A Journey From 1997-2017: Twenty Years of Evolution That Have Transformed Education

Christina Gómez
05/12/17
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Technology has always played a role in education. During the 19th century, it was the chalkboard that changed how teachers interacted in the classroom.1 During the 20th century, the advent of record players, radios, televisions, and eventually computers, led to the emergence of distance education and greatly increased student access to education. However, the greatest changes have taken place in the last twenty years, with the emergence of e-learning.2 As Blackboard celebrates its 20th anniversary, let’s take a few minutes to look at how education has evolved during this time.

1997 – In 1997, there were 120 million internet users around the world, and a little over 1 million websites available. Now, there are over 3.7 trillion users and 1.2 trillion websites as this article is being written, which is a staggering change.3

1997 – Blackboard Inc. is founded as a technology company, gaining recognition from its inception for providing effective student-driven learning solutions. Since then, the company’s portfolio has evolved to be much broader, spanning teaching and learning software, data analytics tools, community engagement solutions, and campus transactions and security solutions.

Illustration 1997 to 1999 - Blackboard Inc. is founded as a technology company

1997 – 1999 – Big data emerges as an important part of the internet. In 1997, Michael Lesk estimated the internet consisted of 12,000 petabytes and would increase tenfold each year. In 1999, data pioneer Richard W. Hamming wrote about the need to analyze this growing body of data which he described as “big data.” Such analysis can provide insights resulting in the development of intelligence and research models. Eventually, the emergence of big data will lead to the development of learning analytics, helping instructors identify and assist struggling students.4

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1998 – Launch of Blackboard Learn, the first learning management system to gain widespread use. Because of its innovative take on education, content delivery capabilities, and interactive tools, Blackboard Learn eventually becomes the most widely used LMS in the world.

Sept. 4, 1998 Google is launched and transforms education by making it easier to find and transmit information.5

Illustration 1998 to 2000 -Launch of Blackboard Learn, the first learning management system to gain widespread use

October 1999 Connexions is founded as a global repository of open educational resources6. In 2012, it became known as OpenStax, and now has thousands of modules, textbook collections and authors in over 40 different languages.7

2000 – Students graduating from colleges and universities shortly after the millennium face a drastically different job market featuring new types of technologies and jobs.8

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2001 – Creative Commons, a non-profit community, develops alternative licenses to copyright. This significantly eases the legal sharing of materials and is a boon to the development of open educational resources.9

Jan. 15, 2001 Wikipedia is launched making encyclopedias obsolete and transitioning research from libraries to the internet.10

Illustration 2001to 2002 - This significantly eases the legal sharing of materials and is a boon to the development of open educational resources

2002 The term “gamification” comes into play. It is used to teach students in an alternative way by using game-like platforms to impart knowledge. At this time, education is going through radical changes, bringing in new technology and games into the classroom.11

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Aug. 20, 2002Martin Dougiamas launches Moodle, an open-source LMS created as a way to help educators simply design collaborative online courses.12 Its open source characteristics allows teachers to make changes to the software according to their own needs, for the platform to be a collaborative effort where anyone can edit or update it for the benefit of the community, and for anyone to develop their own plugins that can also be shared with the rest of the world.

October 2002 Tim O’Riley popularizes the term Web 2.0, emphasizing user-generated content, usability and interoperability. Web 2.0 opened the door to the creation of collaborative tools that would bring significant impact to education and allow students to play a greater role in generating content.13

Illustration 2002 to 2005 -Martin Dougiamas launches Moodle

Feb. 4, 2004Facebook launches – and with it the social media frenzy.14 Social media platforms have had a profound impact on the classroom, at times being leveraged as a learning platform, a communication tool, a virtual meeting room, and a vehicle for accessing authors and other personalities.15 

Feb. 14, 2005 YouTube launches, and its teaching and learning capabilities soon emerge. In 2009, YouTube launched YouTube EDU, a volunteer project aimed at collecting and highlighting the best educational content available on YouTube.16

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2006 – Twitter is born. The new social media platform allows users to ‘tweet’ (post) messages containing 140 characters or less, by combining social media with the ease of instant messaging.17 Twitter has shown to improve student engagement through regular teacher participation on the platform.18

2006 – The “maker” movement emerges with the growing availability of consumer 3D printing machines. On-demand manufacturing of 3D printing machines comes into play, making printing machines commercially viable.19 With 3D printing, students can create prototypes and build anything they imagine.20

Illustration 2006 to 2007 - Twitter is born

June 29, 2007 Apple introduces its iPhone, giving way to the smartphone as we know it today21. The widespread availability of the smartphone allows students easy and convenient access to information. It is estimated that in 2017, 2.32 billion people around the world have smartphones,22 and the average age that a child gets their first smartphone is now 10.3 years.23

Nov. 19, 2007Amazon introduces the Kindle, the first e-book reader to offer instant online book purchasing. E-book readers offer less waste, lower price points, convenience and instant purchasing – great benefits for students.24

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2008The Khan Academy is created by Salaman Khan, with the mission to provide a free, world-class education to anyone, anywhere. Courses are made up of bite-sized videos, coupled with step-by-step problems and constant feedback, for a personalized learning experience. Classes range in all types of topics, with the aim to expand into every language so learners worldwide can learn about any topic of interest.25

2008 – Artificial Intelligence (AI) starts to appear in thousands of people’s homes and mobile devices around the world,26 with the capability of speech recognition and the creation of robots for everyday tasks. Although still young, AI in education can potentially automate grading, aid in personalized learning, and identify learning gaps and offer tips to improve them.

