A Reaction to Blackboard Buying MyEdu

Since learning today that Blackboard acquired MyEdu, I’ve been asked to share my opinion several times. So I’ll bite. I have to admit that when I read the news I felt excited for the organization for the first time in a long time.  While I worked there, the company acquired many others, and I’ll never forget the feeling of working for the “winning side” during the first major acquisition of the company’s then-largest competitor, WebCT. But I have to admit that the news left me wondering why MyEdu?

Had Blackboard’s own social profile tools not taken off as hoped? Is MyEdu somehow envisioned as a solution to Blackboard’s fragmented collection of e-Portfolio products? Was this an attempt to generate some press when other organizations seem to be getting much more coverage? Is it a genuine attempt to become a more student-focused organization? Did Blackboard just want to hire a team of highly-talented software designers in one fell swoop? I shrug.

If Blackboard was looking to guide students through their college careers, I would have expected an acquisition more like Desire2Learn’s purchase of Degree Compass.  If Blackboard was looking to provide a lifelong learning profile, I think most students would be more likely to choose LinkedIn. If it was looking to provide students with help finding jobs, they already have an existing featured partner (Internships.com) who does this (our LMS usage research shows that over 400 Blackboard Learn environments have this plugin installed).

As I researched the organization more, I was disappointed to learn that MyEdu has a long history of controversy. Given Blackboard’s own history, I would not have thought it would have taken on such baggage. Additionally, MyEdu touts one million users acquired since their founding in 2008. If we assume that these users are distributed evenly among college freshmen through seniors, roughly one quarter of these users would churn each year (assuming that they sign up as freshmen and four-year graduation rates) – providing a relatively short time frame within which to monetize their free user accounts (in contrast with Amazon or Google who hone our buying preferences over longer time periods). But who knows, maybe the model is workable, or maybe they simply have something else in mind to do with the company. Or maybe as Blackboard’s CEO says, it’s just “very cool.”

Whatever the reason and whatever the goals, I am hopeful that this acquisition fills a huge experience gap for the organization. Blackboard for the longest time operated solely within the bounds of an enterprise software company avoiding the strategies of indirect monetization that are common at other technology companies. Save recent efforts to sell Blackboard Mobile Learn directly to students and efforts to promote CourseSites as a free tool directly to individual teachers, Blackboard does not have much experience with a direct-to-consumer user acquisition model. As enterprise software becomes increasingly challenged by new models and preferences, I’m not at all surprised by the type of acquisition. And I hope that Blackboard is able to draw on MyEdu’s experience to worthwhile ends.

This post written by George Kroner