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Blackboard to acquire WebCT

For the academic sector, this looks like the final act of consolidation in the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) market. The two former rivals will officially merge, but much larger Blackboard will provide the brand name for the resulting company.

The merger will be effected by the acquisition of WebCT by Blackboard for about $180 Million. Blackboard assures customers that the two product lines will remain supported for the foreseeable future, but that over time, "Blackboard will incorporate the best features and usability characteristics from the two product lines into a new, standards-based product set that will incorporate a scalable, architecture, the use of Web services, unparalleled ease of use, and flexible customization features."

Initial integration of the two productlines as well as third party extensions is to be done through a conversion of the Blackboard Building Blocks and WebCT PowerLinks integration interfaces. Though these interfaces are proprietary, both companies are active in the educational technology standardisation effort. With a bit of luck, the need to lock in customers will be reduced to the point where the Web service architecture alluded to above can be subjected to the open standards process as well.

Up until recently, the merger of the two behemoths could have led to a virtual monopoly in the VLE market, give or take a few smaller rivals such as Desire2Learn and Giunti. As pointed out by Blackboard itself, however, easily as formidable an opposition is provided by the open source Moodle and Sakai products. In some markets, Claroline, .lrn and the UK's Boddington also have a role to play. Recent developments suggest that the rise of Moodle in particular might be able to provide the much needed counterbalance to the new e-learning behemoth.

Resources

Investor press release and general overview page on the Blackboard website.

Blackboard Plans to Acquire Course-Management Rival WebCT in a Deal Worth $180-Million
on the Chronicle of Higher Education website.

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