What is Social Learning in Blackboard Learn™ all about?

Today's active learner expects to be able to easily connect online with their different communities—including their education community. However, students and educators told us that the social platforms available to them today aren't effectively meeting their needs for connecting with their education community. Additionally, they told us they prefer to keep their academic and personal lives separate.

Therefore, we worked with students, educators, and administrators to develop a global learning network. This network connects users at Blackboard Learn institutions around the globe and provides them with the tools to learn from each other through social, informal means—complementing the more formal classroom and online course experiences. With Social Profiles and Tools, you can connect your Learn instance to the cloud-based global learning network. Your students and educators can then discover, connect, and collaborate with their education community —enabling Social Learning right within the LMS.

What are the licensing requirements to install the Social Profiles and Tools Building Block?

The Social Profile and Tools Building Block is available as part of the community engagement license for Blackboard Learn institutions on Release 9.1, Service Pack 10 or later.

What are Social Profiles and Tools and how do they differ from Cloud Profiles and Tools?

Cloud Profiles and Tools are a set of cloud-based features that were made available with Service Pack 10 as part of the Course Delivery license. Cloud Profiles and Tools consist of basic Profiles (called Profile Cards), the People tool, and enhancements to the Posts tool.

Social Profiles and Tools are an additional set of cloud-based features that were made available as a Building Block for the Community Engagement license. Social Profiles and Tools consist of full Profiles, Spaces, Messages, and enhancements to Profile Cards, the People tool, and the Posts tool. It is important to note that enabling Cloud Profiles and Tools is a pre-requisite for enabling Social Profiles and Tools.

See the chart below for more detail, and note that all of these tools are found in My Blackboard.

Tool If Cloud Profiles and Tools Are Enabled If Social Profiles and Tools Are Enabled
Profile & Profile Card Available Profile Card with name, picture, area of study, and "about me" description Enhanced Full Profile with profile wall, networking / following other users, and the ability to link to Facebook & Twitter profiles. Profile Card enhanced to include the ability to follow, message, & view full profile
People Available

Limited to search within a user's institution


Adds cross-institution search and networking / following other users

Posts Enhanced

Shows profile pictures next to users' posts, with the ability to hover to see profile cards


Adds posts and comments from Profile walls and Space walls

Messages Not Available Available
Spaces Not Available Available

In summary, Cloud Profiles & Tools enable your users to have a Profile Card that appears throughout Learn and discover other users at your institution. In comparison, Social Profiles and Tools provide a full Profile, access to the Blackboard Learn global learning network, and features and functionality to enable connection, communication, and collaboration with others: social learning.

How do I enable Social Profiles and Tools?

The first step to making the social learning tools available to your institution is to connect your Learn instance to the Blackboard Cloud if you haven't already. The "Cloud Settings (Tools)" administrator privilege allows you to manage your Cloud Settings.

On the Administrator Panel, under Cloud Management, select Cloud Connector. You then are prompted to fill out a form, which includes these elements.

Element Description
1. Blackboard Learn Instance
External URL Provide your school's Blackboard Learn public facing URL.
2. Cloud Registration
Display Name Provide a display name to identify your school, such as your school's full name. Avoid using any abbreviations in this field.
Description Provide an optional description for your display name.
Instance Type Identify how this Blackboard Learn instance will be used in your environment. Select Production, Development, Staging, or Test.
Site ID A unique Site ID is assigned to your Blackboard Learn instance after it is registered.
Connection Date The date and time your instance was successfully registered.
3. Submit
Submit Select this button if you're ready to submit your setting changes.

Now that your Learn instance is connected to the Blackboard Cloud, you then need to enable the Cloud Profiles and Tools as follows:

  1. On the Administrator Panel, under Cloud Management, select Cloud Profiles and Tools.
  2. Select Off to turn the Cloud Profiles & Tools on.
  3. A Privacy Agreement will appear. Read through it and select Accept.
  4. This opens the Blackboard Cloud Settings page. Here, you can add your institutional cloud policy statement.

    The terms of service contract is between Blackboard and the user only.

    You can also choose how courses and organizations will be displayed in the Blackboard Cloud, exclude selected courses and organizations from appearing on the People page, as well as integrate Facebook and Twitter.

After the Cloud Profiles and Tools are enabled, you must then enable the Social Profiles and Tools.

To enable Social Profiles and Tools:

  1. On the Administrator Panel, under Cloud Management, select Cloud Profiles and Tools.
  2. Under Cloud Tools, where it says Social Profiles and Tools, select the Off button to turn them on.
  3. You will then be automatically directed to the Social Settings screen. These settings allow you to determine the availability of the Social Profiles and Tools based on Institution Role. By default, the tool availability is set to Everyone.
  4. Make your selection(s) and select Submit. Your users will now have access to the global learning network and social learning tools.

Can I turn off certain social learning tools and keep others on?

You can't turn each tool on or off individually. Social Profiles and Tools can only be enabled or disabled all together as one toolset. However, as discussed above, you can enable this entire toolset for some users and disable it for others using Institution Roles.

How will connecting to the Blackboard Cloud affect the security of my Learn environment?

