Recently Blackboard, the learning management system (LMS) company, announced its plans to seek new business using one of the open source way's most attractive tools to educators: offering their services for free (as-in-no-cost).
Meanwhile, Moodle, the free and open source software LMS, is working to maximize community resources and sharing in its next release (see the Moodle 2.0 release preview).
With this path, Blackboard looks to be going after the low-hanging fruit that was formerly a major argument for Moodle adoption.
There's a great video by Chronicle writer Jeff Young that highlights leaders from the world's two largest LMS firms: Martin Dougiamas of Moodle and Ray Henderson of Blackboard. They quickly discuss their views on the future of LMSes and each organization's present situation and short-term goals. It's a must-watch video to see how two very different products are strategically tackling the hurdles before them (check out the video here or embedded below).
For Moodle and Martin Dougiamas (lead developer and founder), it's the release of Moodle 2.0 that focuses on refining the LMS and positioning collaboration (rather than publishing) as its main focus. Its future focus shifts to mobile as a learning and content/collaboration tool. Paired with a greater focus on analytics (reporting), these could be two important areas by which Moodle adds value to educational institutions worldwide (not to mention that this code will be available for free to anyone with the ability to download, install and manage it).
Ray Henderson, president of the Blackboard Learn platform mentioned at Educause last week that Blackboard will be rolling out a free version of its latest products, which will be both hosted and supported, directly to teachers. Blackboard's first foray into providing a free version of its services was actually forced upon it when it acquired Elluminate earlier this year. Elluminate had been hosting a free version of Elluminate Live at LearnCentral, which has seen a good measure of success.
Moodle.org and its commercial partners, to date, have refrained from offering free hosting to individual teachers, which could spell a huge advantage to Blackboard's ability to attract new users (which presumably is a lead generation tool). There are free hosting companies available in the Moodle market. However, none are connected to Moodle's Partner network, and some have shuttered their doors or restricted registration due to their inability to find a working business model.
As Henderson mentions in the video, Blackboard is taking cues from the open source community and may have found an answer to eroding market share by offering services directly to teachers. Attracting first adopters at any institution can give Blackboard the all-important foot in the door, which it will need to stave off Moodle partners offering a similar model of software as a service. And that's not to mention Blackboard's arsenal of add-ons, integrations, and tools already available.
To apply an idea from Chris Anderson, author of Free, Blackboard might beat Moodle's "free" by becoming even more free. Blackboard is taking aim to undercut Moodle. For years Moodle has leveraged its zero cost to attract organizations with the wherewithal to install and manage the software. With this move, however, Blackboard eliminates barriers that previously prevented individual teachers from adopting an LMS.