Blackboard Redesign: UX Case Study (Abridged Version)

Identifying and addressing Blackboard Learn's most prevalent usability issues from the student's perspective.

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Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with Blackboard Inc. and do not wish to undermine the hard work their team has put into their service. I have no access to business analytics that would further inform my design decisions, so the conclusions I come to are based solely off of information gathered from self-initiated research. The solutions I propose in this case study are not meant to be taken as comprehensive or definitive in any way.


February - April 2021


Solo UX Designer



What is Blackboard?

Blackboard Learn, created in 1997, is a learning management system (LMS) that can be used to supplement or replace traditional in-person learning. In 2016, Blackboard released Learn Ultra: an improved version of Learn that offered cloud-hosting and the option to enable a more modern interface.


The main challenge was to increase the usability of the product. Research on the company and the reasons behind its downfall revealed another key challenge: redesign the interface while maintaining some level of the fidelity to Learn Original.

The old design

User research


9 students were recruited for this study. Each student had three rounds of usability testing/interviews via Zoom.

In the first round of interviews, the goal was to understand how they interact with Blackboard and how they feel about the features they use the most.

In the second round, we tested wireframes of the redesign. In the third, we tested high-fidelity prototypes.

Common pain points

Homepage - Cluttered homepage; all participants stated that they only use the course widget on the homepage.

Course page - Students didn't like the inconsistencies between course layouts. In particular, the course menu (the black navbar on the left) differed wildly between courses, always dependent on how the professor chose to set it up.

Grades page - Grades are inconsistent (sometimes it shows a percent, sometimes it shows a point total) and inaccurate (the percent or point total it shows you usually isn’t representative of your actual grade).


* Stress: 0 students said Blackboard decreased their stress; 2 said Blackboard had no effect on their stress; 3 said Blackboard increased their stress; 4 had mixed opinions (Blackboard may increase their stress or have no effect on their stress depending on the instructor, Blackboard increased their stress when they were new to the system but has no effect now, or their stress increases at the beginning of each semester due to inconsistencies between course layouts).

The redesign

Click images to enlarge

homepage of redesign
  • Usability testing showed that courses were the most highly utilized widget on the homepage; made it stand out more to offer a visual hierarchy that wasn't in the original design.
  • Reduced the homepage to the necessities; 9/9 users said they thought the homepage was extremely cluttered, and most felt as though they only needed courses, grades, a to-do/assignment list, and a calendar.
  • Option to show/hide class schedule and school events is a useful function for some as well as a way to differentiate calendar from the What's Due widget (initially, both were solely for assignment listings, which made some users think that the What's Due widget was redundant).
filter due assignments function on redesign
  • An easy and organized way for students to see upcoming assignments, access those assignments, and filter by timeframe and course.
  • In the user-tested wireframe, this widget didn’t have the option to filter by—it just showed you assignments due in the next two weeks for all your courses. But users said they wanted this widget to have a feature that let them filter due assignments by a specific timeframe (one week, two weeks, etc.) and specific courses.
"edit course title & color" function on redesign

Edit course title/color

  • Title: Some students complained that course titles were too long, and that they just ended up looking at the professor’s name to know which class they were going into. In this prototype, they can change a course’s title from something like “2021_SPRNG_SEM_10132_ENGLSH_101” to “English 101”.
  • Colors: More differentiation between specific courses, more personalization, and sets a precedent for the colors throughout the website (see course and grades page).
"edit course list" feature from redesign

Edit course list

  • Usability testing revealed that many students’ Blackboards on Learn Original still showed classes that they had taken in the past. If Blackboard has this malfunction, it can easily be fixed by clicking the "edit course list" button on this redesign.
  • One student didn’t like that my redesign showcased grade percentages on the homepage. The show/hide grades option was added under "edit course list" on the basis of discoverability rather than findability due to its lacking in urgency/demand as a feature.

"edit homepage" function on redesign

Edit homepage

This feature wasn’t in the high-fidelity prototype that users did usability testing on. However, one student suggested that What's Due be replaced with an announcements section. When I brought it up in subsequent interviews, there was a 50-50 split for those who agreed and disagreed. I thought the best middle ground would be an edit homepage option, where you can move, remove, and add widgets to the homepage, giving a more personalized experience.

courses page of redesign
  • Kept announcements as the first thing that shows up because a third of users said they liked that announcements was the first thing they saw upon opening a course.
  • Kept the course menu layout very similar to that of the Original experience in order to maintain fidelity. However, fixing course menu inconsistencies between classes is out of the scope of this redesign.
  • Colored strip near course name corresponds with the color set for that course on the homepage; gives a more personalized experience and is consistent with colored strips on the grades page.
grades page of redesign
  • Similar to that of Blackboard Original’s grade page layout for increased fidelity to original experience.
  • Colored strips near course names correspond with the color set for that course on the homepage; gives a more personalized experience and is consistent with colored strip on the course page.
  • Weighted categories - Ideally, if grading software (out of the scope of this redesign) is created and deployed that enables instructors to input grades into weighted categories that automatically do the calculations and generate accurate percent totals, students should no longer have to go through the stress-inducing hassle of having to calculate their grades manually (like they often have to do with Learn Original).
gif showing process of viewing submission feedback
  • Submission feedback was not integrated into the user-tested wireframe but was suggested by multiple students because they had trouble accessing instructor feedback on the current Blackboard.
  • Includes easy switching from assignment details to view submission and submission feedback, a functionality that wasn’t quite there on the current Blackboard.

* Stress: All 9 students said that they believe this redesign would decrease their stress—that is, if Blackboard operated with a structure and functionality consistent with what they saw in the redesigned prototype, they imagine their stress would be alleviated. When asked why, users said it was due to the redesign's simplicity and immediate access to the most important, student-centered features (courses, to-do list, grades, calendar).

Why are these results impactful?

Every KPI showed an increase in the performance and usability of the redesign. CSAT rose from 11.1% to 88.9%, SUS from 38.1 to 90.6, and stress levels from 0/9 users stating that the current Blackboard decreased their stress to 9/9 stating that they believe the redesign would decrease their stress.

These results are impactful because students have a say in which LMS their school uses. I reviewed 15 articles from institutions that switched from Blackboard to Canvas after running pilots of both Canvas and Learn Ultra. These pilot groups included both students and faculty, each an important voice in the final decision. If Ultra had been designed in such a way that produced similar CSAT, SUS, and stress level improvements for both students and faculty, it’s very likely that less schools would have decided to make the switch from Blackboard to Canvas. This is incredibly important because customer retention is just as—and sometimes more—crucial to a business’s financial success as customer acquisition.

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Thank you so much for reading!