The Top 15 Things You Need to Know About the Ultra Experience for Blackboard Learn



SaaS. The Ultra experience. The Ultra Course View. The Original experience. The Original Course View. And a new course theme?

There has been a lot to digest during the course of the past year*, and we’ve made communication and transparency the top priority for our product marketing and management teams. For example, we had nearly 2,000 people register for the Winter and Spring roadmap webinars, and we now have ones scheduled for the rest of the year.

Earlier this year, I posted a blog about SaaS with the goal of answering the top questions you’ve been asking about the newest deployment option for Blackboard Learn. In the same spirit, I’m addressing some of the most frequently asked questions about the new user experience here in this blog.

#1. Do I Automatically Get a New Look for Blackboard Learn After Moving to a SaaS Deployment?

No. As I wrote in the earlier SaaS blog, one of the most common misconceptions is that the look and feel of Blackboard Learn changes when you move to SaaS. This is not the case. By default, Blackboard Learn in a SaaS environment looks EXACTLY the same as the Blackboard Learn 9.1 user experience you have today.



#2. What is the Original Experience?

This is Blackboard’s traditional user experience (at the system and course level) that is enabled by default in Blackboard Learn today, regardless of whether an institution is self hosted, managed hosted, or on a SaaS deployment. Schools that are on SaaS use the Original experience today and schools can keep the Original experience as long as they want.

#3. What is the Ultra Experience?

One area where we have not done as good of a job as we could have in the past year is distinguishing between the overall Ultra experience and the Ultra Course View. We should have better articulated that schools decide if and when to turn on the Ultra experience.

The Ultra experience is the term for the new user interface that is more personalized, proactive, and intuitive for learners and educators. The experience includes a new navigation and activity stream that provides:

  • Quick access to the most critical information to easily stay updated and take action
  • Cross-course perspective to eliminate the need for educators and learners to dig inside individual courses for information (e.g. an activity feed, grades, calendar, messages, etc.)
  • Fast access to other resources “outside the course” (e.g. organizations, system announcements, etc.) 


The Ultra experience provides quick access to cross-course information
(e.g. organizations, activity stream, grades).

The Ultra experience is also consistent across our teaching and learning portfolio, providing a learner-centric focus for not just Blackboard Learn, but also Blackboard Collaborate and the Bb Student mobile app.

#4. What Are the Course View Options?

When you enable the Ultra experience, there are two course views that you can make available: the Original Course View and the Ultra Course View.

  • Original Course View: The perfect choice for long-time users of Blackboard Learn and those with more extensive course needs. They get the workflows and capabilities (including content partners and 3rd party tools) they’re used to, but with a new look. No course re-design is required for these courses. Existing courses just work with a refreshed user experience.
  • Ultra Course View: Great for many instructors. We’ve completely redesigned essential workflows and put it into a brand new, efficient, fully responsive view. This is also ideal for instructors who are new to teaching online, so schools can drive more adoption of the LMS with the Ultra Course View.

#5. What is the Original Course View?

Whether the Ultra experience is enabled or not, the Original Course View provides all of the traditional Blackboard Learn 9.1 workflows that users have today. Schools that are on SaaS deployment today are currently using the Original Course View for programs and classes.

#6. Isn’t the Original Course View Getting a New Theme?

It already did—for SaaS, Managed Hosted and Self-Hosted Customers! This is one place where we’ve evolved our strategy based on your feedback. Many of you have told us that your instructors want the depth of functionality that the Original Course View provides today, but they also want a new look for their courses. So we’ve put additional resources into giving the Original Course View a new look and feel that is inspired by the Ultra experience – a new theme.

Original course view

screenshot of original course view on a mobile deviceThe Original Course View will contain all the traditional
of Blackboard Learn, with a new look.

Take a look at the screens above. It probably looks a lot like what you’re used to seeing in Blackboard Learn 9.1. It has all of the features and workflows that your Blackboard Learn 9.1 users have today, but it has a new look, and is more mobile-friendly.

#7. What is the Ultra Course View?

The Ultra Course View is what many immediately associated with the term “Ultra.” The Ultra Course View is the simplified and streamlined course view that is fully responsive (designed for PCs, tablets, and smartphones). This course view is only available with the SaaS deployment of Blackboard Learn when the Ultra experience is enabled.