Illustration 2008 to 210 Artificial Intelligence starts to appear in thousands of people’s homes and mobile devices around the world

May 2009 – Blackboard Inc. expands its open source LMS capabilities with ANGEL Learning, enhancing Blackboard’s customer support ability and increasing the suite of tools available on Blackboard Learn, including a tool developed by ANGEL which helps teachers with at-risk students.

April 3, 2010Apple introduces the iPad, a tablet device that is being widely used to teach children in developing countries how to use technology.27

July 2010 – Blackboard Inc. launches Blackboard Collaborate, a web conferencing solution that enables virtual classrooms where students can see their teacher, raise their hand, make comments, and even form groups to work on assignments. Blackboard Collaborate offers an experience in digital learning that includes interpersonal interaction, thus combining both the synchronous and asynchronous learning methods into online learning.

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December 2010 – Blackboard Inc. develops Blackboard Analytics, a tool that analyzes student LMS usage, grades, and interaction and engagement data to identify at-risk students and improve student success. Never before have teachers had the opportunity to receive concise data on student class engagement and satisfaction, helping them to be more in control of their classroom and help students in need. 

2011 Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig’s Stanford University Artificial Intelligence Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) enrolls 160,000 students from around the world.28

2012 Leveraging the success of his AI MOOC, Sebastian Thrun launches Udacity, a MOOC provider that offers hundreds of free courses as well as nanodegrees to improve learners’ employability skills.29 The goal is to deliver credentials endorsed by the employer, while educating at a fraction of the cost over the traditional school model.30

Illustration 2010 to 2012 - Blackboard Inc. develops Blackboard Analytics

2012 Harvard University and MIT launch their own MOOC provider, EdX which partners with more than 90 partners globally, including some of the world’s leading universities, offering courses to students around the world.31 At the same time, Daphne Koeller and Andrew Ng, two Stanford University computer science professors, launch their own MOOC provider, Coursera.32

2012 Adaptive Learning, an educational method that uses technology to achieve personalized learning by monitoring and adapting learning materials to the student’s unique needs, gains traction.33

March 26, 2012 – Blackboard Inc. expands its open source offering with Moodlerooms and NetSpot, both Moodle solutions hosted on the Blackboard cloud and which offer hosting support and consulting services to clients using open source technology.

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2014 – Mobile learning grows to become an important aspect of e-learning and distance education. Globally, there are more people with access to a mobile device than a computer,34 with teenagers being mostly cellphone users.35 Educational mobile applications start to become more popular, offering more flexibility since learning can be done anytime, anywhere.36

August 2015 – Blackboard Inc. welcomes Nivel Siete into the Blackboard family. Through this addition, Blackboard expands its presence into the Latin American market, while also spreading the use of Moodlerooms, its open source LMS, and providing customers with learning solutions, hosting, support and consulting services.

Illustration 2014 to 2016 - Blackboard Inc. adquiere Nivel Siete

December 1, 2015 – Blackboard expands its analytics offering with Blue Canary, a higher education predictive analytics engine that helps institutions glean powerful data-driven insights and use them to improve student success.

2016 – The Internet of Things (IoT), the connection of everyday objects over the internet, gains worldwide recognition from the media even though it’s been around for decades.37 Today, schools are using IoT to track school buses and student attendance.38 Even though IoT is still in its infancy stage, its impact on education could be significant if classrooms and entire campuses become connected to the internet.

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March 28, 2016 – Oculus Rift is released to the general public, and with it comes the possibility of taking virtual reality and augmented reality into the homes of thousands of people. Although Oculus Rift was created for gaming, today, virtual reality headsets are being used in higher education to give students a better understanding of the world around them.39

Oct. 26, 2016 – Blackboard Inc. further enhances its portfolio offering with the addition of Fronteer, a leading educational technology company that specializes in student engagement and accessibility, solidifying its commitment to accessibility for all learners, with all types of learning styles and abilities.

Illustration 2016 to 2017 -  Blackboard Inc. launches Blackboard Ally on Global Accessibility Awareness Day

May 18, 2017 – Blackboard Inc. launches Blackboard Ally on Global Accessibility Awareness Day. Blackboard Ally is a system that integrates with an institution’s existing LMS that helps institutions gain greater insight into the accessibility of their digital course content and makes user generated content more accessible through the creation of accessible versions of course materials.

Technological advances have led to profound educational changes over the last 20 years. The classroom of 2017 is an interactive and globally connected place where data insights drive personalized assistance to students that ultimately helps them succeed. Blackboard is proud to be a part of this digital revolution. Today we are excited to explore new technologies and services that have the potential to greatly improve student and institutional access and success, whether it be artificial intelligence, data analytics, universal accessibility, natural language processing, or adaptive learning. And we are committed to innovating for an even brighter, more informed future of education.

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12 Moodle.Org. History. On: https://docs.moodle.org/33/en/History. Consulted on August 2017

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24 Forbes. Kindle Most Popular Device For Ebooks, Beating Out iPad; Tablets On The Rise. On: https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeremygreenfield/2013/10/30/kindle-most-popular-device-for-ebooks-beating-out-ipad-tablets-on-the-rise/#6b6c0f323927 Consulted on August 2018

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