Research Bulletin 2008

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1 Research Bulletin 2008 August 13, 2008 Volume 3, No. 21 Blackboard Reaches Corporate Learning Market with Low-Cost ProSites Offering About the Author Josh Bersin, Principal Analyst Blackboard Inc., the leading provider of online learning and course management systems (more than $300 million in run-rate revenue) for higher education, grades K-12, and corporate and government markets, has now entered the small to medium business (SMB) corporate learning market. ProSites, a hosted, easy-to-use online learning platform, is designed to help small and midsized organizations (and departments) manage and deploy training at a very low cost. ProSites was launched in August, 2007 and includes Blackboard s easyto-use course management, collaboration, assessments, authoring and reporting tools, with new features for corporate training. Figure 1: ProSites Home Page, LLC

2 The Lack of Low-End Learning Management System Options The Blackboard offering fills a niche in the departmental, small organization entry-level learning management system (LMS) market working groups with tens to hundreds of employees that need an online system which can manage content, provide easy content authoring and help instructors manage courses. Consider a small sales organization, a customer service team or a nonprofit organization that wants to train its constituents. These organizations may not have a systems administrator and rarely have a budget for a corporate LMS. ProSites is easy to administer and is priced for small implementations $9,500 for the first 200 users and $4,500 per year for each additional 100 users (under $50 per user per year). Today, such small workgroups and organizations typically look to a corporate LMS like Learn.com, GeoLearning, NetDimensions, TrainingPartner or SkillPort from SkillSoft. While these systems are priced similarly and have many more features, they require more complex administration and are designed to provide complete end-toend administration (e.g., classroom scheduling, resource management and even e-commerce). These features are useful in corporatewide training applications, but are often too complex for a department or nonprofit institution. The larger, enterprise-class LMS companies (such as SumTotal Systems, Saba, Softscape, Plateau, Oracle, SAP and Cornerstone OnDemand) also provide solutions for midsized organizations through their on-demand offerings. But few have the pricing structure or salesforce to sell a complete solution to a department or organization with only a few hundred employees. Features of the Blackboard ProSites Solution, LLC Course Management As with any LMS, the system enables an administer to create, copy, archive and manage courses. A course can consist of any arrangement of content, collaboration and online activities. Josh Bersin Page 2

3 Research Bulletin 2008 Research Bulletin 2008 Figure 2: ProSites Course Interface Simple Content Authoring The system includes a simple course authoring tool which enables an administrator or instructor to upload materials, build pages, create navigation, include assessments and assignments (which are sent to an instructor), and engage in collaboration. Figure 3: ProSites Authoring Interface, LLC Josh Bersin Page

4 Managing Instructor-Led Programs Perhaps the most valuable use of Blackboard ProSites is the complex and messy process of what the company calls course management. Instructorled training (ILT) programs always include a variety of activities, such as: Lectures and audio materials; Slides and slide notes; Syllabi and assignments; Quizzes and quiz results; Tests and final exams; Workgroup project assignments; Student comments and feedback; Reference materials; Simulations and other high-touch learning activities; and, Online assessments. When any organization of any size develops and delivers instructor-led training, there is a burden of administration placed on the instructor. In the traditional university setting (on which Blackboard has focused for years), the professor or teacher assembles all these materials, reads student assignments (or delegates them to others), monitors the progress of each student, and then delivers a grade. They iterate and improve each and every element of the course each year and, in many cases, the course materials vary during the course itself (i.e., current events may change the content). Without a solution like ProSites, such a process is very burdensome and handcrafted. Corporate LMS systems provide many of these features,, LLC but they are designed for use by course administrators, not necessarily individual instructors. One example of an organization using this is Kids Inc., an organization which teaches secondary school teachers how to understand neurological learning challenges in their students. Kids Inc. teaches these two to three day courses throughout the country at 10 different Josh Bersin Page 4

