I read an interesting article in the June, 2009 edition of eSchool News (http://www.eschoolnews.com). In the article, we find that Blackboard, maker of a proprietary course management solution, will soon acquire a competitor, Angel Learning for $95 million. This, after the purchase of a one-time rival, WebCT back in 2005. What should trouble all about this is the monopolistic red flags this throws up into the air. When they purchased Web CT, they took 80% of the market at that time in the US. Now, they purchase another rival to remove even more competitors from the field of K-12 and higher ed course management applications.
While definitely troubling, by itself, this should concern everyone, including monopoly lawyers. Thankfully, since 2005, some open source solutions have gained prominence. Moodle (http://moodle.org/), the open source CMS, continues to grow in users across the country, mostly in K-12 settings. Other options like Sakai (http://sakaiproject.org/portal) and the e-portfolio tool Mahara (http://mahara.org/) provide more flexibility at a more reasonable price.
In my district, we heavily utilize course management tools. Before my arrival, they used Blackboard county-wide. With the combination of inflexibility with the tool, high cost, and difficult in using for the average user, we switched to Moodle about two years ago. One of the major reasons cited came from the ability to add modules to the Moodle for additional functionality. Another, obviously, the cost. I do not want to guess at a cost, but I did see some reference referring to the $80,000 per year figure. For some school systems that may be trivial to allow others to maintain the tool, but for a small school system, this amounts to 1/3 of our annual budget.
While Blackboard does continue to gain market share, we did not see the market share of open source applications like Moodle. As budget times continue to look hazy, I anticipate more school systems, and even universities, to begin looking at alternatives such as Moodle, Sakai, and Mahara. Blackboard will always find an audience, but these other tools, and their increased functionality, will provide an entryway into open source for many new schools.