When it comes to online teaching and learning, institutions have to support a wide range of instructor experience and comfort as it pertains to technology. No two courses and instructors are alike, and there shouldn’t be a one size fits all approach that all instructors are forced into. Nor should institutions be forced to adopt a deployment method that’s not right for them. Because we’re the market leader, Blackboard’s focus as a company has evolved to a strategy where we are able to service all user types as well as a full range of institutional needs. When you take the strategic approach that you’re going to serve the full array of user types and institutional needs, as opposed to a one size fits all approach, you might feel that the answer is going to have to be more complicated. It may seem complicated, but if you boil it down it’s really as easy as 1-2-3. (But, I’m going to explain it 3-2-1).

Three deployment methods

Blackboard Learn is deployed three different ways: self-hosted, managed-hosted, and SaaS.

Each institution has their own needs, so we’re not going to decide what’s best for them. That’s why we provide multiple deployment options – and it’s why we are going to continue to support our self-hosted and managed-hosted implementations indefinitely. When (and if) a move to SaaS is right for you, that’s up to you. If you prefer hosting Learn yourself, or you like the managed-hosted solution we’re providing, we’re not going to force you to change.

What’s more, we’ve just announced a new partnership with IBM to take over the infrastructure management of our data centers. We have also selected Amazon Web Services (AWS) as our cloud services provider. These moves will enable us to focus on what we do best – developing innovative educational products and services – while relying on the world-class hosting and operational capability of IBM and AWS. We’re making this investment to make sure all our customers who rely on us for hosting get the best possible service for the long term.

Two experiences

Blackboard Learn has two experiences: Original and Ultra.

The Original experience is the interface that everyone knows and loves. It’s what our self-hosted and managed-hosted customers are using today: Learn 9.1. And it’s also available on our SaaS deployment as simply the “Original experience.” So 9.1 and the Original experience are the same thing. We just haven’t done a very effective job of making this simple fact known. So for institutions who make a transition to SaaS and choose to use the Original experience, you can maintain all of the same functionality and workflows your users are familiar with. There will not be any changes for your instructors and students.

The Ultra experience is our new, completely redesigned interface. The focus of this new interface is a rethinking of essential workflows, crafted into an efficient, intuitive, and fully responsive experience. Additionally, the Ultra experience is more personalized, as it aggregates and presents the most critical information front and center for users. While the Original experience is available for all three deployment options, the Ultra experience is only available for SaaS deployments. If you move to SaaS and enable the Ultra experience, you even have the option to maintain the power and flexibility of Original courses for some instructors while allowing other instructors to benefit from the ease of use of Ultra courses – thus, you can serve the full spectrum of instructor needs.

This begs the question, will the Ultra experience make its way to hosted and self-hosted customers? The answer is not a simple yes or no. While the Ultra experience won’t be replicated for managed and self-hosted customers, key Ultra design principles will be brought to the Original experience. A great example of this is the new Learn 2016 theme available for the Original experience (for all deployment methods) that brings the look-and-feel of Ultra as well as responsiveness in key areas. And we’ll make this new theme more responsive over time.

One Learn product

Blackboard Learn is one product. As described above, we have two user experiences and three different deployment methods, but fundamentally Learn is one product. There is one underlying architecture. Therefore, extensions and integrations built with REST APIs will work on both user experiences and all three deployment methods, and we’re making it possible to run Building Blocks created for the Original experience with the Ultra experience as well. Plus, both Blackboard Collaborate Ultra and Bb Student work with either user experience.

Back to as easy as 1-2-3

So let’s turn this back around. Understanding Learn is as easy as 1-2-3:

  • 1 product
  • 2 experiences: Original and Ultra
  • 3 deployment methods: self-hosted, managed-hosted, and SaaS

And as I said at the beginning, because of our strategy, we’re able to serve all user types as well as a full range of institutional needs.

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