Posted by: rmostell | April 28, 2010

McMaster University Selects Blackboard and then Switches to Desire2Learn

McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, is well-known for being a leader in innovative use of technology in education. Two years ago (April 2008) McMaster announced the following on it’s website:

Next generation Learning Management System has been selected

“The Learning Technologies Resource Centre (LTRC) has completed an extensive multi-year project to find the best possible replacement for WebCT Campus Edition 4.1 (currently in use). The LTRC along with the LMS Selection Committee and Senior Administration chose the Blackboard Learning System after extensive analysis of twelve potential products and the teaching and learning needs of the community.”

“McMaster has selected a new learning management system (LMS). The Blackboard Learning System was chosen after an extensive pan-university selection and evaluation process led by the Learning Technologies Resource Centre (LTRC). The new system will replace WebCT 4.1.”

Now two years later (April 15, 2010) the university has reversed itself and selected the Desire2Learn LMS instead.

“McMaster University Switches to Desire2Learn Learning Management System”

So what’s up? Everyone knows it’s a big hassle (and expense) to change the LMS at a large university. Why would McMaster after spending several years to choose Blackboard after having been a WebCT client for years, reverse their decision after such a short period of time. Wasn’t Blackboard living up to their promises to be more like WebCT? Was the Blackboard system too slow and clunky?

The only hint I could find was this January 2010 Daily News article:

Worth Mentioning

ELM Update – Jan. 22

Posted on January 22, 2010 at 11:00 AM.

“Users of ELM, McMaster’s learning management system are reporting better performance, including reasonable speed and fewer problems logging onto the system. Engineers from Blackboard, the company that created ELM, and University staff continue to work on the system and thank you for your patience.”

There’s something about “patience”, “speed” and “problems logging onto the system”.

Perhaps it would be helpful for the LTRC people at McMasters to be more forthcoming and tell all of us at other universities why they made such a big change twice in two years. Maybe this could help some of us to not make the same mistakes.

p.s. For those of you who are listening, Blackboard still lists the ‘138 (Alcorn) patent on their “patent pledge” webpage:



  1. McMaster has posted at least a partial answer to the question of why?

    (Note that ELM is the Blackboard implementation at McMaster.)

    “McMaster is launching a new learning management system to replace the existing ELM application.

    The new system is designed and built by Kitchener-based Desire2Learn and will be launched in time for the start of the September academic term.

    “During this school year, we quickly realized the software that was running ELM did not meet our needs and performed at an unacceptable level,” says Sue Vajoczki, acting director of the Centre for Leadership and Learning. “We apologize to the McMaster community for the problems and inconveniences they experienced this year and we are pleased to move forward with a new system that will provide better service and reliability.”

    The new system includes several important upgrades and features when compared with the existing software. The Desire2Learn system is more stable and reliable, has more face-to-face and on-line training functions, provides extensive help options and allows for the automatic migration of more than 90 per cent of the courses now loaded in ELM.

    The new system was introduced during a town hall meeting for students and faculty where the Centre for Leadership and Learning provided an end-of-term update on ELM.

    Last September McMaster changed learning management systems, switching from WebCT to ELM because WebCT was no longer supported by the vendor and did not have the capacity to handle increased course loads.

    The process to select that system included faculty and student surveys and extensive consultations with the community, potential vendors and others.

    ELM did not meet expectations, however. It sustained serious performance problems during both the fall and winter terms and was not reliable for students and faculty. These issues prompted CLL to revisit other vendors and eventually led to the selection of the new Desire2Learn system.”

    It seems that McMaster was looking for more performance, better service, better reliability, more stability, better help options and better online training. I guess that helps explain why McMaster would commit so many resources to change their LMS a second time in two years.

    Has anyone else had this or similar experiences?

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