Chalk up Blackboard's success to the Internet. Blackboard develops software that lets schools create Internet-based learning programs and communities. Its applications connect teachers, students, parents, and administrators via the Web, enabling Internet-based assignments, class websites, and online collaboration with classmates. The software also includes a content management system for creating and managing digital course content. Other modules include transaction, community, and payment management tools that enable students to use their college IDs for meal plans, events, and tuition payments. In 2011 Blackboard was acquired by Providence Equity for about $1.64 billion.
The going-private deal valued Blackboard at $45 a share in cash; Providence also assumed $136 million in debt. The private equity firm has a history of making investments in the education market. Providence counts Archipelago Learning, Ascend Learning, Catalpa, and Education Management Corporation among its educational investments. Providence combined Blackboard with another of its portfolio companies, Edline, a Web-based communication platform for K-12 school districts, to increase its presence in the K-12 sector. Blackboard touted the deal as providing the additional resources and experience needed to sustain long-term international growth.
To this end, in 2011 Blackboard took full control of CerBibo, its joint venture in China with CERNET. CerBibo adapts and distributes Blackboard's learning platforms for the Chinese market. With strong demand for education technology in China, Blackboard wanted to have a more direct investment in the country. Elsewhere, Blackboard has clients in more than 70 countries, and in addition to its core base of postsecondary education clients, the company counts K-12 schools, government agencies, educational publishers, and commercial education providers among its customers.
Most of the company's sales come from local installations of its software for its clients, but the company also offers its software on a hosted, or Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), basis.
Blackboard's plan for growth includes stepping up support for mobile devices and data analytics tools. In 2012 the company began testing mobile device integration for its Collaborate Web conferencing platform to address the growing number of smartphone and tablet devices used in educational settings. Also that year it launched Analytics for Learn, a tool designed to track activity and access data from learning management and student information systems.
In a strategic shift that embraced online open-source learning management systems (LMS), Blackboard acquired Moodlerooms and NetSpot in 2012. Both companies provide consulting, hosting, and support services for educational organizations using open-source systems, including the Moodle and Sakai learning management systems. Moodlerooms provides services to clients in North America, while NetSpot serves clients in Australia, New Zealand, and the Asia/Pacific region. With the acquisitions, Blackboard entered the open-source market and, at the same time, created Blackboard Education Open Source Services, a new business unit that focuses on the company's LMS services to the open-source community. The new unit is led by teams from Moodlerooms and NetSpot, both of which will continue to operate independently.
Blackboard has grown through other acquisitions, buying several companies outright in the past few years. In early 2011 it bought Presidium for $53 million. Presidium provided academic and administrative support services to colleges and universities from two contact centers. It became a part of the company's Blackboard Student Services product, which offers student lifecycle support and IT and help desk services for faculty and students, including support for recruiting, registration, advising, financial aid, and retention programs.
In mid-2010 the company purchased both Wimba and Elluminate for about $116 million. The combined companies form its Blackboard Collaboration product line. Wimba and Elluminate offered similar online educational and collaborative software, and both have an established global client base in the K-12 and higher education sectors. Together, the companies serve more than 2,600 clients with subscription-based products that allow for Web-based live classrooms, virtual office hours, team meetings, mentoring and tutoring, and social learning communities. The deal gives Blackboard a greater presence in the K-12 market, enhances its market share in the higher education market, and adds synchronous learning and collaboration technologies to its core online offerings.
In 2010 Blackboard purchased Saf-T-Net for about $33 million, adding that company's AlertNow messaging and notification service to its Blackboard Connect product line. Blackboard Connect, which is used to disseminate critical information via voice and text devices, stemmed from the 2009 purchase of NTI, which was renamed Blackboard Connect Inc. – less