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Ovum recently attended BbWorld 2015, Blackboard's education technology conference, in Washington D.C. The event built on Blackboard's 2014 theme of "reimagining education" through its New Learning Experience (NLE) offering. The NLE is Blackboard's approach to encouraging better engagement, interaction, and quality learning between students and education providers. In recent years, Blackboard has placed much greater emphasis on the learner, and in particular, on nontraditional learners and their expectations and preferences. The NLE supports this focus by providing students with a collaborative, integrated, and flexible learning environment. This gives Blackboard a clear competitive advantage, but the market is highly competitive and it is likely that other vendors will respond by bringing greater choice to institutions.

Consider Blackboard a citizen of the higher education industry

Throughout the conference, Blackboard spoke about nontraditional learners and reiterated the importance of placing the learner at the center of the process. To that end, it has enhanced its approach to solutions, support, and services with the NLE, which includes a new user experience entitled Ultra. This allows institutions to bring together different types of students, and integrates the following:

  • Blackboard Learn (Ultra)

  • Blackboard Collaborate (Ultra)

  • Bb Student (new mobile app)

  • Blackboard Transact

  • MyEdu

  • Blackboard Student Pathway Services

The NLE is focused on the wants and needs of the learner. It also includes enrollment services, student services and technology support, enterprise consulting services, and data and analytics capabilities. The Ultra user experience is currently only available for software-as-a-service (SaaS), with no current plans to offer an on-premise version. Ultra is much more than a usability makeover; the new architecture has the ability to capture an array of real-time learning analytics data, hence the difficulties in installing locally.

In the past, higher education has been primarily concerned with metrics rather than creativity. However, as student learning preferences have changed, Blackboard has aimed to create flexible products that minimize anxiety in learners and support their needs. Blackboard usability experts examined how students learn to inform the development of an empathetic design to support their preferred choice of learning. Although higher education cannot be reimagined overnight, Blackboard is continually providing tangible evidence of its commitment to closing the gap between what today's students want, and what the higher education system is providing. It is evident that Blackboard is not just a technology provider, but a citizen of the higher education industry.


Further reading

Innovation Case Study: Executing a Student Experience Strategy at NUI Galway,IT0008-000231 (April 2015)

Student Mobile Consumption: Enabling the Freedom to Choose a Learning Path,IT0008-000230 (April 2015)

"Blackboard rethinks education at BbWorld 2014,"IT0008-000208 (July 2014)


Navneet Johal, Research Analyst, Education Technology

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