D2L Brightspace – Enterprise Level Customization

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About my guest:

As part of D2L’s founding team, Kenneth has been working with leading organizations for over 20 years helping to shape learning technology and how it is employed effectively. Kenneth is responsible for D2L’s advisory board program, which involves working with top executives, administrators, and educational leaders across the company’s customer base.

He is also responsible for analyst and thought leader relations, acting as an advisor to D2L’s senior executives and product leadership group on behalf of the institutions D2L serves.

D2L Brightspace offers a highly customized Learning Management system on enterprise level combined with consulting support

More about Kenneth Chapman

More about D2L Brightspace

Interview Transcript | D2L Brightspace – Enterprise Level Customization

{Edited for ease of reading}

Petra Mayer  00:04

Hello, and welcome. My name is Petra Mayer, I’m the CEO and founder of Petra Mayer and Associates Consulting, and in my interview today, I will introduce you to Kenneth Chapman. Kenneth is from D2L who are the makers of Brightspace. And as part of the D2L founding team, Kenneth has been working with leading organizations for over 20 years. Helping to shape learning technology and how it is employed effectively.

Kenneth is responsible for D2L’s advisory board program, which involves working with top executives, administrators and educational leaders across the company’s customer base. He’s also responsible for analyst and thought leader relations, acting as an advisor to D2L’s senior executive and product leadership group on behalf of institutions that D2L serves, which I know are manyfold. Welcome to the interview, Ken.

Kenneth Chapman  01:02

Thank you so much, Petra; good to be here.

Petra Mayer  01:04

I’m really glad to have you here as one of the representatives of what I call an enterprise learning management system. But before we really dive into this topic. I was wondering if, in a sentence or two, you could characterize the market of learning management systems for us.

Kenneth Chapman  01:22

Yeah, in a word, I would characterize it as fragmented. There are so many different learning systems that are out there with really different focuses. Potentially on the types of use cases, the types of learning programs and delivery models that they’re best suited for, sometimes lines of business, size of an organization, and emphasis on solving business challenges from an administrative and backend perspective.

Maybe compliance, or things that are looking at more, modern applications of teaching and learning for employee engagement. Education as a benefit type situation. So it can remit really different things to different people. Which can make a conversation around a learning management system or digital learning strategy challenging.

Petra Mayer  02:09

Yeah, and I hear you; the word fragmented, I think, is such a good word when we’re thinking about 700, 800 different systems. Luckily, they’re not all trying to do the same thing. So what do you think is a common misconception about learning management systems that a lot of people have? And companies that you are dealing with are sometimes struggling with?

Kenneth Chapman  02:33

Yeah, one of the most common misconceptions we see when we meet with a new potential customer is asking them how much they like their current LMS. And do you enjoy doing it? And what kinds of things do you do? A lot of individuals, leaders and organizations look at an LMS from the lens of their compliance exercises. So, oftentimes people have their opinion of LMS coloured by a little bit more; I’ll call it boring, dated learning experience that’s about “thou shalt click through these items” until you get to the end.

So, in a lot of organizations, we deal with an LMS is looked at more as a necessary evil. And then we start to see a bit of a patchwork of an ecosystem starts to form around well, where do we start to think about adding some employee experience elements to this, where can we better connect this out with some of the skills that we’re trying to build out in our workforce.

D2L, as an organization, is what we try to do with a lot of our customers. Is to really get them to think about what jobs are they trying to hire some of their technology actually to perform?

You know, where are they looking for learning as a lever to better engage their customers or their partners and scale up their workforce? And then let’s look at how we deploy a platform for a variety of different use cases, all centred around a learner and calibrating to the business. So we’re trying to sort of elevate the conversation around a learning management system, away from a piece of technology that gets deployed for a simple business problem. To more of a platform that can be leveraged to really solve some strategic business challenges.

Petra Mayer  04:13

And I think what you’re speaking about here that already kind of leads to this next question I have. And that is, what are the recent trends in online learning that impact the choice of systems for organizations? I think you already mentioned a few things that you just mentioned in this last question.

