1. What learner or institutional trends are you observing? How do these differ domestically vs. globally?

Global higher education has reached a point of profound change. This change is being driven as much by changing demographics, increased competition, new patterns of learning behaviors, and the changing needs of employers as it is by innovative use of technology to deliver education services.

These forces for change present new opportunities for institutions and learning organizations that can construct richer, more engaging, and more cost-effective learning experiences for their students. The historical approach to siloed technology systems is no longer enough. Institutions and educators that can develop a holistic view of the learning ecosystem and improve the flow of information along each learner’s journey—be it traditional degree, certificate, or micro-credential—will deliver superior (and sought after) learning experiences.

The learner dynamic has shifted. Today’s learners are more diverse, digital/data savvy, and have high expectations for personalized experiences and control in education. This is, in turn, driving an increasing demand for experimentation in new credentialing models and learning modalities. We’re seeing a wide spectrum of experimentation in all regions of the world, with quicker uptake of new models reaching scale in emerging markets like Latin America and the Middle East, and slower but still very innovative shifts in the traditional degree delivery model in more mature markets like North America and Europe.


  1. What role do you think data and intelligence play in shifting credential delivery models (badges, certificates, diplomas)? 

The sophistication of Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning, and big data usage is in its early days for education, but it is certainly already driving more informed engagement models for learning. Applying big data tools and technologies like AI and machine learning to drive change in credential delivery models comes with new responsibilities for stakeholders involved. As an industry we must align on critical fundamentals like data standards and structures, using secure data exchange technologies like encryption at REST, and never-ending vigilance on data privacy and security.

For example, in a recent study, researchers from Blackboard, University of Maryland Baltimore County, and VitalSource conducted a joint project designed to test whether a predictive model of student achievement using IMS Caliper Analytics® (Caliper) events would benefit from combining data from multiple learning tools: Blackboard Learn and VitalSource. Thanks to open learning analytics standards like IMS Caliper, vendors and institutions alike have the ability to more easily combine data from multiple sources in a way that can increase predictive accuracy and, hopefully, be used by institutions to positively impact course completion rates. Not only can combining data from multiple sources significantly increase the accuracy of predictive algorithms, but open standards can be leveraged to significantly reduce the cost of doing so. This joint research from Blackboard, VitalSource, and UMBC is a great proof of concept for the value of combining data through partnership. As adoption of the IMS Caliper standard increases, it is our hope that our work here might serve as a jumping off point for collaborative efforts by others in the future.

We see great progress in how institutions are using data and intelligence tools to inform how they operate, and perhaps more importantly, how students engage and experience the institution.

We know from examples like Concordia University Wisconsin that it is possible for institutions with a mature advising model to increase student retention by as much as 10 percent using descriptive analytics alone. From our own research, and from the industry in general, we also find that the addition of predictive analytics to an already effective advising program can increase retention rates by an additional 1-3 percent.


  1. How do you see learning technology continuing to shape traditional institutional performance and success?

Educause has said that one of the most influential trends shaping higher education is the impact that information technology has on institutional operational excellence. From my vantage point, this seems spot-on. Higher education institutions are becoming increasingly complex, and they’re also facing significant pressure to reduce costs without compromising quality. Moreover, institutions are being asked to demonstrate their value through hard results, and calls for data-driven decision making are compelling higher education leaders to use their limited resources wisely.Compounding this pressure is the expanding options for learners globally, who are demanding personalization and efficiency at scale. Combined, the traditional model and institution are facing change on multiple fronts.

For years, Blackboard has been helping institutions and educators deliver education with best of breed products and technology. We continue to focus on this as we continually innovate and connect our portfolio of solutions and also extend it through open standards and partnerships. Through our  Blackboard Analytics offerings, we’re also focused on how data can improve both institutional and student success. We’re taking this a step further with our new Blackboard Data offering which will be introduced later this year. The initial version of this offering will include high-impact reporting features and access to data feeds that will support not only student learning but institutional performance.


  1. With the increasing flexibility of technology and learning management systems, more educators have been designing and delivering blended learning experiences within campus-based courses. What do you see as the most important benefits of hybrid courses? Where is innovation taking place, and what kind?

A number of years ago, an instructional designer from the College of Southern Nevada wrote a guest article on Blackboard’s blog that described the six primary benefits of hybrid courses. These benefits ranged from helping instructors utilize classroom time more effectively to providing students with rapid feedback.

Since this article was written, there has been much discussion in the education community about the “flipped learning” instructional model, with MEF University leading the way as the world’s first higher education institution completely focused on this blended learning approach. I’m proud to say that Blackboard is MEF’s partner and that the institution’s strong commitment to blended learning is made possible through our technology.

As a leader in the field of blended learning, MEF has deeply considered the student-centered benefits of flipped learning and has even written a book on the subject to help other universities adopt this model. I highly encourage educators who are interested in the field of blended learning to consider the innovative practices that MEF has introduced.


  1. Asynchronous online courses have made all kinds of education more accessible to a wide range of audiences. How is technology being used to enhance personalization and learner outcomes?

The Personalized Learning Designer (PLD) feature of our Open LMS product is a great example of how technology is advancing personalization and learner outcomes in asynchronous online courses. Together with the Inclusive Thinking Framework that guides Blackboard’s commitment to access and accessibility, the PLD ensures that instructors are able to meet the needs of diverse learners.

Depending on a student’s performance in a course, the PLD will enable the instructor to remediate or accelerate learning paths. These personalized learning paths allow students to get the attention that they need so that they can improve their level of achievement.

