Today one of the largest providers of course-management software for colleges and schools, Blackboard, announced that it plans to merge with Anthology, a company formed last year from the combination of three other edtech companies.
The move creates a giant company that will reportedly be valued at about $3 billion, though officials did not disclose the terms of the deal.
When it formed last year, Anthology represented the marriage of three sizable companies that all operated in distinct areas of edtech: Campus Management, which offers a student information system; Campus Labs, which offers software for students and campus leaders to manage clubs, events and other student-affair activities; and iModules, which develops alumni engagement software to help colleges fundraise.
A merger with Blackboard would bring Anthology into yet another separate but sizable sector of edtech services, running the systems that manage learning for online and in-person classes. Blackboard is one of the largest LMS providers.
The message from leaders of the companies is that by joining forces, they will be able to offer better interchange of data among the many product lines they operate in.
Colleges have long been rich in data but “information poor” when it comes to how they operate, argued Anthology CEO Jim Milton, in an interview with EdSurge: “The solutions we bring to the table can take academic and administrative systems and break down those seams and help [campus leaders] make more informed and actionable decisions.”
When Instructure, the provider of the LMS Canvas, was sold last year, many professors worried about whether student data would be protected by the new owner.
Bill Ballhaus, Blackboard’s CEO, stressed that Blackboard and Anthology are different from consumer Big Tech companies like Facebook and Google because “we are not in the business of trying to monetize the data.” And when data is integrated among products on a campus, he added, it would be the campus's own data.
Both executives made an almost contradictory argument: On the one hand, that colleges can benefit by buying as many of their tools from Anthology product lines as they can because that will lead to the best integration; but on the other hand, that the Blackboard product will continue its commitment to open standards and integration with as many other products in the edtech ecosystem as possible, meaning the software will still work with other products.
“When you buy more and more solutions from the same vendor, a lot of those solutions are out-of-the-box and the seams and the friction are reduced,” said Milton. “We believe that will result in, ultimately, customers buying more and more solutions from us.”
But he added that the use of standards by the companies means that colleges will be free to choose a mix of offerings without being locked in.
The deal is subject to regulatory approval, but the officials at the two companies said they hope to close the deal by the end of the year.
The move is part of a trend of edtech companies getting bigger, amid record investment in edtech and a global pandemic that has accelerated the use of tech tools by schools and colleges that were forced to do more online.