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Blackboard Extends Support for Angel LMS 'Indefinitely'

Education customers that are still running the Angel learning management system and wondering what they should do when the product is officially retired have received a reprieve. Blackboard, the company that acquired Angel Learning in 2009, has rescinded its decision to retire the Angel LMS in October 2014. According to Blackboard, the change means that clients running Angel will now be supported "indefinitely" beyond that date. In a statement Blackboard said it would "evaluate the decision on an ongoing basis."

This change of heart arrived as the LMS behemoth announced a major shift in strategy this week that has two aspects.

First, previous LMS acquisitions by Blackboard have resulted in the acquired technologies being subsumed into the main Blackboard Learn platform. But now the company has entered the open source market with the buyout of two service providers that serve Moodle clients, Moodlerooms and NetSpot. Since open source is owned by the user community as a whole, it can't be "subsumed" in quite the same way. So rather than standing on a single LMS leg, Blackboard now appears to want to learn to stand on multiple legs.

Second, according to Academic Platforms President and Chief Technology Officer Ray Henderson, Blackboard has seen dramatic growth in its services business. Instead of encouraging newly acquired customers to join the Blackboard Learn, the company appears to have decided to accommodate its users wherever they happen to reside and to increase its business with them on the services side.

"For the benefit of our customers, we're extending the timetable for clients using Angel so they can leverage a platform they know and trust for a longer period of time," said Henderson. "We recognize that clients continue to be successful with Angel and we want to support that work as part of our larger strategy to support multiple learning platforms."

Blackboard also said it would continue making investments in the Angel product line and incorporating Angel features into its flagship platform, Blackboard Learn 9.1, which already includes many of the acquired LMS' design elements. Blackboard completed and released Angel 8.0 in September 2011; it also released Blackboard Mobile Learn for Angel in 2010.

"There are now many features in the Blackboard Learn product line that are sourced directly from the Angel idea, or at least that were heavily inspired by Angel. But at the same time, the user community around Angel has been quite resilient," said Henderson.

He noted that the response from Angel customers to being part of Blackboard was distinctly more positive than the response the company received from WebCT customers after that company was acquired in 2005. In part, he said, that was a result of Blackboard learning from its previous experience and conducting itself differently as a company.

"We committed to keeping our service levels extraordinarily high there. That was a hallmark of the Angel experience. Now three years in, we still have substantially all of our Angel clients. And they have asked us to extend the end of life [of Angel]. So our response today is that we're just simply removing the 'end of life' idea."

Along with that Blackboard is committing to continued investment in Angel. "We're being careful to set expectations properly. We will continue to develop the platform. We will continue to provide the very robust maintenance and quality support that we have for it. And we will continue to add some enhancements to it," Henderson explained.

That continued investment in the Angel platform won't be at the "same level of investment as our Blackboard Learn platform," he said. "But there are many who would like to use it for an extended period of time. So for us the announcement today is an acknowledgement that that community is still thriving. And as our strategy has moved toward supporting multiple platforms, we just wanted to include our Angel platform, given our heritage there."

On a side note, the company said the Moodlerooms acquisition also brings former members of the Angel management team into the Blackboard fold. That includes David Mills, former vice president and CTO of Angel Learning. Mills moved from Angel in 2011 to Moodlerooms to serve as CTO there. Now he will be part of Blackboard's Moodlerooms subsidiary.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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