It would be deeply unfair of me to mock Blackboard for having a messy but substantive keynote presentation and not give equal time to D2L’s remarkable press release, pithily entitled “D2L Supercharges Its Integrated Learning Platform With Adaptive Learning, Robust Analytics, Game-Based Learning, Windows® 8 Mobile Capabilities, And The Newest Education Content All Delivered In The Cloud.” Here’s the first sentence:
D2L, the EdTech company that created the world’s first truly integrated learning platform (ILP), today announces it is supercharging its ILP by providing groundbreaking new features and partnerships designed to personalize education and eliminate the achievement gap.
I was going to follow that quote with a cutting remark, but really, I’m not sure that I have anything to say that would be equal to the occasion. The sentence speaks for itself.
For a variety of reasons, Phil and I did not attend D2L FUSION this year, so it’s hard to tell from afar whether there is more going on at the company than meets the eye. I’ll do my best to break down what we’re seeing in this post, but it won’t have the same level of confidence that we have in our Blackboard analysis.
Let me get to the heart of the matter first. Does it look to us like D2L has made important announcements this year? No, it does not. Other than, you know, supercharging its ILP by providing groundbreaking new features and partnerships designed to personalize education and eliminate the achievement gap. They changed their product name to “Brightspace” and shortened their company name to D2L. The latter strikes me as a particularly canny PR move. If they are going to continue writing press releases like their last one, it is probably wise to remove the temptation of the endless variety of potential “Desire2” jokes. Anyway, THE Journal probably does the best job of summarizing the announcements. For an on-the-ground account of the conference and broader observations about shifts in the company’s culture, read D’Arcy Norman’s post. I’ve been following D’Arcy since I got into blogging ten years ago and have learned to trust his judgment as a level-headed on-the-ground observer.
From a distance, a couple of things jump out at me. First, it looks to me like D2L is trying to become a kind of a content player. Having acquired the adaptive platform in Knowillage, they are combining it with the standards database that they acquired with the Achievement Standards Network. They are also making a lot of noise about enhancements to and content partnerships for their Binder product, which is essentially an eBook platform. Put all of this together, and you get something that conceptually is starting to look (very) vaguely like CogBooks. It wants to be an adaptive courseware container. If D2L pulls this off it will be significant, but I don’t see signs that they have a coherent platform yet—again, acknowledging that I wasn’t able to look at the strategy up close at FUSION this year and could easily be missing critical details.
Second, their announcement that they are incorporating IBM’s Cognos into their Insights learning analytics platform does not strike me as a good sign for Insights. As far as we have been able to tell from our sources, that product has languished since Al Essa left the company for McGraw Hill. One problem has been that their technical team was unable to deliver on the promise of the product vision. There were both data integrity and performance issues. This next bit is speculation on my part, but the fact that D2L is announcing that they plan to use the Cognos engine suggests to me that the company has thus far failed to solve those problems and now is going to a third party to solve them. That’s not necessarily a bad strategy, but it reinforces our impression that they’ve lost another year on a product that they hyped to the heavens and raises questions about the quality of their technical leadership.