5 learning locations. The primary author of much of the material is one of the founders of Kids Inc. Through the use of ProSites, this founder can replicate his class materials rapidly, manage many courses easily and collaborate with his co-authors. While ProSites is priced and positioned for use by smaller training and teaching groups and departments (e.g., sales training, customer service training, customer education), class management is a problem in large corporate universities, as well. While many of these organizations may have access to a corporate LMS, we believe ProSites may be easier for instructors to use than the corporate LMS. The corporate LMS is needed to provide scheduling and store the system of record for an employee, but many companies have legacy LMS systems that do not have an easy-to-use interface for such class management needs. Collaboration Our research clearly shows that most organizations (84 percent 1 ) want to improve the collaborative learning experiences in their training Figure 4: ProSites Collaboration Interface, LLC 1 For more information, The High-Impact Learning Organization: WhatWorks in the Management, Governance and Operations of Modern Corporate Training, Bersin & Associates / Josh Bersin, May Available to research members at or for purchase at Josh Bersin Page 5

6 programs. Today, collaboration usually means classroom assignments and perhaps an online discussion room. Modern LMS systems have many features for collaboration, but they are often unused by employees. The reason for this is that they are often not instructor-friendly and are, therefore, not considered by the instructors teaching courses. ProSites collaboration features, while no more advanced that those in other systems, are designed for easy administration by instructors, facilitating collaboration as a course management feature. They are designed to be integrated with course assignments, and to be moderated by both instructors and subject-matter experts making collaboration easy to enable. While these features are not unique to ProSites, they make the solution even easier to justify for a department or workgroup training organization. Testing and Assessment As discussed earlier, almost all instructor-led training (and certainly all educational programs) have some sort of assessment. In the corporate training market, assessment is often used for compliance needs and to aid in the learning process. (Grades are rarely used, but scores are often used to certify completion and learning.) Figure 5: ProSites Assessment Interface, LLC Josh Bersin Page 6

7 ProSites assessment tool is very complete and offers more than enough functionality to enable corporate assessment solutions. It allows organizations to create a variety of question types, establish answer clues and feedback, and provide reporting to the instructor and administrator. ProSites assessment tool is not designed to serve as the backbone of an enterprisewide compliance or assessment solution; but, in a small workgroup or department, it gives the trainer or instructor an easy-touse, integrated solution. Reporting and Analysis In the corporate LMS market, reporting has become a mammoth and complex system. In fact, most corporate LMS reporting tools include ad-hoc report builders, analytics systems, report distribution tools, exception reporting systems and many custom features. ProSites reporting is different. It is focused on the needs of the instructor or administrator, with the primary goal of managing the delivery of training itself. As Figures 6 and 7 show, the system is very easy to use, and provides highly actionable information for the instructor or administrator. Figure 6: ProSites Reporting for Instructors, LLC For administration, the ProSites reporting system also helps the organization understand content usage and general activity level across all parts of the system. Josh Bersin Page 7

8 Figure 7: ProSites Reporting for Content Managers Bottom Line: Should You Consider ProSites for Corporate Training? Blackboard is a well-run, highly successful company. In its core market of universities, and now primary and secondary education, the company has staked out a dominant market position., LLC The corporate training market is different. Buyers here focus on scheduling, tracking, reporting and e-learning features. Corporations want their LMSs to serve as the employee system of record for training, competencies, development plans and even performance management records. In fact, corporate LMS systems are more complex than almost any other form of HR software. Our research on LMS systems 2 helps readers understand these solution providers. 2 For more information, Learning Management Systems 2008: Facts, Practical Analysis, Trends and Vendor Profiles, Bersin & Associates / Josh Bersin, Chris Howard and Karen O Leonard, July Josh Bersin Page 8

9 Yet, regardless of the need for a corporate LMS, there is also major demand for an easy-to-use, low-cost course management, e-learning, authoring and assessment system like ProSites. Our research shows that even the best-run corporate training organizations end up with many LMS systems, often purchased by different departments for different local learning needs. 3 When a small workgroup or department needs a training administration and delivery system, it can rarely afford the time and energy to purchase a corporate LMS, even if it is provided by one of the midmarket solution providers. Also, despite many years of effort in ease of use, most corporate LMS systems are focused on providing features for the training administrator and training manager, not the instructor. ProSites fills a well-known gap meeting the needs of workgroups, teams and departments that cannot access the corporate LMS, or those that simply need a system of their own for rapid deployment and ease of use. While ProSites will not meet the needs of a corporate LMS, it plays an important role for organizations that must develop, deliver, administer and manage training for many hundreds of users., LLC 3 For more information, Learning Management Systems 2008: Facts, Practical Analysis, Trends and Vendor Profiles, Bersin & Associates / Josh Bersin, Chris Howard and Karen O Leonard, July Josh Bersin Page 9

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