LMS Conference Lookout - D2L

What we're looking for at the upcoming LMS users conferences

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As a reminder, we have several LMS conferences coming up when we should get insights into LMS roadmaps and insights from customers. The conferences we’re attending in date order:

Monday we addressed our biggest questions for Anthology Together and InstructureCon, and today we’ll address D2L Fusion.

Also from the LMS archives, it was one decade ago that D2L (officially Desire2Learn at the time) raised its second round of funding. The company was not venture capital backed in the way that Blackboard and Instructure were, and the funding total was impressive.

Yesterday D2L announced a second round of investment, this time raising $85 million (a mix of debt and equity) to go with their $80 million round two years ago (see EDUKWEST for a useful roundup of news and article links). While raising $165 million is an impressive feat, does this funding give us new information on the LMS market?

The nature of my post was to be impressed by the fundraising but cynical about the market claims. Speaking too loudly without carrying a large stick. To a large degree, the D2L of today is 180 degrees out of phase with the one ten years ago. The company carries a much more substantial stick but continually needs to speak more loudly about it. Or at least effectively.

Like Anthology, D2L presents a contrast to market leader Instructure, albeit in different terms. D2L and Instructure continue to notch impressive wins in the LMS market, but with very different strengths. Instructure has a solid strategy that includes recent value-added acquisitions, but it is lacking in any meaningful progress to improve the core product. By contrast, D2L has made real progress in product improvements and delivery on a roadmap, but I have questions about the overall strategy.

Solid Wins

Some of the recent wins from D2L that are worth considering:

Roadmap Delivery but Strategy Questions

I want to be careful here, because I do not equate new features with product improvements. After all, the LMS market of the late 2000s was plagued by feature bloat and clunky system interfaces. But it is worth highlighting that D2L has released meaningful new features and tools that were on its roadmap, including an AI Virtual Assistant and the new Achievement+ outcomes-based data packaging.

But from a strategy standpoint, I wonder if D2L’s creation of separate add-on toolsets (think Creator+ from last year) is adding meaningful new adoptions and is the right approach for Higher Ed and K-12 markets.

Creator+ adds costs for universities wanting to use it (as I suspect Achievement+ will do), but the risk is that the improvements are now moving outside of the core product. There is a strategic question of using new developments as add-on sales versus further LMS differentiation in a competitive environment. I have spoken to a few colleges or universities that have chose to ignore Creator+ in LMS evaluations in order to keep an apples-to-apples comparison.

And there is the question if clients (higher education institutions in particular) view Creator+ and the Virtual Assistant as solid software products that work in an academic environment.

Our biggest questions:

  • Will the new Chief Marketing Officer (the umpteenth one) have the understanding and authority to address D2L’s biggest weakness?

  • How do clients view Creator+, both as a product and as an add-on strategy?

  • Do clients and prospects view D2L Brightspace as continuing to differentiate from its LMS competitors?

  • How well is D2L solidifying its market momentum in terms of head-to-head LMS wins, and how do the new clients view the company’s performance?

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