IBM and Amazon Are Sorta Strange Bedfellows in Blackboard Deal

June 30, 2016, 12:19 PM UTC
student computers classroom
College students studying at computers in classroom
Photograph by Getty Images

IBM announced Wednesday that it’s helping Blackboard, the educational tech company that many schools and universities use to devise lesson plans and automate assignments, move to the cloud.

What that press release did not say was that the cloud in question here is not IBM’s but Amazon Web Services. This is of note because IBM, like Microsoft (MSFT) (MSFT)and Google (GOOG) (GOOG), like the rest of the tech universe, is trying hard to compete with AWS.

From the IBM (IBM) release:

Under the agreement, IBM will manage much of Blackboard’s technology infrastructure, including the company’s 28 global data centers and its existing public cloud footprint. IBM will also provide support for Blackboard’s expanding use of the public cloud. Blackboard will leverage IBM’s expertise and software to offer customers some of the most flexible, reliable, security-rich and resilient environments available.

That public cloud expansion will be to Amazon’s (AMZN) cloud. Another report mentioned both of Blackboard’s partners.

The Battle for Cloud Supremacy

IBM is a big company and the business unit involved here is Global Technology Services, which helps customers deploy and use technology from whatever provider the customer is comfortable using. Blackboard will also use IBM’s Watson artificial intelligence capability going forward, according to the IBM release.

For those unfamiliar with online courses, Blackboard’s computer services are used widely by school systems and universities to digitize education. The technology is used to design lesson plans, make assignments, and receive those assignments.

For more on technology in education, watch:

Barbara Brammer, assistant administrative director at Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass., said over the past decade schools have had to adapt to the arrival of students well versed in social media and who expect to get their information digitally.

“These students would come in with their devices, and teachers were handing them pieces of paper. That had to change,” she said.

Teachers use Blackboard templates or “shells” to build coursework, and IT administrators manage credentials and access. Blackboard competitors include Moodle and Instructure. The explosion of massive open online courses or MOOCs, like edX, the free online curricula backed by Harvard University, MIT, and other top institutions, and Coursera have helped drive the digitization of education to meet demand.

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One researcher estimates that the market for online learning will grow at a 36% compound annual growth rate from $1.83 billion in 2015 to $8.5 billion by 2020.