Blackboard Inc. will launch a massive overhaul of its much-criticized software today, promising a sleek, easy-to-use interface that the company's CEO compared to the beauty and seamlessness of Apple products.
Blackboard's market-dominating education software — which is used by tens of millions of students across the country to attend virtual classes, check grades, and submit homework — has long been known for a clunky, outdated interface and products that professors and students call counterintuitive and poorly integrated. It was designed, many said, for easy use by administrators and universities, not by students.
In the past few years, it has lost significant market share to younger, more agile startups which promise cleaner and more-user friendly technology; though Blackboard once controlled 70% of the market, its share has fallen by 30%.
The redesigned system, which the company calls its "New Learning Experience," is in some ways the first major test for Blackboard's new CEO.
Since he took over the newly-private Blackboard in 2012, CEO Jay Bhatt has been promising to win back the hearts of its often-frustrated end-users — the millions of college students and faculty who have made "I hate Blackboard" something of a meme. After a round of largely-internal changes spearheaded by Bhatt, the redesigned software will be the time that most of Blackboard's customers see major updates firsthand.
"I’m excited about this release because I've been dying to have the evidence of what we've been doing," Bhatt told BuzzFeed News of the new system, which has been in the works since he became CEO. "[My] good word can only go so far."
The new Blackboard, in addition to a cleaner, more modern user interface, improves the software's workflow and integrates tools, like data analytics, that previously only worked in separate windows. One of users' most common complaints was that Blackboard's system required many clicks to perform simple tasks. The company is also integrating its mobile app, an important step for a mostly-college-aged customer base.
"This isn't just a learning management system," Bhatt said. "It's mobile, analytics and collaboration tools, combined and consistently delivered."
Phil Hill, a market analyst and education software blogger, said he was "impressed with the design elements and intentions" of the new learning experience, which he got an early glimpse at. But he said he is concerned about the company's ability to actually deliver the user interface to its customers "in a reasonable timeframe."
"Some long-time customers are getting quite impatient, and Blackboard risks losing credibility" because of that, Hill said. "The question is whether most customers trust the company enough to be patient."
Bhatt will present the new software at the company's annual conference Tuesday.
"In the old industry of education, and the old Blackboard, we didn't serve students," he said. "We've been working towards that, but we didn't have the body of evidence. That's what's going on today: now we have the evidence."
Molly Hensley-Clancy is a business reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. She covers the intersection of business and education.
Contact Molly Hensley-Clancy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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