Kenneth Chapman  04:34

Yeah, COVID, I think laid bare some of the deficiencies in infrastructure. In terms of how people are able to actually go and create and deploy learning programs, as well as how they’re able to interact and collaborate with each other. So when we talk to our customer advisory boards, and we get a handle on, you know, what are the things that are really impacting them, the challenges that they’re trying to understand how to exploit for the benefit of their stakeholders, you know, we hear things about really creating more collaborative environments.

Where employees where customers, or partners that are using these learning systems aren’t just consumers, but they can actually be creators. You know, they’re used to doing that. Their idea of engaging in a digital world involves them producing as well as consuming.

So we see a lot of emphasis on building in really solid integrations with collaboration suites. So things like zoom and teams. As well as looking for sort of natural and ad hoc ways that cohorts of learners can collaborate and work together. Lots of organizations are doing leadership training programs using learning platforms like ours or new joiner programs. And they want those people to be building up some of those social equities within the organization that they can’t do in a face-to-face environment, or it’s harder now that they’re more distributed as a team.

Video is a big part of that kind of side by side along with that. As people are expecting to be creators, they want to record themselves, they’re used to doing that, you know, it’s kind of that TikTok tock generation is really starting to take effect.

We want to provide ways to help an organization onboard some of that great content. That their subject matter experts and employees can pass on. But do so in a way that is scalable and takes advantage of things like templates. So there’s some continuity and some management of the cognitive load of all the people that have to consume this stuff. And so that it’s discoverable and calibrated to the business, you know, the skills, the jobs, the roles that are important.

Petra Mayer  06:46

Okay, sorry. Sure.

Kenneth Chapman  06:48

The last trend that we’re seeing is there’s a distinct lack of skill and resources within the organization itself. To actually go and do these things. To conceive of their goals for the learning program, and to actually execute and deliver day to day.

So we found that not only providing technology but also providing some more managed services. Focused on content development, instructional design strategy, and even the platform’s administration. Helps to augment some of those gaps that organizations have.

Petra Mayer  07:18

Everything you just said, as you know, I’ve been working with two clients, very different types of clients, who are utilizing D2L Brightspace. And it’s very funny because these organizations are very different. So while one values the video, from the perspective of I can upload a video and host it on the platform, it’s easily accessible, and it looks professional. The other organization very much likes to tap into this; I can record the video directly on the platform and, with that, establish a connection with my learners. Which is something the first organization would probably not feel those individuals would not feel comfortable with.

So the change of generation, so you were talking about the TikTok generation, the change of generation now impacting how learning is being created. It’s very interesting that you put your finger on that because it can be very painful to go through this process for some. They’re very self-conscious, while others see it as a fun way to express themselves.

Kenneth Chapman  08:20

Yeah, and within an organization, there could be diversity, where some business units and leaders want that more, let’s call it conservative implementation, and others want to go and push the boundaries. Our philosophy is more of a platform sort of approach. Compared to that siloed traditional LMS. Everybody can benefit from the different flexibility pieces there. And when one is ready to go adopt some of those things. Seeing what works, one can go ahead and do so.

Petra Mayer  08:50

When we’re looking at that, I think you were talking about integration with other systems you’re now looking at, you’ve got options, and you can utilize the options to the needs of your organization or even the department or the person who is creating the content. What should organizations who are all searching for their first LMS do? What should they keep in mind before they sign up with any particular service provider?

Kenneth Chapman  09:16

Yeah, I’m a big advocate of the people, and their needs come well before the technology. Any real actions being taken to select a learning management system. Or any other piece of technology, are really strong idea of what jobs need to be done. What are the resources and skills that can be deployed to do them? What are the constraints and risks that need to be really well understood?

That way, you know all of the decisions that get made. Along the lines of falling in love with features and making compromises on budget. And otherwise can be seen through that lens, and that real business outcome can be achieved. A lot of times, that means organizations have to ask themselves some tough questions. Like how realistic is it that we deliver on these things? We wish we could do it by buying a system, but don’t know how, you know, don’t have the timelines to go do it, you know, have a lot of murkiness in expertise.