We have done a tremendous amount of research to understand which workflows instructors are using most in Blackboard Learn today. Right now the Ultra Course has a rich enough feature set to meet the needs of a certain segment of instructors. If you’re thinking about changing existing courses from the Original Course View to the Ultra Course View, a built-in diagnostic tool will let you know if any changes are needed.

Ultra course view

The Ultra Course View has completely rebuilt essential workflows
and put them into a modern, simplified, fully responsive view.

#8. Will Blackboard Build Out the Ultra Course View Further?

Absolutely! Over time, we’ll keep “ultra-fying” Original Course View features, but instructors can use the Original Course View for a long time. There are no plans to phase out the Original Course View.

#9. Why Do You Offer Two Course Views?

“Why don’t you have two systems—one for faculty who are getting started with online learning and another for those who are more proficient and want sophisticated features?”

Ever since we first provided sneak peeks at the new course design, we have been getting this kind of feedback. No two programs or instructors are the same, and they have different course needs. This has been supported by our own analytics as well as third-party research.

With the dual course mode, both Course Views are available in the same institution. We’re able to support the full spectrum of instructors, whether they’re just starting to teach online or whether they have been using Blackboard Learn’s capabilities for years.

Here is something else we have heard from you:

We want to provide an improved learner experience but we don’t want to go through the process of re-designing or updating all of our courses.  Or some of our faculty will be willing to make the change but others are committed to keeping their courses exactly as they are now.”

The great thing about the dual course mode is that you can give your students what they want and need while accommodating both of these instructor camps. As we move to a more learner-centric interface, we expect students to initiate their most common learning workflows through the personalized, user-specific stream, whether those actions stem from a course with the Original Course View or one with the Ultra Course View. In this personalized, learner-centric view the interface of the individual courses becomes less relevant than the ability for the learner to get all the information he or she needs in one place and at the appropriate time.

The evolution of the New Learning Experience is away from courses and toward this personalized experience for the learner.  And since the Original Course View gets the new theme, students will have a modern look and feel regardless of course type, device, or even product even when they do drill down into the detailed course content.

#10. Who Controls Which Instructors Use What Course Type?

Here is another evolution in our product strategy based on your input. Institutions have the option of making the Ultra Course View available to instructors, departments, and programs of their choosing. So for example, XYZ institution can decide that the entire Math department will use the Ultra Course View while the rest of the institution uses the Original Course View. This is just one example, but we expect different schools will make different choices based on their needs.


#11. Will the Ultra Experience Be Available for Blackboard Learn Customers Who Are Self Hosted or Managed Hosted?

No, but we’re going to provide some of what Ultra provides to self hosted and managed hosted customers. The new theme for Original Courses is one example of this. This will provide a new look and feel for both the system and courses (see question six above) as well as make them more mobile-friendly.

#12. Are There Webinars That I Can Join for More Info?

Yes, you can see the “Best of BbWorld” replay webinars here.

#13. This Is a Really Long Blog. Can You Boil It Down for Me?

My quick blog turned out to be much longer than I had anticipated, but I wanted to make sure you have the information you have been asking for. If you skipped ahead and just want the key takeaways, here they are:

  • Schools that move to SaaS deployment can keep the Original experience that faculty and students are already familiar with from Blackboard Learn 9.1 – for as long as they want to do so. A move to SaaS does not automatically mean a move to the Ultra experience.
  • Schools decide when to turn on the Ultra experience.
  • When the Ultra experience is enabled, the Original Course View still provides faculty with all the features that they have access to today in Blackboard Learn 9.1.
  • The Original Course View has new, modern theme while keeping all the traditional functionality and workflows.

Schools decide when to turn on the Ultra Course View and for whom (individual instructors, departments, schools, programs).

#14. Who Should I Contact for More Information?

Please reach out to us (the product marketing & management teams or your account representative) for additional information about transitioning to SaaS, the Ultra experience, or the roadmap for Blackboard Learn 9.1.

#15. Did You Add #15 Just so You Could Make the Title “Top 15” Vs “Top 14”?

Yes, was it that obvious? I hope this helped, and we’re happy to do a follow up top 10 FAQs blog post with the questions you send in!

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in February 2016 and has been updated to reflect current offerings and plans