D2L Fusion 23 Conference Notes
Where boring consistency can be exciting, at least in terms of product & services
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July is typically the busiest month for LMS user conferences, and over the past three weeks, Glenda Morgan, Jeanette Wiseman, and I have tag teamed to attend the users conferences for D2L Fusion in Anaheim, Anthology (Blackboard) Together in Nashville, and InstructureCon in Denver. With this being the first year with our premium newsletter On EdTech+, we would like to avoid duplicate content, and to do so we are publishing each post with free content above a paywall break followed by content for premium subscribers. This first post covers D2L Fusion. [Full-page audio link]
On one hand, D2L Fusion this year was not much different than last year’s event. The biggest product news (at least non-AI) was Creator+, the attendees seemed to be genuinely interested and appreciative of announcements (in contrast with forced rah rahs from a decade ago), and the company was riding high after a large New York system win. Same old, same old, and long-time readers of this blog / newsletter will recognize the themes. On the other hand, this consistency is itself newsworthy. D2L is continuing down its path to improved features (particularly in the content creation area), clients are responding, and D2L has kept its momentum in new system wins. Perhaps more importantly, D2L is not backsliding or resting on its laurels.
D2L is a slow burn company, and in the past eight years in a good way. The company started working on its move to the cloud, tied to its user experience redesign as Brightspace, in 2014. Five years later, the company’s LMS was essentially all cloud (with one or two client exceptions). More importantly, D2L Brightspace in this time period became fully competitive with Instructure Canvas, winning head-to-head competitions not just due to specialized features but more broadly in terms of general system usability and intuitive design. That multi-year transformation is significant, particularly for a founder-led company.
I find that D2L could be considered the Instructure of the early 2010s - with somewhat of a reversal of roles. A decade ago, competitors tended to make excuses when Instructure won a new account - that’s just the cool new toy with no real depth. Today, competitors tend do something similar when D2L wins, often chalking these selections up to aggressive pricing. While D2L has been known to offer prices that appear unsustainable, I have found when talking to institutions that they choose D2L based on the company’s and product’s own merits (and interactions with the sales teams), with pricing just a sweetener.
Today D2L is an LMS company with market momentum in terms of wins and product advances, but not necessarily in terms of corporate finances (Instructure is leading not just among LMS companies but more broadly among all of EdTech).
The Creator+ Strategy
Creator+ has been announced multiple times, and at this year’s D2L Fusion it was evident that this tool is key to D2L’s product strategy and differentiation. My note from last year remains relevant.
D2L provided a useful deeper dive showing more of how Creator+ enhances course designs.
This is a solid product that hits the needs of course designers, but the risk of an add-on product approach is still present. Creator+ is not part of Core Brightspace and must be purchased in addition. There is core content creation tools in Brightspace, but A) Creator+ is or will be superior, and B) it is positioned in contrast to the core capabilities. This is a bet that might make sense given the financial realities of running an LMS company (it is a difficult market to break even or make profits), and the promise is that Creator+ in the future could be used even independently of Brightspace. But this strategy opens the door for competitors to make contrasts. In fact, Anthology called out this strategy in promoting their approach - look at our new content design tools that come with the core product.
In addition, I heard a few higher ed clients saying that Creator+ needs to clean out known bugs and missing content to make it a more complete product.
There were also product enhancements outside of Creator+ and Generative AI, particularly with the updated Media Library that includes AI-based captioning, in-line editing that includes organizing into chapters, all embedded into core Brightspace workflows.
Also notable is the redesigned assessment engine that enhances the user experience and design for Assignments, Quizzes, and Discussions (with that last part the newest addition). I think the Product video linked above is the best place to get a real sense of product enhancements.
Generative AI Approach
D2L’s work with generative AI starts with their set of responsible AI principles that address privacy, bias and non-discrimination, security and robustness, transparency, and accountability. From a product perspective, I found the generative AI adoption to be somewhat subdued with fairly contained functionality - point functions, but also based on working software.
The usage that I thought was the most useful was the new auto-generation of formative assessment directly built into course creation workflows. A course designer will be able to hit a new generate button based on the general course content or a specific subset and have an AI-generated formative, multiple choice assessment built right in. The result is put into editing mode, where the designer must make edits and / or accept the content. This is notable in two regards:
The tool encourages the usage of formative assessments as learning tools, not tied to grades, which has long been understood as an underutilized design principle for most courses. Encouraging good course designed based on learning principles is always a smart move.
The design makes it apparent that the human - the designer - is in control of the content and should make sure what is released to students is accurate and appropriate.
D2L also described an AI-based virtual assistant to help learners get contextualized help. See more in this blog post.
Nothing earth-shaking but quite solid in design and with working software to demonstrate the upcoming features.
While the market is slowing down, it is worth recapping where D2L is in the LMS market. In our Year-End 2022 report we noted improvements.
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