Source Wars: #Blackboard takes aim on Moodle’s image of “Free”

2052

There’s a great video by Chronicle writer Jeff Young which highlights leaders from the worlds two largest LMS firms, Martin Dougiamas of Moodle and Ray Henderson of Blackboard which discusses quickly their views on the future of LMS and each respective organization’s present situation and short term goals.  It’s a must watch video to see how two very different products are strategically tackling the hurdles before them (check out the video here, or embedded below).

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For Moodle and Martin Dougiamas (Lead Developer and founder), it’s the release of Moodle 2.0 focuses on refining the LMS and positioning collaboration (rather than publishing) as it’s main focus. It’s future focus shifts to mobile as a learning and content/collaboration tool.  Paired with a greater focus on analytics (reporting), these could be two important areas by which Moodle adds value to educational institutions worldwide (not to mention that this code will be available for free to anyone with the ability to download, install and manage it).

The most game changing announcement though came from Blackboard’s Ray Henderson, President of Blackboard Learn. Henderson announced at Educause last week in Anaheim that Blackboard will be rolling out a free version of it’s latest products directly to teachers which will be both hosted and supported. Blackboard’s first foray into providing a free version of it’s services was actually forced upon it when it acquired Elluminate earlier this year (Elluminate had been hosting a free version of Elluminate Live at LearnCentral which has seen a good measure of success.

Moodle.org and it’s commercial partners, to date, have refrained from offering free hosting to individual teachers which could spell a huge advantage to Blackboard’s ability to attract new users (which presumably is a lead generation tool).  There are free hosting companies available in the Moodle market; however none are connected Moodle’s Partner network and some have shuttered their doors/restrict registration due to their inability to find a working business model.

As Henderson mentions in the video, Blackboard is taking cues from the open source community and may have found an answer to eroding market share by offering services directly to teachers.  Attracting first adopters at any institution can give Blackboard the all important ‘foot in the door’ which it will need to stave off Moodle partners offering a similar model of Software as a Service.  This is not to mention Blackboard’s arsenal of add-ons, integrations and tools already available.

To paraphrase Chris Anderson, author of Free, Blackboard might beat Moodle’s “free” by becoming even more free.  Blackboard is taking aim to undercut Moodle’s no cost barrier to entry with a new trump: no barriers at all.

6 COMMENTS

  1. It’s interesting that Blackboard offering free course sites to individual teachers is viewed as something “new”. I remember, back in the very early 2000’s they did offer free course sites for a semester (or was it for a year?) Then they apparently gave up that “foot-in-the-door” model and now they are selling it as a new idea 🙂

  2. this might date me, but that was a bit before my time. What’s interesting is that move was pretty progressive if they made it so early. At that time, presumably, the cost of giving it away was much more expensive in terms of bandwidth and storage. Today it seems like a no-brainer.

    Moodle offering up something similar, or partnering directly with an official “free host” would be an easy way to take any mounting wind out of the Bb sails.

  3. Fortunately for Moodle, a lot of institutions I speak to have found Blackboard’s licencing too restrictive compared to Moodle’s open-source offering. Free software is about more than just cost, and there’s still only one winner in that argument. Each teacher having their own VLE instance is far less desirable that using the same one for all classes/students within an institution, both in terms of convenience for students, and ability to track students’ progress across the board.

  4. The guys at Agilix have been offering BrainHoney free to teachers for quite a while now. The idea is that it’s free for teachers, but if the larger organization wants advanced reporting features, they need to pay for that. Like Marxjohnson said, it’s about more than just cost, and if gratis versions are gimped, decision makers will avoid the upsell to “enterprise” versions if they have a choice, which Moodle intends to provide.

  5. The freemium model of pricing is very popular on the web. It’s getting users that is important, then turning them to paying users later. The issue I see is two-fold:
    1: Moodlers don’t have an official place to go for supported/hosted service (which is affiliated with Moodle HQ)
    2: while licensing is restricting, familiarity with a system, especially by future decision makers can make a big difference if there’s a free option.

    I also don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to think that a whole school might opt to/urge teachers to jump on the Bb’s free services. It is, after all, getting something valuable for nothing.

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