Blackboard To Buy Out Angel Learning

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Blackboard is buying out Angel Learning, the maker of a major competing learning management system, Angel LMS.

The two companies today announced the signing of a definitive agreement in which Blackboard will acquire Angel for $80 million in cash and $15 million in stock. Blackboard acquired another major rival, WebCT, back in 2005. The deal with Angel leaves only one major competitor in the commercial learning management space: Desire2Learn, which Blackboard has been pursuing in court for more than two years now in lawsuits involving alleged patent infringement.

However, Michael Chasen, Blackboard president and chief executive officer, told Campus Technology that he does not see a competition issue with the acquisition.

"Actually there's more competition today with course management systems than ever before," he said in a phone interview. "There's multiple open source competitors; there are new entrants that come into the market space every single year. So, from a competitive perspective, even though certainly we've acquired our competitor [in] buying Angel, we're finding more competition today than we ever have in the past."

Chasen said that although there were regulatory issues to be addressed in the prior WebCT acquisition, there were none this time around. Angel, he said, has far fewer clients than WebCT did at the time of the buyout (roughly one-third the number).

The acquisition, Chasen said, will not have any bearing on Blackboard's ongoing patent litigation against Desire2Learn.

Angel's client portfolio includes approximately 400 organizations, according to information released by the companies. Blackboard itself has, in the past, claimed ownership of somewhere between 70 percent and 80 percent of the commercial LMS market in higher education in the United States--about 1,915 colleges and universities, as well as 388 K-12 districts as of April 2008. Today the company said that, with the acquisition, the Blackboard community will total "5,800 K-12 schools, colleges and universities, government organizations, and corporations" around the world.

Chasen said that the acquisition should not impact current Angel customers and that Blackboard will continue development of Angel LMS.

"There really shouldn't be a change for the customers at all," he said. "We have the users conference coming up next week, and we'll actually be there in person, able to meet people, talk with them. Our plan is to release version 7.4 of their software as [had been] planned over the next upcoming week then continue development with upgrades and support after that."

He added that, further down the road, Angel's technologies may be integrated with Blackboard's. "Longer term, what I think the opportunity is here is to share best practices and technology between Angel and Blackboard and bring to [Angel's] user community great new features [and] functionality and to take some of the best of the Angel features [and] functionality to the Blackboard community."

He continued: "I'm talking there much longer term. In the short term we're going to continue to release the next version of the Angel product and continue business as usual."

When asked directly, Chasen would not commit to a version 8 of Angel LMS, saying, "There certainly will be an upgrade in the path for Angel Software. I couldn't even guess what the number version would be or when that would come out."

Angel's education technology portfolio includes its flagship Angel learning Management System and ePortfolio. Its services include managed hosting, consulting, and training.

According to Blackboard, both companies' boards have approved the deal. The acquisition is expected to close this month. Further information about the acquisition can be found in a special section on Blackboard's site here.

About the Author

David Nagel is the executive producer for 1105 Media's online K-12 and higher education publications and electronic newsletters. He can be reached at dnagel@1105media.com. He can now be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/THEJournalDave (K-12) or http://twitter.com/CampusTechDave (higher education). You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=10390192.

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