Home Adaptive Learning Education Technology Thought Leader Interview – D2L Founder & CEO John Baker

Education Technology Thought Leader Interview – D2L Founder & CEO John Baker


D2L is a recognized innovator in the Learning Management System market space, regularly incorporating emerging technologies in their flagship LMS, recently renamed “Brightspace“. In this interview, D2L's CEO John Baker, who has provided visionary leadership since he founded the company in 1999, shares examples of many ways that teachers and schools are leveraging advanced functionality to facilitate student success.


Thanks, John, for taking time to talk with me and EmergingEdTech’s readers. As the CEO of D2L (formerly Desire2Learn) and someone who has been immersed in the evolving education technology landscape for many years, what are some of the insights you can share about the new educational technologies and methods seeping into our schools and laying a foundation for expanding on their potential?

When I started D2L, I wanted to have a positive, transformational impact on education, similar to how Amazon has transformed the world of consumer business. The end result is Brightspace, which I believe to be the most innovative and effective learning platform on the market. However, technology is only the vehicle for achieving personalized learning. For it to have a major impact on learners, it needs to be aligned with policy and pedagogy. This is why we work closely with schools to encourage them to evolve their approach towards implementing technology like Brightspace. For optimal effect, technology should also align with broader education mission metrics, such as improving learning outcomes, growing student engagement, and enhancing retention and graduation rates. All of these things are possible, yet traditional Learning Management Systems (LMS) have been predominantly used as content delivery systems with simple testing and online discussion functions. Managing learning isn’t enough anymore, which is why we’re helping move the industry to an Integrated Learning Platform (ILP) approach.

Another big area that’s changing the face of education is mobile. Many schools and companies are only now just starting to leverage mobile and video-powered technologies. We’ve introduced audio and video feedback functions for teachers as part of the native functionality of Brightspace and have seen first-hand the remarkable impact it’s had in the classroom. This is a powerful engagement tool – students love getting this kind of personal feedback and teachers appreciate the efficiency of using it. Teachers can actually improve their productivity while also improving learning outcomes.

Education is positioned to shift away from a one-size-fits-all model to a more personalized approach. Moving away from exams towards increased competency-based learning and adaptive learning tools are great examples of technologies that are helping shift the education mind-set away from teaching to pass exams to making sure students are mastering core competencies. These ideas and more are part of the constantly improving toolset in the Brightspace ILP.

How are updated teaching resources positioning today’s educators to deliver upon more robust and personalized learning pedagogies?

One great example of this is the work by Deakin University, Australia lecturer Dr. ­Jaclyn Broadbent. In her program, Dr. Broadbent used 27 intelligent agents to provide students with automated notifications based on specific course performance criteria and to monitor student performance in ways previously not possible. [In this article, she explains that “…you can set criteria that they (intelligent agents) look for and then you can set an email and it will automatically look for students who fit the criteria and send them the email.”] The criteria she set for the notifications aligned with her goal of improving performance and engagement – she identified which students weren’t logging on at all, or who had limited engagement with online course materials. The criteria also was set to congratulate students when they had shown an improvement in the form of a “personal” note from Jaclyn, which was actually generated through Brightspace.

Prior to Brightspace, she had a course which only 60% of her 1200 students completed. With the move to Brightspace and the help of these automated, individualized tools, she is now at 90% retention with over 2000 students!

Another great example of updated tools enabling personalized educational choices is our Degree Compass product, which was developed by Dr. Tristan Denley at Austin Peay State University (APSU). APSU implemented this real-time, personalized course recommendation system, that uses Netflix-like predictive modeling, to help pair students with the courses that best fit their academic talents and their selected program of study. [As you can read in this Case Study, “Degree Compass successfully predicted the courses in which students would achieve an A, B, or C with 90% accuracy — and predicted those marks within 0.4 of a letter grade.“]

CBE is a really exciting area in Higher Education in particular, as the accrediting bodies struggle with understanding how to change their models to make it easier for schools to open themselves up to this powerful idea. Can you elaborate on ways in which Competency Based Learning can be enabled using Brightspace and how you’ve seen colleges and universities integrate it?

One great example is from Broward College, where the school is piloting accelerated competency-based education as part of its online program. Brightspace has been a pivotal part of this. Each course is built using the same Brightspace template, but tailored with learning resources unique to each curriculum. The template is the same, so that all courses have an identical look and feel. This consistency promotes acceleration because students do not need to acclimate themselves with a new Brightspace course shell every time they take a new course. Each course has a “pace chart” providing recommendations for the amount of time it should take to complete the course, and offering options for a slower or a quicker pace to completion.

Gamification has been a popular term in education technology circles for the last few years, but we are really still only at the forefront of seeing education embrace it. How do you see this changing today, and tomorrow?

Lambton College in Ontario is an excellent example of how schools can implement gamification through Brightspace. Through Brightspace, Lambton is able to design curriculum that features avatars and interactive or competitive components, like scoreboards, that students can access in interactive ways right from their mobile devices.

What other exciting developments with Brightspace would you like to share with EmergingEdTech readers?

Our predictive analytics engine, the Student Success System (S3), has demonstrated how technology can help eliminate attainment gaps and improve graduation rates. [Last year Greenville College in Illinois published this White Paper on how S3 helped improve on its recent 69.7% freshman retention rate.] S3 offers predictive modeling and real-time insights into learning trends, class dynamics, and students’ abilities. Faculty are able to look across a very broad set of indicators of student success in the categories of assessments, preparation, participation, and social connectedness and find patterns of academic risk which they can work to address.

It is clear that by recognizing students' potential for success or failure early in a course, faculty can do more to retain students.


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