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D2L Unveils Revamped Platform 'Brightspace' with Adaptive Learning

Desire2Learn is using the stage of its annual user conference, Fusion 2014, to shorten its moniker and announce a new branding for its education applications. The company is now simply going by D2L and its flagship product set will be called Brightspace. D2L is also doing a dramatic refresh of its software, including integration of several technologies acquired over the last year and teaming up with IBM and Microsoft for additional offerings. It is also shifting away from using the common term "learning management system" or LMS to describe its wares, now referencing them as an "integrated learning platform" or ILP.

According to President and CEO John Baker, a typical LMS "is just a management system: Here's who should be learning what, here's what they're learning, and really focused on the management tasks." An ILP, on the other hand, while including management components, also takes on "the biggest challenges there for education — everything from improving retention rates to improving graduation rates to helping people accelerate their learning to really getting students engaged and inspired to driving adoption," he explained. "These are all big challenges. Just putting content online is not going to cut it anymore."

The latest version of Brightspace strengthens the adaptive learning aspects of the program by building in an adaptive learning engine, which combines technology from the company's September 2013 acquisition of Knowillage Systems and Learning Path (LeaP) and the Achievement Standards Network, whose support was taken on by D2L in March 2014. LeaP allows an instructor to personalize learning for each student. The Standards Network is a digital repository of 400,000 education standards. The new engine can automatically create a "knowledge map" laying out adaptive pathways for each student. When they struggle with a concept, they can dive into digital curriculum again and again, until they understand it. "It could even include things like publisher content, open content, like Khan Academy or other resources," Baker said. "We've built a ton of new technology to support fully automating the adaptive learning generation."

Binder, D2L's e-book and digital course material platform, is also getting a remake. The company is working with Microsoft to offer a version of Binder for Windows 8 alongside iOS and Android devices. (The software is also available in an HTML5 version.) The new app, expected in September 2014, will allow students to "consume, organize, and annotate" e-books, course content and learning materials on any Windows 8 device.

On top of that, D2L has expanded the number of publishing companies that participate in Binder. The original list, Cengage Learning and McGraw-Hill Education, also now includes Macmillan, Nelson Education and Wiley. These agreements let students to buy and rent e-books on the Web and through Binder, which can be tied into Brightspace. Baker noted that the platform could expand to include an additional 65 publishers by this fall.

The company announced that it would also be embedding the Cognos engine, IBM's business intelligence software, into its data analytics application, D2L Insights. Insights provides information about learning outcomes, student engagement and enrollment metrics and student grades to guide instructor and administration activities. The IBM integration will enable schools to combine classroom data with enterprise data for new views into the composition of student success.

Insights has multiple modules:

  • Analytics Essentials, for tracking day-to-day progress;
  • Student Success System, a predictive analytics tool that helps to predict which students are at risk of failing as the term progresses; and
  • Degree Compass, a predictive technology that ties course data against student achievement data to come up with course recommendations for students that will help increase their chances of success.

"At a time when expectations for data in education are increasing, institutions must strengthen their analytics capabilities as a means to help make sense of the data deluge they are faced with," said Michael King, IBM's vice president of global education, in a statement. "The expanded relationship between D2L and IBM is an example of the collaboration that is needed to create exceptional student experiences and outstanding outcomes in education, for students and institutions alike."

The company has also seen dramatic growth in its product "ecosystem," since it opened up its application programming interfaces. According to Baker, 891 different applications were integrated into its products last year, up from "a few dozen" the year before. This year, he added, "we're already on track for that being dramatically higher again."

The company has also begun sharing peeks of its gamification activities. Based on work it is currently doing with Lambton College in Ontario, D2L is seeking additional beta testers to try out several new game-based tools, including the ability to create avatars, set levels and build scoreboards, all of which will be integrated into D2L's gradebook and other applications. The system uses D2L's APIs to publish content to the given school's learning platform seamlessly, eliminating the need for an instructor to manually create content topics or unzip files into a course.

"This march toward the promise of personalized learning for education is exciting," said Baker. "Really focusing in on students has a huge impact on their engagement, really transforms the learning outcomes, and [achieves] the better retention that we all want to strive for. I feel like we've come a long way as a company. We're finally getting to this promise that we've always held with this technology to have an impact beyond simply putting things online."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.