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 Experience Article in View From the Edge Magazine

Amidst the chaotic times of COVID-19, online learning platforms have been a lifesaver to families, college students, and home-bound employees wanting to continue learning or advance their skills from home.

D2L, also referred to as Desire2Learn, is a global leader in Education Technology, and the creator of Brightspace, a learning platform that delivers a personalized experience to reach every learner, despite geography or ability. “COVID-19 has sparked an unprecedented change for our clients, and underscores the importance of the work we are doing together to support the massive transformation to high quality online learning,” said Dan Ganesh, D2L Sales Director.

For the past 20 years, the company founded by John Baker has been focused on a singular mission of helping clients transform the learning experience. D2L is a global company with many statewide deployments of Brightspace, including Georgia, Pennsylvania, Maine, Tennessee, South Dakota, and Minnesota. “There are a number of states where we have a large presence,” Ganesh shared. “Then there are others like New Jersey where we have a growing list of great clients and the opportunity to help modernize learning and partner with more institutions. We’re looking forward to the opportunity to work with people in New Jersey on this critical effort.”

D2L helps their clients make education accessible to everyone regardless of the user’s location, financial situation, or disability assistance needs. The company’s philosophy and culture has always been committed to transforming the way the world learns, words often spoken by CEO John Baker. “We serve all sorts of different customers across different verticals and through our Brightspace product, which shows how flexible our product is and how we can accommodate any type of organization,” said Michael Beattie, D2L’s Senior Director of Higher Education Sales.

From an elementary classroom, to college campuses, to global corporations, the Brightspace learning management platform has created inspired and engaged learning for all users. With much of the United States’ learning environment taking place through online distance learning this spring, platforms like Brightspace are vital tools for providing continued educational experiences for hundreds of organizations and millions of learners in higher education, K-12, healthcare, government, and the enterprise sector, including numerous Fortune 1000 companies. From K-12 to healthcare corporations, Brightspace’s flexible platform is able to serve all segments to help meet each user’s need.

D2L considers themselves a learning company first, and a technology company second. “We hire industry experts and seek partnerships with institutions to continue to improve teaching and learning and share what we have learned with the broader educational community,” Ganesh added.

Delivering a Personalized Learning Journey

At D2L, a dominant theme of Brightspace is the platform’s ability to provide accessibility and a personalized educational experience at scale. The goal is to meet learners where they are today, whether the person is on a phone, tablet device, or laptop.

D2L also considers the look and feel of the interface to make sure the students and users are exposed to a nice interactive interface that is fully mobile responsive. “Everything built into the product goes through strict testing and protocols are built into the design principal where everything is tested before the platform goes to the user,” Ganesh explained. The other component is the platform’s ability to be flexible, because every institution or corporation has different needs and standards. In higher education, one school may focus on blended learning, while another school may be focused on full online learning, or competency-based education. Alternatively, the workforce may use Brightspace for development or skill-gap focused learning.

Ganesh said many online schools have partnered with Brightspace to deliver competency-based educational courses, providing flexibility to learners across North America. He also said the company has partnered with the University of Memphis and FedEx for their workforce development programs. “FedEx was challenged with retaining their employees, and a partnership with University of Memphis allowed employees to further their education and careers while working at FedEx,” Ganesh said.

While in software development, the platform also incorporates 25 percent of direct feedback from their customers in their feature perspective. D2L works with their partners every day to understand needs and qualities such as accessibility and alternative education. “We want to know what is important to our customers, while looking at where the market tells us to invest so we can continue to stay cutting edge,” Beattie added.

Benefits of Leveraging a Modern Cloud Based Learning Platform

Every institution or corporation has changing and diverse needs. A kindergarten classroom is going to require different qualities than a college chemistry course. There are also large and small schools, traditional and online courses, as well as noncredit classes. Brightspace is leveraging a modern Cloud based approach built on modern architecture and using micro services and Amazon Web Services to allow institutions or organizations to integrate with third party solutions, whether through LTIs or APIs. The architecture also allows for continuous delivery and automatic scaling. “We generally think any organization with Brightspace will want to integrate with a third party system, so we allow for this to happen, for the most part, seamlessly,” Ganesh said.