The last thing I would recommend that the organizations really think about before they get down into that feature list. The types of things you see in an evaluation spreadsheet often take a moment to rethink some of their quality and engagement models. With employees, it may be how their ability to interact with learning and see that connected in with their job functions or their progression.

When it’s working with things like membership type of organizations, like professional associations, we work with a lot of them to start looking at, as you modernize your learning offerings, it’s a chance for you to rethink what your membership model is, and what your value to your members are. And you can be monetizing elements of your expertise and your learning as a business.

This goes for professional associations and memberships. But we’re also seeing it more and more often in large corporations that are working with partners, working with their customers. They’re looking at how do we create phenomenal experiences and engagement for them.

But is there also an opportunity for us to create additional revenue models? By stacking and unbundling some of the learning opportunities that we have in these organizations? So all really high-level type of stuff. But when that’s really well understood, then all of the feature’s functionality and otherwise, I think, falls into play a little bit clearer.

Petra Mayer  11:31

Yeah. And I think what you’re saying here is you really have to have a strategy for how you want to use the system. What are the objectives there? Well, sometimes within an organization, I think teams are put onto searching for a system who don’t necessarily have that strategic view. They have a very specific pain point that they’re supposed to put a Band-Aid over, and they’re looking for a system that helps them to do that. And then once you go deeper into it, there are many more opportunities. And if there was no strategic lens over it, then they’re being missed. I think that’s, that resonates with me.

So, let’s talk about D2L Brightspace. So we’ve talked a little bit about the trends in learning and development, what to keep in mind, the pitfalls that could happen in the search of a system or in a transition of a system, and the opportunities that lie in that as well. Who would you say is the ideal user of the D2L Brightspace?

Kenneth Chapman  12:30

Yeah, that’s a good question. It’s probably the hardest one for me to answer. Maybe it’s humility; I don’t know. But the organizations that choose us and ones that really thrive when working with us. Are the ones that recognize that they have a need for some expertise. Experience with a partner to help transform their digital strategy. We’re very much a guide on the side, meet an organization where they are through a combination of really configurable platforms and products. If it needs to be super simple and snap-in, Brightspace will do that. If it needs to be really complex and varied across a large multinational corporation, like Accenture or something, for example, we could do that too.

Same thing with, you know, content developments and the design within the system itself. Those organizations recognize that there’s a real solid business need, and we need to actually deliver. And they’re looking for that kind of partnership piece. That’s, that’s rooted strongly in our wheelhouse.

Organizations that understand that there’s a diversity in the types of learning offerings that they’re trying to provide. But a lot of similarity in terms of the learner experience and the ability to integrate into their ecosystem is common across those use cases, again, are a good fit for us. You know, we have a platform that’s deployed in a massive variety of situations. Brightspace is actually used for K to 12 Learners, it’s used within colleges and universities, as well as within corporate learning.

So we really understand how to build a modern front-end experience. One that works across every device, it’s really accessible. All of the material created in D2L Brightspace is accessible and 508 compliant and things like that. So we try to emphasize if you’re trying to build out a modern learning experience and take some of the sand out of the gears and develop the content and the front end to do that. Again, Brightspace is a really strong path to do that. And it creates that expansion opportunity. If you’re an organization that’s doing some leadership training or an internal university, but you know, you might want to do some of that outreach through your learning programs with customers or through partners.

We’re not another system that has to get purchased. It’s just a rollout of a new program within the same platform. So there’s a lot to be said for bringing that under one roof at that level of expertise.

Petra Mayer  15:01

Yeah. So I recall in the implementation process for one of my clients, there are a lot of features, and there’s a lot of customization that an organization can do with D2L Brightspace. And I think that’s what you’ve been just referring to that, that experience, that learning experience, you want to have that fairly uniform, even though you might have different types of learners.

But because you’re building out a system that then is customized to that learning experience, that’s something that ideally is uniform, even if the content is different, the learners are different, but utilize the customization of the system to allow for that.

