The Scam of Online Learning Platforms

Portrait caricatureThere’s an interview in this morning’s Inside Higher Education with Katie Blot, the president of Blackboard Education Services. Universities pay millions of dollars to Blackboard and similar companies for online learning services that are, in fact, available for free on the internet. Everything Blackboard Learn does can be done through a combination of free blogging services, Vimeo/Youtube, Facebook, traditional email and Skype (and, in fact, done much faster and more efficiently than Blackboard’s lumbering counter-intuitive platform does it). And how is it that university administrators can be so far behind the times that they do not know this and hence are willing to pay millions of dollars for unnecessary services that are then passed on to students who can ill afford to have such extra costs tacked onto their already through-the-roof tuition?

“Are you aware,” reads one of the comments that follows the interview,  “that no single piece of academic software is as loathed as your flagship product?” Blackboard Learn is so awkward and counter intuitive that it requires many hours of training for faculty to be able to use it even to provide the most basic of course services, not to mention the more advanced services that are features of Learn. I had to attend two all-day Learn seminars before I was in a position to use it to teach online (and that was after having attended several such seminars to learn Blackboard’s earlier platform Blackboard Vista).

What an enormous waste of time and resources! Universities have full-time information resources staff to teach faculty how to use Blackboard Learn and those people spend much of their time in contact with Blackboard staff soliciting additional help and information, alerting them to “bugs” in the program and suggesting improvements. Most faculty already know how to use the above-mentioned services that are available for free on the internet and the few that don’t could be taught them much faster and more efficiently than anyone can be taught to use Blackboard. And not only do faculty have to be taught how to use Blackboard, students have to be taught as well, students who already posses all the skills they need to take advantage of courses taught using free services.

So why does Blackboard Education Services even exist? Why are universities paying millions of dollars to this company for unnecessary services and wasting staff and faculty time effectively reinventing the wheel? Why? These online learning platform companies are unnecessarily increasing the cost of higher education at a time when that cost is already unacceptably high. Wise up people!