An Unlikely Couple—The Moodle/Blackboard Divorce

Alex Freeman |

Former Tambellini Author

Top of Mind: The Moodle/Blackboard Divorce
Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes

As Blackboard struggles to retain learning management system (LMS) market share, steadily losing customers to Instructure Canvas and D2L Brightspace, Moodle announced on July 27th that their partnership with the LMS giant Blackboard was coming to an end after six years. In their press release, Martin Dougiamas, CEO and Founder of Moodle, stated, “While we thank Blackboard for being a solid contributor to the Moodle project during the past 6 years, the fact is that the proportion of our revenue coming from our partnership with Blackboard has been steadily declining every year since 2012. Now is the right time to clarify the situation between us and focus more tightly on our exciting roadmap around our open software.”[1] Tambellini data shows that only 3.8% of U.S. higher education institutions have selected Blackboard Moodlerooms as their most recent LMS.

Why did this partnership happen?

Moodle is an outlier in the LMS community because they are firmly planted in the open source software movement. This has provided them with a decentralized worldwide community of colleges and universities working with their free code. The foundation that controls Moodle, Moodle Pty Ltd, has supported itself by revenue generated by their Certified Moodle Partner program with over 80 partners in over 40 countries. As part of that program, partners provide support for universities, and they pay Moodle HQ a portion of that income to ensure ongoing development and maintenance.[2] To reach more international higher education institutions, Blackboard purchased Moodlerooms in 2012 which made Blackboard the largest Moodle Partner Company at the time.[3]

How did that partnership go?

Moodle hoped to benefit from the partnership by gaining additional resources and contributions by Blackboard to their open source community.[4] Some of this came to fruition, such as Blackboard providing the Moodle community additional functionality by offering their SafeAssign anti-plagiarism technology for Moodlerooms that was previously only available in Blackboard Learn.[5] Despite the desire that the resources provided to the community would outweigh the threat of their competing agendas, that was not the case. Moodle’s CEO Dougiamas noted in their press release, “Blackboard has always been a sensitive and sometimes confusing subject in the Moodle community, since Blackboard has of course continued to develop and sell its own competing products.”[6]

Why did this six-year partnership end in a divorce?

Over the years it became clear that the two organizations were moving in different directions. Prior to the purchase by Blackboard, Moodlerooms had contributed greatly to the Moodle ecosystem, according to Brian Carlson CEO of eThink Education, helping to stabilize clients with appropriate services and support.[7] But year over year, according to Dougiamas, the revenue from Moodlerooms represented a smaller percentage of Moodle’s overall intake since 2012.[8] Although their contract was set for automatic renewal on June 30, 2018, there was apprehension on both sides. Blackboard’s leadership believed that Moodle was less interested in promoting Moodlerooms and more interested in supporting self-hosting. This is seen in Blackboard’s press release on the topic where Chief Portfolio Officer Kathleen Vera commented, “As the education landscape and our clients’ needs continue to evolve, so has our strategy of providing the most innovative and effective SaaS-based teaching and learning solutions. Exiting the Certified Moodle Partner program will not impact our unwavering commitment to open-source and open standards, and we will continue to invest in our Moodle-based SaaS solutions and to contribute to the open-source community.”[9] This struggle over promoting competing products is at the heart of Moodle’s press release. Moodle explicitly stated that an influx of $6 million in funding from Education For The Many is helping them develop their own Moodle-hosted SaaS product at the expense of Blackboard’s. After September 2018, Blackboard will no longer be able to use the Moodlerooms name or Moodle licensed trademarks.

What is the take away for colleges and universities using Moodle or Blackboard?

Moodle and Blackboard users should not panic, but tracking this shift in the LMS landscape is worthy of consideration for users of both services. Since the core of the work that connected the two organizations is open source, further contributions to Moodle’s source code will continue. Blackboard states, “With the end of the partnership, there will be no change in Blackboard’s ability to utilize open source updates and enhancements produced by Moodle and the open-source community. … The company will continue to contribute code and features back to the open-source community—and work to move the community forward together.”[10]

Notably, the end of the partnership affects Blackboard’s international aspirations due to the reputational blow that it has received from this news, in a summer where almost all Blackboard news has been negative. Although they carry a lot of debt and have stagnant revenue, Blackboard has a portfolio that contains more than the LMS business. Tambellini predicts that current Blackboard customers can anticipate support for at least five years even in the worst-case scenario. Tambellini will continue to monitor the LMS landscape as it evolves and will report on changes.

Selecting an LMS for your Campus?

Among many factors, institutions factor ease of use, potential faculty adoption, and overall costs among other considerations when selecting an LMS platform. Old evaluation models support the norm that some faculty might select an LMS that was not the institution’s preferred choice. In institutions that are not keeping up with modern trends, faculty might even use a separate LMS outside of the institution’s selected vendor. In the past, institutions have been held up by faculty that refused to use the systems that the institution implemented. Faculty have often preferred their own LMS for a myriad of reasons. However, institutions have the broader responsibility to recruit, retain, and graduate students. In the opinion of Tambellini, standardizing the student experience is a trend that only the most wealthy institutions can afford to ignore.

Tambellini asserts that the LMS vendor is a critical and strategic choice for the institution. Institutions must evaluate this decision in context with every other major information technology decision based on factors that are constantly changing. Consider the following three critical components: 1) determine your institution’s cloud strategy, 2) evaluate the impact of your LMS on the student experience, including retention rates, and 3) weigh the business drivers of faculty versus students and the overall brand reputation of the institution over time.

Tambellini raises complicated questions and challenges institutions to consider realities of the future of higher education. Every situation is different, and Tambellini has the data to support your institution’s most strategic technology initiatives, including LMS. Contact us to learn more about our services.

Learn more about Moodle here:

Learn more about Blackboard Moodlerooms here:

©Copyright 2018, The Tambellini Group. All Rights Reserved.

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Alex Freeman |
Former Tambellini Author
As a former Senior Analyst and Director at the Tambellini Group, Alex Freeman has provided direct support to Tambellini members, as well as analysis and insights into global trends within higher education. Mr. Freeman is well versed in learning management systems (LMS), and instructional technology, membership management, and market research. Prior to Tambellini, he has served as editor, co-author, and researcher for the NMC Horizon Report series, which analyzed technology uptake across global higher education, K-12 schools, museums, and libraries.

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