And then I think the other thing that you have was just you were just referring to is to having D2L as the partner in this process. Because as you mentioned, many organizations are struggling with this, they don’t have the expertise, and they don’t have the manpower; even if they could build the expertise, they also don’t have the manpower to go through that.

The more customization, then the implementation process is also a little bit more complex than an off-the-shelf system. But that has the downside that you can’t customize. So it’s really using that to its strength.

Now, what do you think, you mentioned a few already. But where are the features where D2L Brightspace really excels? Where do you stand out from the crowd?

Kenneth Chapman  16:28

Yeah, I think not really a feature but a philosophy that was baked into the product really early on. It’s just that idea of flexibility. So there’s a really wide range of tools that can be used for assessment, for visualization of progress, for delivery of content, and different modalities that it can be delivered in. Things can be more sort of competency-based or skill-based.

You know, D2L Brightspace can be configured so that it’s delivering stackable micro-credentials, where people are discovering that themselves through a catalogue or program of study. It can be cohort-based, where I’m working synchronously with a group of individuals that I connect with offline online are a combination of the two, entirely self-paced, or as I said, you know, the administration, the system can be distributed such that customers, partners and others have their own kind of sub portal into the learning system.

So all of that under one roof is kind of unique. How we focus purely as a learning platform. Not so much as talent development or HRIS system or anything like that. Really focused on the learning aspect of it. And the experience alone that I think the fact that everybody is a creator in D2L Brightspace is something that we continually hear is something that’s unique, we’ve really focused on ensuring that we make those creation tools really simple.

Sure, we can integrate with all of the Adobe suite and things like that out there. But if you want to create, you know, a nice video, trim it and have closed captions all done automatically. That’s all done right within the core workflows of D2L Brightspace. I can do all of that on my phone. If I want to develop an entire module or unit on that. Everything works everywhere kind of thing is really key.

We really focus strongly on ease of use. So just drag and drop capabilities, constantly refining what’s that minimal amount of, of decision making, somebody needs to have to go and create something that looks good and can be deployed quickly.

Video is something that’s differentiated in terms of how we work with it throughout our entire platform. We support videos stored and captured, and streamed natively through D2L Brightspace. So again, if an organization doesn’t want to go through the expense and infrastructure of wiring an analog video management system, it can be done right within the learning system. We closed caption everything, it’s all searchable. Again, we look at what the most engaging types of content and ways to create a presence. An increasingly online and distributed learning system video is one of the ways that that comes up a lot.

So we’ve got a really nice tool that does video-based skills assessment. And I actually use this all the time before I do interviews like this because it helps me find out how often do I use things like “uhm”. What’s my rate of speech over time? Are my words quite clear? And I can get that kind of. I can get that kind of feedback solo, I can do it with a mentor, I can have it through a more formal process where it’s graded, and lots of decisions that an organization can make on what job I’m trying to do with the experience I want for this employer, this customer in D2L will follow suit.

Petra Mayer  19:46

So when you’re looking at something like this, where you can really customize to the learning experience you want to deliver as an organization. What what does that look like when you’re doing a typical implementation project for D2L Brightspace for, let’s say, a mid to large-size organization?

Kenneth Chapman  20:06

Yeah, typical is a funny word first because we do work with so many different organizations. But I mean, really, what we try to do is, we’ll do a consultation upfront. We typically know a lot about the organization and their goals through our sales process. That’s part of why we do things a little differently, we have a highly consultative sales process. So we don’t kind of come in with a generic pitch deck.

So we kind of have a sense of what the business goals and the outcomes are, we’ll run a kickoff meeting where we start to review what kind of resources, timelines, and constraints are, is everybody jointly working under. Are they realistic? Do we need an escalation path right out of the gate, or are we good? And then, we start to map out what does the implementation look like? Are there specific phases that we want to work through based on the availability of resources?

Based on internal milestones or pilot phases, however, the decisions have been made to roll out. And then start to map out the change management process involved in actually executing against those. As an organization, change management consulting is something that is baked into all of our implementation and customer onboarding.

