education (CBE) tools) on the Learn 9.1 roadmap.

To further discuss the topic of this post, I invite you to join me for Office Hours this coming Tuesday, August 11th from 12:00 – 1:00 PM Eastern.  You can register here.  Additionally, you can learn more about SaaS deployment by watching my “SaaS Deployment for Blackboard Learn: Overview & Transition” presentation here.  To learn more about the Ultra experience, Learn 9.1, and the roadmap for all of our teaching and learning products, check out the recordings of our BbWorld sessions at

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  • Renee

    can you please confirm the timezone in +/-GMT for the office hours? I’m keen to attend.

    • David Gibson

      Hi Renee,

      The meeting will be at 12:00 GMT-04:00. In proper ISO 8601 notation:

      Hope you can attend! Register in any case as we will record the meeting.

      • Renee

        Hi David,

        I registered, however the email provided no details about how to access the session. The session is running at 2am my time (AEST – GMT+10) and I have a full work day + 4 hours teaching tomorrow so I will await the recording. Hopefully I will be able to attend the next session live. I hope the session goes well.

        Kind Regards,

        • David Gibson

          Hi Rene,

          You should receive an email after the session with the recording link. Rest up. Students first! 🙂

  • klreeve

    Greg, you did a really great job explaining this! Well done!