In recent years, the learning management industry has grown rapidly as technology and innovations continue to transform the way that students interact with education. If you have taken a college class since the year 2000 or almost any K-12 class since around 2012, there is a good chance that you have used a learning management system.

These online portals provide a place where students can, at minimum, download homework, see the syllabus, and see grades they have received on different assignments. Usually they also have some sort of discussion board where students can ask questions, and sometimes interacting on the board will even contribute to the students’ final grade, something that was especially true during the pandemic.

If you have used a learning management system (LMS), there is a pretty good chance it was Blackboard. Once upon a time Blackboard Learn was the undisputed market leader in LMS. It was used by around 40% of all US colleges in 2006 at the height of its power.

Part of the reason it had so much power at that point is that it just bought its largest rival; WebCT. This gave Blackboard unparalleled control of the market as well as a large first mover advantage. But despite these things lining up in its favor, as a product it was fairly stagnant, and gave rise to something that would have a lot of consumer presence in other tech spaces: an open source option.

It started with Moodle, an open source product that launched in 2002 and saw steady growth until the mid-2010’s. As an open source option, this has been especially popular among technocratic reformers.

But the real juggernaut has become Canvas, the flagship product from Instructure. They use an “Open Core” approach to open source, where the source code is open and they have few proprietary layers or services on top. Since its creation in 2008, Canvas has seen incredibly steady growth in the market, replacing Blackboard in a number of educational systems.

Blackboard has had a more turbulent time over the same period. It originally went public in 2004 under the stock ticker BBBB and was fairly successful. It attempted to legally corner the market through some patent shenanigans, which gained it a lot of bad publicity and nothing else. So even as it acquired competitors like WebCT and launched products, it struggled to maintain the same relevancy, and was even called “one of the most disliked – even detested – companies in education”.

It was taken private in 2011 by private equity and Blackboard cycled leadership for a decade as the PE firm looked to sell the company for a profit. It attempted to create a Zoom competitor to be used within their system, which was ultimately sold to Class, a new company started by one of Blackboard’s founders.

In 2021 as the pandemic was still playing out, Blackboard announced that it would  “merge” with Anthology, another LMS provider, but even this merger wasn’t enough to stem the steady loss of customers, many of which are fleeing to Canvas.

Even now, Blackboard is not widely loved in education, and that pattern does not seem likely to reverse.

PhilOnEdTech’s chart on these trends, above, provides a great visual. Also check out his  most recent post, which outlines the market as well.

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