There are multiple layers of security in place to protect both your Learn environment and the Blackboard Cloud. Authentication of users is handled by the Learn instance. The Learn Authentication mechanism, passwords, digital certificates, CAS, and so on, does not change with the addition of the Blackboard Cloud.

Users will still be authenticated in the same mechanism that they were before the Blackboard Cloud was enabled. To access cloud-enabled tools, users must first authenticate to Learn; there is no way to authenticate directly to the Blackboard Cloud. A user's session is created at login using OAuth to securely communicate between the Learn instance and the Blackboard Cloud. The Blackboard Cloud does not change any security in Learn itself.

Access to the Profile service requires a secure connection between the local Learn instance and cloud services using the Cloud Connector, which is configured once per instance from the Learn Admin Panel. Individual Profiles in the Blackboard Cloud are associated with a local user account in a Learn instance, and can only be accessed by the user through a Learn instance.

Blackboard is committed to providing our clients secure applications. Blackboard develops products according to a set of security engineering guidelines derived from OWASP (Open Web Application Security Project), including specific countermeasures for OWASP Top Ten vulnerabilities. Blackboard incorporates these security practices in all phases of the software development lifecycle (SDLC).

Requirements must identify authorization requirements for each use case. Technical Design Documentation must include an analysis of potential security risks. Our development teams leverage engineering coding standards to ensure compliance with best practice development methodologies including the prevention of known vulnerabilities and the selection of proven countermeasures during implementation.

Blackboard utilizes several methods to protect our applications including "top-down" security assessments through threat modeling and analysis as well as "bottom-up" code level threat detection. Blackboard is committed to maintaining the timely resolution of any vulnerability affecting our products through development and release processes that ensure the orderly and efficient production and dissemination of security patches.

What data is being transmitted from Learn to the Blackboard Cloud?

When a Cloud profile is created, Blackboard Learn passes first name, last name, and the user's current course and organization enrollments to the cloud service. All information is passed using SSL and OAuth for security.

A user must agree to the terms of service and submit their edited profile before a profile is created.

If the user makes any changes in their cloud Profile, those changes are not transmitted back to Learn. The cloud service is never the system of record for Learn.

Each time the user logs in, Learn contacts the cloud service with any updates to a user's Course/Organization enrollments, so that the cloud service stays in sync with current enrollments in Learn. This information is used to populate learning networks in the People tool found in My Blackboard. Additionally, the user locale (i.e. which language they view the Blackboard Learn interface through) is also sent to determine in which language to present the cloud interface.

Other information in the Profile (for example, area of study, an "about me" description, email address, additional contact information, posts, and so on) can be entered into the cloud Profile by the end user. Again, this information is not transmitted back to Learn. The cloud service is never the system of record for Learn.

Can I enable the social learning tools for some users and not others?

Access to the social learning tools can be controlled using your Institution Roles by going to Social Settings under Cloud Management on the Administrator Panel.

The Social Settings screen is where you modify availability based on Institution Roles.

After the social learning tools are enabled, can I turn them off?

Yes. On the Administrator Panel, under Cloud Management, select Cloud Profiles and Tools. From this screen, you can turn off the social learning tools by selecting ON next to Social Profiles and Tools (see the screenshot below). The Social Profiles and Tools will now be off, but the Cloud Profiles & Tools will remain on unless you turn those off as well, which can also be done on this screen by selecting ON next to Cloud Profiles and Tools.

Turning off Social Profiles and Tools or Cloud Profiles and Tools does not alter or delete any information already in the Blackboard Cloud, it just makes those services unavailable from your Blackboard Learn instance. If you later re-enable the Social Profiles and Tools or Cloud Profiles and Tools, all of the previous data will once again be accessible to users.

How will the social learning tools affect upgrades to my Learn environment?

Although tightly integrated with and dependent upon Blackboard Learn, the cloud services are developed and managed independently from Blackboard Learn. This means that occasionally Blackboard may release new features or enhancements to the cloud services separate from Blackboard Learn releases.

Updates to the social learning tools will be delivered through Blackboard Building Blocks via the Software Updates module or via cloud service updates that will happen automatically. Updates to the cloud service typically require no action on the part of a Blackboard Learn institution, expect, in some circumstances, to enable new cloud features made available by an update.

The Blackboard Cloud, and subsequently the social learning tools, has dependencies on Blackboard Learn but Blackboard Learn does not have dependencies on the Blackboard Cloud, so the social learning tools will have little impact on your Blackboard Learn environment.

Can the social learning tools be turned off during tests?

No, social learning tools can't be turned off during tests. Blackboard firmly believes that such a capability would provide a false sense of security, as students have many avenues through which they could contact each other besides Blackboard's social learning features. Rather than provide a capability to disable access during exams, which would offer no effective protection against cheating, we encourage institutions to address this academic integrity concern through other means (improved assessments, proctoring, and so on).

Who has access to the global learning network?

Only people who have a user account on a Blackboard Learn instance that has Social Profiles and Tools enabled. There is no access for people without Blackboard Learn accounts, as other platforms are not currently supported and the global learning network is not open to the "public."