Blackboard Learn

Chapter License: CC-BY

Developer: Blackboard
Price: Estimated $160,000 yearly for an institution license
Summary: A mature and highly-refined LMS that has continued to permeate academic institutions across the globe over the last 23 years


Blackboard Learn (previously the Blackboard Learning Management System) has been in existence since the founding of its parent company (Blackboard) in 1997 (Bradford et al., 2007). Its evolution has been dramatic over its long history, with the latest version a far cry from an online repository of files and class materials. In addition to asynchronous classroom activities done within the feature-set of the LMS, Blackboard Learn’s communication features are highly developed with chat, discussion boards, and emailing staples of Blackboard Learn, with these features becoming standard within a multitude of LMS platforms that would follow in Blackboard Learn’s wake.

In terms of administrative purposes, Blackboard represents an enriched platform with a plethora of options for users. Features such as attendance management, gradebooks, enrolment options (manual and self-enrollment), calendar, and analytic tools (“LMS Comparison,” 2019). Blackboard Learn also comes in a more fully-featured version called “Blackboard Learn Ultra” that contains even more features than the base Blackboard Learn, including cloud storage options and assistance options that are more fully-featured than the base platform (“LMS Comparison,” 2019).

Blackboard Learn represents a mature and highly-refined LMS that has continued to permeate academic institutions worldwide over the last 23 years. Despite intense competition from rivals such as Canvas, Blackboard Learn continues to represent a highly popular choice within the educational LMS market.

Critique and Implications for Education


Blackboard Learn offers a highly-developed suite of online tools that offer flexibility and convenience for users (Alokluk, 2018). Carvendale (2003) noted that “professors at many universities say that course-management software helps them organize their courses better and brings new levels of interaction both among students and between students and professors.” Additionally, Blackboard has been responsive to client feedback. Through recent upgrades and changes to the platform, Blackboard hopes to keep the platform a competitive market leader through Blackboard Learn and Blackboard Learn Ultra offerings (McKenzie, 2018).

Blackboard Learn in Use: A Case Study

A study of 3rd year students (Uziak et al., 2018) at the University of Botswana (UB) were asked to participate in a study evaluating the effectiveness of Blackboard Learn with different cohorts of students over the course of nine years. Some key results of the study were as follows:

  • A large number of students in the most recent cohort (81%) stated the effectiveness of Blackboard in terms of managing classroom activities.
  • 87.5% of students in the most recent cohort of students cited the benefit of having information from the syllabus transferred to the LMS (Blackboard Learn).
  • 79% of students felt the course was presented in a highly organized way because of the use of Blackboard Learn.
  • Students held the opinion that such an approach should be adopted in other courses (84%).


Blackboard Learn, however, does have an ongoing history of reliability issues. Its long history is rife with glitches, bugs, and outages. For example, 189,000 K-12 students in Fairfax County, Virginia, lost access to the LMS for nearly a week in April 2020 (Hill, 2020). In September 2009, the newly updated Blackboard LMS at McMaster University frequently failed over a period of two weeks, causing massive disruption to the university. McMaster did not continue using Blackboard (Schaffhauser, 2010), and they are not alone in that. Emporia State University in Kansas switched from Blackboard LMS to Canvas in 2015, even though retaining Blackboard was a cheaper option. The director of learning technologies for Emporia, Rob Gibson, declared Canvas the best option on the market (McKenzie, 2018).

Concerns have also been raised about Blackboard Learn’s user-friendliness. Venter et al. (2015) conducted a study on the Blackboard Learn Mobile App, recording poor performance and device compatibility among South African IT students enrolled in the Central University of Technology.
By 2018, Blackboard Learn’s share of the LMS market had dropped from 70 percent (at its peak in 2006) to a mere 28 percent (tied with Canvas) (McKenzie, 2018). Tony Bates, lamenting on the dying nature of LMS platforms, commented: “fighting over LMS systems is like fighting over dying star systems. Move to another world, dude” (Bates, 2018).

Access and Cost

Blackboard Learn is available for computer users of all major operating systems (Mac, Windows, Chrome OS), as well as mobile devices in the form of the Blackboard App for Android and iOS. (Windows mobile is no longer supported).

While Blackboard does not publicly release pricing information, it was estimated by Michael Feldstein in 2006 that the typical institution will pay $160,000 per year for a license (Feldstein, 2006). This number is not adjusted for inflation, as costs are mysterious and speculative for Blackboard Learn.
Blackboard has been written off by some as outdated and obsolete, but the company remains a major player in the LMS market with 1,216 organizational installations as of 2018 in the United States alone (McKenzie, 2018).

With recent updates to Blackboard Learn and Blackboard Learn Ultra, the company offers a suite of tools that are, in the opinion of this author, highly competitive and rich in features.
Despite this optimism, market share loss has been substantial for Blackboard Learn. In recent years, it experienced significant losses in the LMS market while its competitors (Canvas and Moodle) have experienced significant growth (Bates, 2018).

About the Author

Matthew McGravey

Matthew is a graduate researcher at EILAB at Ontario Tech’s Faculty of Education. Focusing on Web 3.0 integration and diffusion in education, Matthew explores how the transition to the semantic web will (likely) transform learners and educators. Areas of exploration include virtual worlds, peer-to-peer networks, and the Internet of Things (IoT). Recognizing the dynamic symbiosis between education and technological innovation, Matthew remains a steadfast proponent of tools and affordances that can enhance and deepen learning environments for all participants. In addition to research, Matthew is currently an English for Academic Purposes (EAP) instructor at the English Language Centre (ELC) at Ontario TechU. In terms of educational background, Matthew holds a BA (Honours) from the University of Toronto in History, with a diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL).


Alokluk, J. A. (2018). The Effectiveness of Blackboard System, Uses and Limitations in Information Management. Intelligent Information Management, 10(06), 133–149.

Bates, T. (2018, July 15). Is Blackboard dying? The latest installment in LMS wars. Contact North.

Bradford, P., Margaret Porciello, N., & Balkon, D. B. (2007). The Blackboard Learning System. The Journal of Educational Technology Systems, 35, 301–314.

Carvendale, D. (2003) Study of Wisconsin Professors Finds Drawbacks to Course-Management Systems. Chronicle of Higher Education, 49, (A26). Retrieved November 13, 2020, from

Feldstein, M.(2006, January 13). Blackboard by the Numbers. eLiterate.

Hill, P. (2020). Blackboard has worst LMS problem in years, taking K-12 district offline for days. PhilonEdTech.

LMS Comparison (Blackboard Learn v. Blackboard Learn Ultra v. Canvas). (2019). California State University, Stanislaus.

McKenzie, L. (2018, July 10). Canvas Catches, Maybe Passes, Blackboard. Inside Higher ED.

Schaffhauser, D. (2010, March 5). McMaster U to Move to Desire2Learn After Blackboard Outages. Campus Technology.

Uziak, J., Oladiran, M. T., Lorencowicz, E., & Gizejowski, M. (2016). Students ’ perspective on the use of the Blackboard platform for delivering an engineering course. World Transactions on Engineering and Technology Education 14(2), 251–257.,%20No.2%20(2016)/03-Uziak-J.pdf

Venter, M. I., Van Der Walt, A. B., Swart, A. J., & De Wet, L. (2015, July). An investigation of the use of the Blackboard mobile app: An African perspective [Paper Presentation]. 19th International Conference on Engineering Education (ICEE) 2015, Zagreb, Croatia.

What’s New in Blackboard Learn: Feature Guide for End Users. (2018). Sul Ross University.


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Blackboard Learn Copyright © by OER Lab at Ontario Tech University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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