McGraw-Hill and Blackboard: Partnering to Create the Learning Experience of the Future


With new digital learning options come new digital demands. Educators and students demand faster, more user-friendly textbooks to match their faster, more user-friendly learning management systems (LMS); the large, awkward textbooks of old just do not work in a more digitized, immediate environment. And with online education growing by 150% between 1998 and 2008, viable solutions are absolutely necessary. Free external options such as websites and Wikis have been trickling in and providing open resources featuring the latest research. But other innovators reach out right where consumers need them — within the LMS platforms themselves.

Blackboard and McGraw-Hill Higher Education apply that same approach to a bold and successful partnership. Their cloud-based providences directly address the mounting need for uniquely 21st century classroom materials.

“McGraw-Hill Connect is integrated into Blackboard Learn,” says Stacey Fontenot, vice president of marketing at Blackboard.”McGraw-Hill Connect is an eLearning system that includes the core textbook, assignments, and assessments. It is important to note that this is not just an e-textbook solution; it is essentially a ‘whole course solution.’ ”

How It Works

McGraw-Hill and Blackboard organized their collaboration as a direct result of educators’ demands. As online classes increased in popularity over the past decade, it makes sense that teachers and students would gravitate towards an equally convenient textbook option.

“The relationship was inspired by a market need defined through research and delving into problems faced in online instruction. For several years, instructors have been asking for content inside their learning management systems,” says Fontenot. “In combining the two technologies, the companies increase instructor efficiencies: a single sign-on into one system and one gradebook instead of two for all grades.”

Available all over the world, save for China and India, the partnership between the two higher education juggernauts yields two tempting options — McGraw-Hill Connect and McGraw-Hill Create.

Connect offers up an immersive, multimedia textbook experience. Most major academic subjects are covered, updated regularly, and illustrate major points with engaging graphics, video, audio, and more. McGraw-Hill offers webinars and other instructional resources to help educators get the most out of the tool.

As the name implies, Create provides a higher degree of customizing than Connect. Instructors browse thousands of different resources — mostly textbooks — and add excerpts, articles, and other learning materials for a personalized classroom resource. Unlike traditional textbooks, the content only reflects the courses’ unique needs, jettisoning anything irrelevant. They can even upload and share their own media for further personalization.

No matter which route teachers take, the partnership between the two companies provides a simple, friendly interface.

“Users simply log into Blackboard — with that single sign-on, they can directly access all of their course tools and content from McGraw-Hill Education right within the Learn environment,” says Brian Sylvester, executive marketing manager of digital integration at McGraw-Hill Higher Education. “As students submit assignments, their scores are automatically synchronized with the Blackboard gradebook. All course resources and performance data are accessible in a single online environment.”

Fontenot explains that many instructors use the printed textbook as primary and supplement with digital. “It is clear that there is an appetite for going digital and that it is getting closer to reaching a critical mass, but the level of engagement in an online course solution is still in its early phases,” she says.

Who Benefits — and Why

Digital textbooks have yet to fully overtake their print predecessors. But the ease and convenience of direct integration into learning platforms might very well lead to a complete, not-so-hostile takeover in the near future.

Teachers and Students

Because the McGraw-Hill and Blackboard partnership is cloud-based, teachers and students constantly access the must updated research and information. Rather than waiting on new textbook editions to finally see print, they need only log in to learn the latest.

“With vetted and peer-reviewed content available, faculty [members] don’t need to spend as much time building core content; instead they can focus on how to add to their course based on an incident that happened in the class or a current event. Instructors can easily adapt to student needs,” says Fontenot.

This immediacy also increases an online course’s scalability. “Using pre-packaged content helps an instructor go from teaching 50 to 300 students without the time commitment of creating another course shell,” she says.

Enhanced convenience leads to enhanced grades. Not only do students receive the most current data available in any given field, the easy logistics of integrated digital textbooks frees up their time for more important matters — like tackling challenging coursework requiring additional attention, which has actually led to greater classroom performance.

“The result [of tools, like McGrawhill Connect and LearnSmart, integrated with Blackboard] is a more efficient education for all parties involved — instructors save time designing, delivering and reporting their courses; students become more effective learners; and administrators enjoy lowered support costs and higher completion rates.”

