Blackboard gets a "C-" from open-source leaning education market

Blackboard has had free rein in the Higher Education market, but free software is about to throw a wrench into those cogs.

Ah, to be proprietary and free from those pesky open-source projects! This is almost certainly the feeling at Blackboard, the "Microsoft of Higher Education" which is coming under increased pressure from Moodle, Sakai, two open-source alternatives for course management, as The Chronicle of Higher Education suggests.

It used to be so easy to throw one's proprietary weight around. Blackboard has launched patent attacks on competitors and has been a tough competitor in a range of different ways. Still, open source is thriving.

Blackboard is heading for a showdown with the free-software movement, according to some observers. Although Blackboard remains the clear market leader -- about 66 percent of American colleges use its software as their standard... -- there are signs that open-source alternatives are starting to gain ground. [One] survey found that the proportion of colleges using Moodle as their standard rose from 4.2 percent in 2006 to 7.8 percent in 2007, and that about 3 percent of colleges have selected Sakai.

Another survey by the Instructional Technology Council, found that its member colleges have increased Moodle adoption from 4 percent in 2007 to more than 10 percent in 2008. Blackboard, of course, will continue to compete, and should do so. But it's going to struggle in an already open-source friendly Higher Education market.

I spoke at a Higher Education conference a year ago and was surprised by how wide and deep adoption of open-source software was. It wasn't just the MITs of the world, but also community colleges, state colleges, international institutions like Oxford, as well as online-only universities. Blackboard and other proprietary vendors have their work cut out for them. Open source isn't perfect for every institution, but it's apparently more than good enough.

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