For $477 Million

Did you hear about

Pearson’s acquisition
of online courseware giant eCollege? Yeah, $477 mil.

I’ve taught a few courses with eCollege for old U. over the past four years.
I find their platform to be only mildly (.01 micro-measures, to be exact)
better than Blackboard. I did, for what it’s worth, decide this semester that I
will never ever again involve Blackboard as a platform for an online course
unless my employment contract requires it. With eCollege, what’s different is
that everyone I know (who uses it) seems to be gushing about the features.
Within eCollege I know how to change things around, add modules, rearrange parts
of the course, and so on, but I continue to find it excruciatingly cumbersome to
navigate: two and three extra clicks to complete an operation, HTML pastes
commonly (if randomly) introduce extra line breaks with nothing in the code to
explain it, the style sheets cascade in highly unpredictable ways, and–this is
the one that gets me the most–the discussion threads don’t allow for stylistic
emphasis. In other words, the threaded discussions don’t tolerate italics,
boldface, underlining, highlighting, blockquotes, or much of anything. For
eCollege’s discussion threads, it’s plain text with! automatically recognized
URLs. Altogether, this feels like trying to fashion a fine set of dishes
out of molding clay with a scoop of coarse gravel thrown in. That said, their
system for uploading Micro$oft documents is fairly robust. I suppose this works
for plenty of people, but to me it feels like an exhausting, high stakes
labyrinth of propriety encumberanceware.

$477 mil?

I know this sounds highly critical, even ranty. I continue to cling to
a couple of old ties as course developer of three courses whose curricula rely (as contractually stipulated) on the eCollege platform. And so I must
continue to work with it and tolerate its shortcomings. When I saw the
news of the acquisition, I was just thinking that for $477 million dollars
somebody at Pearson might stumble across this entry and consider that even
eCollege could be sharply improved. It would be a shame to allow its
platform to rest on the sole accolade of being better, even by the thinnest
margin, than Blackboard.


  1. Thanks for the link and info, Derek. I use eCollege here at EMU and I have similarly mixed feelings about it. I would never ever never use Blackboard, but I am more on the fence about eCollege. True, it’s cumbersome and kinda stupid in ways, but my students find it very easy to use, my colleagues who know nothing about CMS options or HTML or whatever find it easy to use, and, at least at EMU, it is very well supported.

  2. $477 mil for content. Lots ‘o questions about authorship, ownership, fair use, un-fair use, who gets the company car, and who gets left holding the bag (of “content”). I never did take you up on peeking over your shoulder as you worked on the old U online course/platform. Maybe this summer, ’cause I know you’re going to have buckets of free time with dis and all.

  3. Student satisfaction is true to my experience, too, Steve. The frustrations I have come from some of the features they’ve tried to roll out that never seem very strong. They tried to implement an instructor repository for reusable course materials from term to term, and it’s possible to mark the materials with tags, but they’re never easy to locate in future terms. It’s almost as though the metadata gets stripped away or something. Definitely, I’m with you that it’s stronger than Blackboard.

    And yes, Mike, one thought I had about Pearson’s move to acquire eCollege is whether the publishing side will soon be rolling out eCollege-friendly materials that makes Pearson textbooks a surer sell for eCollege courses. I know it’s cynical to anticipate such a move, but it wouldn’t surprise me much at all. As for checking things out, we should follow up in a week or so. I’m sure I’ll be trying to duck out on the diss for breaths of fresh air from time to time.

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