Best of all, these perks come at no additional cost to either the teacher or the student: “As neither McGraw-Hill Education nor Blackboard charge for the integration itself, the service truly is a win-win,” he says.

The Companies Themselves

Blackboard and McGraw-Hill also mutually gain from the partnership. They maintained their status as industry leaders in their respective higher education sectors by considering consumer demands and meeting them. In this instance, a need for instant resources congruent to the immediate nature of online learning.

“[Blackboard and McGraw-Hill] have mutual goals in moving educators from print to digital solutions,” Fontenot notes. “McGraw-Hill can reach more instructors through the required campus-wide LMS, and Blackboard can offer high-quality, trusted, and proven content to its end users.”

As both companies grow, they learn how to best approach shifting needs regarding digital textbooks. Though the McGraw-Hill and Blackboard partnership is not the only one of its kind, it remains one of the most notable and popular — and one whose tenets could easily inspire future collaboration among other companies.

Similar Collaborations and Open Ed

Neither Blackboard nor McGraw-Hill work exclusively with one another. They both experiment with different integrated textbook techniques in order to establish some semblance of best practices. And, of course, advance the cause of online, collaborative, and open education.

Blackboard also partners with WileyPLUS, Cengage Learning’s Mindtap, Macmillan, Pearson’s MyLab, and, starting this summer, VitalSource. Each arrangement boasts its own unique features, offering schools different options suitable for different needs. Some allow for customization, others full digital versions of print textbooks along with instant updates when new research materializes.

But it isn’t just Blackboard stepping out and enjoying a few partnerships on the side. McGraw-Hill provides its own opportunities for learning platforms to integrate their textbooks.

“In addition to our partnership with Blackboard, McGraw-Hill Education also offers an LMS agnostic integration service, MH Campus, that enables single sign-on access and gradebook integration with more than 90% of the LMS in use at higher ed institutions today,” Sylvester says.

“The underpinnings of this integration are standards-based, leveraging Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) from the IMS Global Learning Consortium,” he continues. “These standards have provided a FERPA-compliant framework for many content, tools, and platform providers to securely integrate their offerings in an efficient and consistent manner.”

All these initiatives not only revolutionize online education by meeting the consumers’ need for convenient, integrated textbooks, but they further promote the concept of open ed as well. Though they require schools to subscribe, their structures reflect major characteristics of the open education movement — collaboration and customization.

The Future

Textbooks fully interwoven with learning platforms illustrate more of a permanent trend than an experimental fad. They make perfect sense within the context of online education. Because arrangements such as the one between Blackboard and McGraw-Hill are convenient, time-saving, come at no additional cost, and improve student performance, it is not a stretch to say they occupy an integral spot in open and online education.

“As all digital tools and content are becoming increasingly interoperable, educators and students are demanding a similar experience from their learning resources,” says Sylvester. “The partnership gives our joint customers the freedom to select the content items and assessments they wish to assign to students and deploy them directly within the Blackboard Learn environment — tearing down the walled gardens that existed previously between systems.”

Sylvester notes how the increasing number of academics taking advantage of the McGraw-Hill and Blackboard collaboration bodes positive for online and open education’s future: “This shift is further evidenced by the sizable portion of our customer base accessing course materials via these channels today and the number of other providers working to develop similar capabilities for their offerings.”

Only one major concern compromises integrated digital textbooks’ survival. Academia’s notorious hesitance to experiment with new technological innovations prevents it from fully implementing integrated textbooks.

After dismantling this final roadblock, partnerships such as Blackboard and McGraw-Hill’s will likely transition from a major niche to mainstream success. Their advantages fit snugly into a higher education environment valuing open, collaborative, and digital learning options. Shunting integrated textbooks to the sidelines does teachers and students a major disservice, wasting their time and maybe even lowering grades. The future of higher education should involve integrated technology, even if it means using it to initially supplement instruction rather than to completely replace older methods. If schools truly hope to further the cause of online and open options, these virtual publications absolutely need to be available.