I had a chance to speak to some folks about their latest product release (9.2) a couple of weeks back and am only now finding time to blog about it.
First, there’s what they’re doing with the LMS itself. No surprise, one of their areas of focus is on user experience improvement, with reducing the number of clicks it takes to perform tasks being a prominent item on the agenda. Pretty much all the LMS developers are working on this right now. One fundamental problem with LMS design in general has always been that it’s a Swiss army knife. Everything is crammed into it. That’s not a recipe for great usability. On top of that, the fundamental user experience architecture of all these platforms is now about a decade old. It’s built in the model of enterprise groupware circa 2000, when people are increasingly expecting an experience consistent with Web 2.0 software circa 2010. So a facelift is in order. A second thing they are doing is embedding audio recording wherever attachments can be done in the UI. Ubiquitous audio and video recording are going to be pretty much required in an LMS platform within a year or two.
But beyond that, D2L is putting a lot of effort to fine tune their rubric, learning objective, selective release, assessment, and content modules to make it easier for schools to move in the direction of competency modeling and adaptive learning. This is not an easy path for an institution to follow, so D2L is putting a lot of care into lowering the barriers, both by making it easy to approach the problem piecemeal (e.g., no longer requiring learning objectives in order to use rubrics) while simultaneously making it easy to add new pieces once you’ve started (e.g., enabling selective release to trigger off of rubric scores). To my mind, this web that D2L is weaving could be their compelling functional differentiator. Time will tell.
We also talked about the company’s mobile strategy. D2L has no less than three mobile products now. The first, Desire2Learn 2Go, is a native app that links to the LMS. Right now it is Blackberry-only. 2Go is the company’s consumer-oriented product, which they envision being downloaded by students directly from smart phone app stores. Desire2Learn Mobile Web is essentially their browser-based product that fills roughly the same needs as 2Go, i.e., it’s mainly student learning-oriented. And finally their new product, Desire2Learn Campus Life, is a mobile campus portal that competes with Blackboard’s Mobile Central. It supports pushing a variety of apps—campus calendar, campus news, dining hall info, sports info, etc.—to mobile apps for Blackberry, Android, and iOS. This release is focused on getting pre-built functionality out the door, while next release will be more about delivering an SDK so that campuses can develop their own apps. When I asked D2L about what their differentiators are vis-a-vis Mobile Central, their answer was basically “stay tuned.” The mobile campus portal space is quickly becoming crowded with players like SunGard getting into the game and the Jasig community announcing the start of the uMobile initiative, so it should be interesting to watch.
Finally, my old friend Al Essa, former Associate Vice Chancellor and Deputy CIO of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities and former CIO of MIT’s Sloan School of Management, will be heading up the development of D2L’s analytics product. Al is a deep thinker who has been focused on learning analytics for the past couple of years. I look forward to seeing what he can cook up in the next year or two.
My talk with D2L happened before their announcement about acquiring a lecture capture hardware and software product suite, so I don’t have anything new to add regarding that development at the moment.