Beattie said these qualities have been essential and vitally important during the COVID-19 crisis, showing the importance of using a modern Cloud based Learning Management System (LMS). If a school is using an open sourced system with limited in-house resources or a system that struggles to scale quickly, these institutions may be in a situation where they’re not sure how to double or triple their online usage. “Pre-COVID-19, their learners were traditionally half in person and the other half was online, and now, within days, most had to go fully online. There are numerous technologies not able to support the increased usage, so having a Cloud based LMS allows you to scale pretty much instantly, which is important, especially in the times we’re in today,” Beattie explained.

Upgrading Your LMS System

For those institutions that hadn’t previously used D2L’s Brightspace platform or are looking to upgrade their current LMS, this spring has become an opportunity for improvement. D2L helps with the process of migrating to the Brightspace platform, or helping customers launch new online initiatives, something the company has already been doing for customers over for the past 20 years. “Many organizations that come to D2L have come from another LMS. Fortunately, we have a tremendous amount of experience helping customers migrate to Brightspace,” Ganesh said. D2L can migrate an organization in just weeks to months, while other groups take their time and migrate over 6 to 12 months. “We’ve really seen it all, and most recently, we announced how we’re here to help with the COVID-19 situation by rapidly deploying Brightspace quickly for some institutions, to get them up and running in just a couple of days,” Ganesh added. “We want to make sure students can have the best experience while they learn and institutions have the right resources to support them.” The job of D2L is to ease the worries and burdens of their customers, quickly, understanding an organization’s available resources and work together on a transition plan.

D2L is largely a virtual company, so even before COVID-19, many of the staff worked remotely, with a large percentage of the team spread across the United States, Canada, and several different continents. “The fact that we’re a virtual company enabled us to seamlessly continue to execute our implementations virtually,” Beattie explained. The virtual nature of the D2L staff doesn’t mean the company hasn’t previously visited a campus when necessary, but much of what D2L does can be conducted virtually and was a protocol they had vast experience with prior to the virus. Beattie further elaborated, “We are in some situations now where we’re implementing several new large customers, and we’re putting together completely virtual plans for implementation. Given the COVID crisis, we’re not able to visit new customers, but that’s not holding us up and we’re not sitting on the sidelines saying ‘we can’t do this’. We’re able to seamlessly put in place implementation because of the way we’ve already operated virtually for a very long time.”

D2L’s staff walks an organization through the LMS selection process, beginning with an initial discussion on the needs of the organization. Beattie said their staff has been very busy the last few weeks, “We don’t sleep!” Flexibility has been the additional key because there is not a one-size-fits-all solution during implementation. “We gather information to understand the needs of our partners and create a strategy for implementation based on those needs,” Beattie explained.

Automated tools improve the faculty-student engagement and save time for faculty through built-in nudge capabilities within Brightspace. Triggers are automated to send notifications to users depending on their interaction online. For instance, a student will receive an automated message saying they haven’t logged in, despite class starting five days prior. Another notification may help engage a student early before they drop a course because they didn’t have the right information to log-in. “Brightspace involves easy-to-use and smart technology,” Ganesh said. “The platform also has to work similar to other modern technologies users normally interact with, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon.”

Needs are always changing and D2L continues to follow new technologies and trends. Ganesh said they want to be in-sync with institutions, so D2L has a better understanding of an organization’s strategic initiatives and future plans. “You want to understand not just today’s needs, but where an organization wants to go in the next few years.

“This concept is super critical and important to remember because our goal is to have long term partnerships with our clients,” he added. D2L continues to evolve Brightspace as educational needs and technologies advance, allowing the company to continue to be innovative for many years to come. “We don’t know where technology will be in the next 5-10 years, but we will be ready as dynamics change, and continue to be leaders as we’ve demonstrated over 20 years” Ganesh added.

Partnership with Edge

Edge recently awarded D2L a public bid contract for their LMS systems. The company is excited to engage with the Edge community and collaborate with a non-profit technology partner. “We are super excited and believe this is a great opportunity to partner with Edge,” Ganesh said. “Education has the power to transform the world and our partnership with Edge can have a positive impact with the New Jersey community and beyond. We’ve had tremendous success across many of the states in the United States and around the world, leading efforts on alternative learning models and modernizing the learning experience. We are excited to bring in our experts to help institutions tackle some of the larger challenges around adoption, retention rates, and student success rates.”

“We’ve really seen it all, and most recently, we announced how we’re here to help with the COVID-19 situation by rapidly deploying Brightspace quickly for some institutions, to get them up and running in just a couple of days. We want to make sure students can continue to learn and have a big goal of supporting our customers.”

Dan Ganesh
D2L Sales Director