Blackboard is a popular learning management system among universities and large K-12 districts in the United States. Many of the schools and institutions that have adopted Blackboard are looking for edtech vendors who have solutions that are interoperable with the LMS.

There are two ways to provide an LMS integration with Blackboard: through API integration or through LTI® integration. Our team frequently receives questions about the difference between the two and how they work. In this article, we'll discuss these two methods and how to use them to integrate with Blackboard.


LTI Integration for Blackboard

LTI (or, Learning Tools Interoperability®) is a standard from IMS Global that several learning platforms have adopted to provide interoperability. Applications that are LTI-compliant can work with any platform that is also LTI-compliant, as long as it's a supported version of LTI.

Blackboard supports the most recent releases of the LTI standard: LTI v1.3 and LTI Advantage. Blackboard allows users to launch into an LTI app from inside Blackboard, itself. Typically, the app appears inside of an iframe in Blackboard. Since Blackboard supports LTI Advantage, your app can use the improved grade passback and enrollment provisioning services offered by LTI Advantage.


API Integration for Blackboard

API integration allows apps to directly communicate with Blackboard through the proprietary Blackboard API. Users can authenticate into an external app using their Blackboard credentials through an OAuth 2.0 workflow. It should be noted, though, that Blackboard's implementation of OAuth 2.0 is somewhat non-standard. While it still technically follows the OAuth 2.0 specification, Blackboard's implementation has quirks that aren't generally present in other platforms that use OAuth 2.0.

Once the app and Blackboard authenticate the user, then the app can act on behalf of the user. This means the app can perform functions, such as sending back grades to the users gradebook or creating new assignments, in Blackboard programmatically via the Blackboard API. This is all done while the user is on the app and not in Blackboard.

In order to get started with the Blackboard REST API, developers have to register for a Blackboard developer account. It is free to register for an account but there may be costs associated with deploying your integration once you reach a certain scale. For example, developers must pay Blackboard to set up their own development instance. This environment, which developers also have to set up themselves, lasts for three months at a time.

Note that Blackboard instances are usually self-hosted by the school or college. Due to the many legacy systems hosting the software, Blackboard environments tend not to be updated as frequently as other platforms. This can be a problem when integrating with Blackboard, as your app may try to interact with a feature that is not present in a particular school's Blackboard environment.


Should I Use API or LTI to Create a Blackboard Integration?

The type of integration that you should build will depend on the needs of your customer. Some schools particularly need LTI integration with their Blackboard environments. Others may be looking for a solution that includes features that are better supported by API integration, such as school or district-wide rostering and assignment creation. Thus, having solutions for both situations can prove to be valuable when trying to work with a multitude of schools.

If you need help making sure that your app works with any school's LMS, you should check out Edlink. We have deep experience with Blackboard and have developed LTI and API solutions for our clients with schools that use Blackboard. Our API can also help your app integrate with Google Classroom, Canvas, Brightspace by D2L, and other learning platforms. If you'd like to learn more, please email us at accounts@ed.link or leave us a message at our support page.

Learning Tools Interoperability® (LTI®) is a trademark of the IMS Global Learning Consortium, Inc. (www.imsglobal.org). Edlink LTI integrations are not certified by the IMS Global Learning Consortium, Inc.