Blackboard makes another acquisition, says it will make good on past acquisitions

By Cale Guthrie Weissman , written on January 15, 2014

From The News Desk

In the world of ed-tech, Blackboard has its tentacles in all directions, for better or for worse. What started in 1997 as a small educational technology business building a learning management system (LMS), was eventually sold to a private investor group for over a billion dollars in 2011. All the while it acquired -- or at least became "engaged" with -- four very prominent LMS providers. In 2012, it bought Moodlerooms and NetSpot, two open-sourced softwares that use the Moodle LMS. This caused some to balk at the idea that Blackboard was buying up other companies willy-nilly, while not focusing on its own core LMS product.

About 13 months ago, Jay Bhatt took over the CEO reins, with the hopes of saving the face of what was beginning to look like an ed-tech Death Star. Today the company has announced yet another acquisition, this one being the Austin-based educational software maker MyEdu, whose platform creates a social profile for students to track and schedule their courses, as well as build profiles that can be matched with future employees. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

In many ways this adds credence to the idea that Blackboard is overextending in all directions. Bhatt, of course, sees things differently. First, he explained that he was looking for a way to better focus on the student experience. He sees MyEdu focusing on integral facets of the higher ed experience, such as student outcomes as well as the general education experience. "We as vendors hadn't focused on it much," he said.

Also, he sees the MyEdu core team he's acquiring as very useful additions to Blackboard's next steps. "[MyEdu has] a very good set of developers and responsive product designers… It's something we're very much investing in as a software company," he told me.

With this in mind, MyEdu will continue to be offered at the same price point as before (that is, free to students), but Bhatt does foresee an integration into Blackboard's LMS somewhere down the line. What's really important to him is that more than a million students have used MyEdu, as well as the fact that the software is now focusing on post-grad job placement. Some have noted a decrease in the number of institutions that used the Blackboard platform, so it makes sense the Bhatt is trying to get the company's software out to more people in a different direction.

At the same time, no matter how good the software is, this appears to be just another Blackboard acquisition. Bhatt is cognizant of both this and his highly scrutinized role as a somewhat new CEO. He told me that he plans on working toward integrating the old acquisitions into Blackboard's core platform to make a more congruous product. "What's really important to note," he said, "is that we haven't really integrated as well as we should in our past acquisitions." So, in making a new acquisition, he is assuring fellow ed-techers that he is aware of the past seemingly gratuitous acquisitions and will make good on them. Or something.

The truth of the matter is that MyEdu is a good product, so it would be sad to see it wasted. So let's hope Bhatt is at least somewhat truthful in his claims. The last thing that should die out in this day and age of unemployed and underemployed post-grads is a platform trying to make student job-matching easier.