Tuesday, July 28, 2009

BbWorld 2009, Learning & Content Management and Mass Communications

Yes, that’s a lot to discuss, but it was enthusiastically during last week’s annual Blackboard World conference hosted on the shores of the Potomac in our nation’s capital. Perhaps even more important was the fact that many of the 1,600+ attendees we’re also seeking ways to better leverage the combination of content management, communications and teaching and learning technologies in ways they may never have considered before. Whether this included third party software partners, open source projects from the academic community or new Blackboard services, everyone seemed to be redefining their expectations about learning platforms.

Before I share more observations from Blackboard World, I should inform readers of changes in my own charter at the company because I expect it will impact the focus of the Just Sharing blog as the year progresses. During the last month, I’ve become engaged with our company’s mass notification business, Backboard Connect, in order to assist with marketing its SaaS solutions and better integrating them with other parts of the overall Blackboard business. While enterprise content management (ECM) and mass notification may not appear to be obviously complimentary, I’m already beginning to see synergies and I’m looking forward to sharing what I learn about that in the coming months.

We’ve discussed the inter-relationships between learning and content management in this blog before. I suspect this topic is going to receive even more attention the rest of the year, if the conversations I heard at Blackboard World 2009 are any indication. Institutions are demanding more flexible solutions for managing course content as it becomes more complex and rich. It would only seem natural for them to look to the ECM marketplace to provide guidance and technology. As an integral component of the Blackboard Learn platform, Xythos has an important role to play delivering enhanced ECM functionality within the teaching and learning process and beyond the classroom as well.

Transitioning from a stand-alone ECM focused role within the company to one intended to leverage knowledge and technology across the businesses has occupied almost all of my time lately, so please accept my apologies for the recent lapse in updates to this blog. I’ll aim to publish at least a couple substantive articles each month going forward. Given the continued transition towards content enabled vertical applications within the ECM market it would seem like a natural evolution for Just Sharing to dig deeper into learning content and content distribution management in the education and government markets overall.

As I said, discussions at Blackboard World this year really seemed to highlight key changes taking place regarding how institutions consider the role of content and the different ways they would like to manage and use it. For example, I heard about more plans to virtualize content storage than ever before. Of course, this was typically followed by complaints that it’s still not easy enough for typical users to get content into to virtual repositories. (Maybe they should try Xythos Drive? We’ll explore more about better enabling content contribution via Java applets and web clients for Blackboard in the next few weeks).

Other attendees discussed their desire to link content repositories within the LMS and ECM environments to help minimize work duplication and redundant data storage. I didn’t hear as much concern about content security and compliance as I would have expected, but perhaps that was just an assumed benefit associated with data centralization? A few attendees even spoke to me about deploying common content repositories shared between distributed campuses. Clearly, the desire to reduce complexity and costs hasn’t dissipated.

It was also evident that technology and business managers were thinking about content and learning management beyond the PC. Excitement about Blackboard’s new Mobile Edu initiative was rampant and questions about integrating course delivery, deploying content and managing mass communications via handheld devices were non-stop. I concluded that if technology vendors want to succeed in the world of mobile applications there may be no better market test than higher education and perhaps parts of K-12 too. Where else can you find such a mobile customer base almost guaranteed to be using all the latest web gadgets?

Once again, BbWorld served to re-set expectations about the role of technology and communications, but this time I think as much outside the classroom as within. I suspect the event also provided a healthy stimulus for continued dialog and experimentation among attendees for the rest of 2009 as well. So, if you’re curious to learn more about Blackboard’s content management plans or how mass communications services can supplement your own content strategies, please stay tuned to Just Sharing. There’s plenty more coming! Jim