Blackboard patents the LMS, but does it matter?

Via Stephen Downes, is this post by Michael Feldstein that Blackboard (aka BlackWeb) has been granted a US patent on the learning management system (LMS). My initial reaction was indignation that a greedy corporation was once again trying to stifle innovation in education. Then I read Brent Schlenker’s reaction to my post on the lack of open source learning applications, and Brent correctly noted that there are a lot of learning applications, just not that many “educational” ones;

My point is that we don’t need any specific open source learning applications. That would be just another thing that people need to learn…another interface to learn…another login id and password to remember. We are at our best when we evaluate the existing technologies and leverage them for the purpose of learning. We are at our worst when we try to create our own little system and call it the Learning thingy.

The Blackboard patent may become a defining moment for learning technologies. Let’s use this as an opportunity to cast off the classroom and course metaphors:

In yet another aspect of the invention, provided is a method for providing online education, which includes the steps of establishing a course to be offered online, offering the course to be taken online to a group of student users; and providing access over the network to the course files to a student user who has enrolled in the course. The establishment of the course includes an instructor user generating a set of course files for use with teaching the course, then transferring the course files to a server computer for storage thereat, and then making access to the course files available to a predefined community of student users having access to the server computer over a network.

Let’s use all those wonderful Web 2.0 tools for learning, not schooling. Blackboard spent a lot of time and money filing for this patent and they can have it, because it has no value. It’s no longer about online courses, it’s about learning and performing.

LMS? We don’t need no stinking LMS!

16 Responses to “Blackboard patents the LMS, but does it matter?”

  1. Brent Schlenker

    Phew…I’m glad you agree. I’m not sure why, but I was concerned about writing that post. The big LMS players have been able to capitalize on the evolution of the current educational system with tools like Blackboard, and others. But what they fail to see (or maybe just fail to monetize at this point) is the revolution that is occuring. Its not about the technology…really. It’s about people: People connecting, people creating, people sharing, people searching for meaning.

    I wonder if we simply called a gathering of people coming together to share ideas a “Group”. And if someone in the group was elected to be the “leader” and another scheduled times for the group to meet. Then we created a simple database that tracked attendance and connected each individual’s identity to the group identity. Would that database infringe upon the patent? 🙂

    The true revolution has begun and most people are part of it and don’t even realize it.

  2. Harold

    Joan, that’s a Treasure of the Sierra Madre and/or Blazing Saddles reference 😉

    I wonder if Nuvvo’s technology infringes on the Blackboard patent too?

  3. Bill Fitzgerald

    You are absolutely right — we don’t need no stinking lms.

    A distributed learning network, on the other hand, would be a very useful thing indeed.

    Toward that end, we recently launched, an open source project integrating Elgg, Drupal, Moodle, and Mediawiki.

    We (FunnyMonkey) and the team leads from Elgg are partnering to make this happen. Should be interesting…

  4. Jason Cole

    I had a similar reaction, both the anger and then thinking about how to do it differently. The problem then becomes organizational change and adoption. Getting teachers used to the idea of a non ‘course’ based system when so many are resistant to the current LMS approach is a daunting task. Us techies find it cool and interesting, but a learning 2.0 approach would be hard for most academics.

  5. Kevin Kelly

    To add to Brent’s comments, there are a couple of places in Diana Oblinger’s Educause publication, Educating the Net Generation (, that say LMS solutions are used more for administrative purposes than learning purposes.

    Jason Cole is right (see his 31 July 2006 comment above) that, overall, we face a huge task of convincing faculty and students that the change is warranted, that it will lead to greater learning success, etc., when we have had a hard time doing it until now. However, that doesn’t mean that it is impossible. My metaphor is that I am a tugboat on the side of the Titanic, only able to push a little bit. (Large organizations tend to react slowly!) More importantly than just my pushing, though, is communicating with the tugboats on the other side that are pushing the other way.

    This is why I am going back to study org change!


Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)