The more we can help advocate for and impart some of the best practices we’ve learned from lots and lots and lots of successful implementations, the better our customers are set up to succeed with their investment in time. And then, depending on the needs of the customer, you know, we set up some of those handoffs.

In the case where upfront detail might be driving more of the upfront work for content development. And then handing over to the operational use of those templates that we might have built. So we’ll create later phases for those depending on what some of the milestones were in the project itself.

After that, we have a customer success group. So they’re not salespeople; they’re happiness people. And their job is to work through a quarterly customer plan to look at. Okay, how is our next window for these phases? And the evolution of the implementation changing? How are we tracking against business goals and just constantly moving the goalposts as necessary to make sure we’re doing the job we are hired for?

Petra Mayer  22:17

So it sounds quite complex. And you know, from experience, I know it can be complex. What does the organization, the company on the other side, have in place in order to meet with your team? On an equal level to make this implementation a successful one? It can’t be all on your shoulders; they’ve got to do, carry their weight. So what would you recommend for them to have in place?

Kenneth Chapman  22:43

That’s a good question, actually. It’s something I mean; I think some of the things I talked about earlier, they want to have, you know, what are their real business goals? I think they need to know. And by that, I mean some level of detail around that. Some use cases call them stories in the parlance of software development.

But you know, who are the key actors? What are the key functions that they need to perform? Who is who is stakeholders in the outputs of those functions that they perform? They need to know, you know, what critical systems need to be able to integrate into D2L Brightspace in this instance.

So you know, what is the system of record for where authentication is coming from? Where does data from D2L Brightspace need to flow if there’s a BI or data lake or something that the learning data is being fed into? Or vice versa? If Are there other learning tools that are subservient to D2L Brightspace? How do those ones need to get in there? Internal project phases and timelines and drop dead dates, obviously, are always super important for a project meeting. And then who those key stakeholders are.

So you know, as we start to map out responsibilities and create that matrix of who needs to be accountable, responsible and aware of everything that’s going on, we need those things to help understand the communication plan and that we don’t have any blind spots out of the gate.

Petra Mayer  23:59

Sorry about that phone ringing in the background. That’s really helpful. I think it will be helpful for people to hear this. That they have to put the resources in place to make this a successful project. So now let’s talk about the pricing model. Then for clients, how do you structure your pricing?

Kenneth Chapman  24:18

Yeah, we do a typical SAAS model. So it’s a user subscription based on the learners that are accessing the system. We do have some more creative options for organizations that are doing things a little differently or have different models where that aren’t cost-effective for them.

So you know, for some, we’ll do a number of enrollments for a given program. Some organizations report full-time enrollments that they’re maintaining, so we’ll just work off of that rather than a dynamic list. A lot of our managed services work off of the same subscription model as the license for the software. So based on the number of people accessing it, if there’s a, you know, our advanced data and analytics package, we would deploy that using that same sort of typical SAAS model.

Petra Mayer  25:06

Awesome, great, thank you. What is one thing that you would want your clients to know before they come to you?

Kenneth Chapman  25:15

I think something that’s important to realize when talking to D2L specifically is just how important our history and our experience in education is, and how much of an asset it provides us in terms of really seeing some of the most innovative approaches to delivering online learning and to a wide variety of ages, backgrounds, demographics.

It really differentiates us and helps makes us a really strong partner and understanding the types of practices to advocate for organizations that maybe know what they need to get done but aren’t experts in this space. It really helps us be laser-focused in accomplishing some of those business objectives because we’ve often done it before.

Petra Mayer  26:04

Excellent. Well, thank you so much for all the insights you’ve given us here today about the system of D2L Brightspace, but also about the industry as a whole, where things are going and for organizations to consider whether D2L Brightspace would be a good solution for them. I really appreciate it. I hope I’ll find my voice again. But I thank you for your time today, Kenneth

Kenneth Chapman  26:29

Thank you so much pleasure. My pleasure.

About the author 

Petra Mayer