This chance to experience higher levels of achievement is precisely why the Montana Digital Academy (MTDA) has used the PLD. This personalized support was implemented in a credit recovery course aimed at students who failed a face-to-face class. By using the PLD, these students were able to complete course objectives that they previously failed. The PLD has allowed MTDA to notify and engage the student, instructor, and other key stakeholders at critical points in the learning journey to facilitate individualized support.

In addition to supporting student success, the PLD has driven the satisfaction of all the key stakeholders at MTDA who are involved in the learning journey. To quote an MTDA administrator, the PLD is a “game changer.” When it comes to personalized learning and addressing the needs of diverse learners in asynchronous online courses, I couldn’t agree more!


  1. In recent years, many companies have been designing add-on products that extend the utility of an LMS. What are some of the most intriguing capabilities that come to mind? How do they enhance the learning journey?

The trend that you’ve mentioned is one that we know well at Blackboard. When we were founded over twenty years ago, we were purely an LMS company, but now we’re much more than that. Today, we offer a range of capabilities that leverage leading technology advancements and address needs across the education spectrum. I’m excited about the potential for our EdTech platform to make an even bigger difference in the lives of students around the world and to help our clients drive institutional performance.

For example, let’s consider Stetson University. With Learn Ultra at its core, Stetson is running a cloud- based LMS with an engaging, contemporary user experience. Blackboard products like SafeAssign (originality detection capability) and Collaborate (video conferencing capability) as well as services like Help Desk (IT support capability) are tied to Stetson’s instance of Learn Ultra. Together, these offerings enable Stetson to provide a cohesive learning experience that facilitates engagement, drives academic effectiveness, and delivers educational insight.

While Learn and Open LMS are at the core of our teaching and learning ecosystem, we also have clients that have made other LMS selections. These clients have the opportunity to not only leverage LMS product extensions like Ally (content accessibility capability) but a wide range of higher education services as well.

Given the education community’s growing interest in accessibility and Universal Design for Learning, we see Ally as a unique and valuable offering in our teaching and learning ecosystem. I’m proud to say that it won top honors last year, securing the Platinum Medal in the IMS Global Learning Awards Program.

The EdTech community is at an inflection point where we are moving out of a phase of digitization, into a phase of data aggregation and the application of technologies like AI and machine learning to enable personalization and proactive measures to drive better outcomes. And I’m excited that because of the foundation we’ve laid in 2018 enhancing the core of our EdTech platform—notably Ultra and mobile—we are now able to add to our focus the delivery of new capabilities like Blackboard Data, our next-generation Analytics product, to give our clients better insights, to enable better decision making, and with that, achieve better outcomes.


  1. With learners being so mobile-connected today, how do you see the future of mobile technology supporting the evolution of learning?

Blackboard has been a leader in anticipating the future of mobile technology and envisioning innovative ways to apply those developments to educational contexts. When mobile phones first started being built with components that enabled contactless transactions, we saw a future where students waved their mobile phones past a reading device when entering their classrooms to help instructors easily take attendance. With our Blackboard Attendance product, we made this vision a reality.

The interrelationship between student success and attendance, our mobile attendance technology, and the reporting that it offers can help instructors identify at-risk students and provide early intervention. This early-warning system helps ensure that students get the help they need before it’s too late, while also making the entire attendance process easier for instructors.

With students’ use of mobile technology broadening to include not only mobile phones but wearables like the Apple Watch, Blackboard has continued to innovate. Last year, we introduced the Blackboard Mobile Credential, a digital version of a student identification card that uses contactless mobile technology on iPhones and Apples Watches to allow students to access campus buildings, pay for meals at the dining hall, and carry out other similar transactions.

Similarly, the student learning that takes place in the Blackboard App will continue to evolve. Though mobile technology has significantly advanced during the past several years, it can sometimes be difficult to find a data signal. This issue presents a significant barrier to mobile learning. To solve this problem, we added offline capabilities to the Blackboard App. As much as innovation requires us to push forward, it sometimes means that we have to keep pace with other technologies to appropriately meet student needs…but rest assured that our foot is still on the gas!

That’s all to say that we believe mobile technology is a powerful enabler of educational engagement. It can make learning timely and engaging and administrative tasks simpler and easier. As time passes, these basic principles are unlikely to change—I expect that they’ll continue to serve as the springboard for mobile learning innovation.


  1. How do you see career training/professional degree programs evolving?

I believe the traditional education models will continue to be disrupted by many forces for the foreseeable future. With the shifting needs of the global job markets, we’ll continue to see the rapid development (and success and failure) of alternative pathways that allow learners to get ”just-in-time”education for professional needs and progression. I predict that we’ll continue to see innovative partnerships formed like Purdue Kaplan or Google and Coursera that will allow learners to access a variety of credentialing options via many providers and platforms.

To support this shift over the longer term, we’ll see an uptick in education credentialing focus and standards as well as new ways to deliver credential validation, management, and payment capabilities. In short, I think we’re just seeing the dawn of how the education industry as we know it will innovate to reinvent how people obtain, share, and apply knowledge for life.



Lily Ladd serves as Chief Strategy Officer for Blackboard Inc. In this role, she oversees key functions including corporate strategic planning, global industry strategy, portfolio and platform strategy. She has over 15 years of experience architecting and driving large scale, strategic technology transformation initiatives primarily in the education and media sectors. Prior to joining Blackboard, Lily led National Public Radio’s (NPR) cross-functional strategy and partnerships team. Earlier, she led strategy and technology transformation projects for Deloitte Consulting’s technology practice. Lily holds a Bachelor of Science degree in media production from Boston University and a Master of Business Administration degree in technology management from American University.