I’ve been trying to get my head around the reasoning for the corporate rebranding to Brightspace12, and I’m coming up short. I like the name, but it feels like everything they’ve described here at Fusion could have been done under the previous banner of Desire2Learn. I’m more concerned about signs that the company is shifting to a more corporate Big Technology Company stance.

When we adopted D2L, they felt like a teaching-and-learning company. What made them interesting to us is that they did feel like a company that really got teaching and learning. They were in the trenches. They used the language. They weren’t a BigTechCo. But, they were on a trajectory aspiring toward BigTechCo.

Fusion 2013 was held at almost the exact same time that we had our D2L environment initially deployed to start configuration for our migration process. We were able to send a few people to the conference last year, and we all came away saying that it definitely felt more like a teaching-and-learning conference than a vendor conference. Which was awesome.

We’ve been working hard with our account manager and technical account team, and have made huge strides in the last year. We’ve developed a really great working relationship with the company, and I think we’re all benefiting from it. The company is full of really great people who care and work hard to make sure everyone succeeds. That’s fantastic. Lots of great people working together.

But it feels like things are shifting. The company now talks about “enablement” – which is good, but that’s corporate-speak, not teaching-and-learning speak. That’s data.

Fusion 2014 definitely feels more like a vendor conference. I don’t know if we’re just more sensitive to it this year, but every attendee I’ve talked to about it has noticed the same thing. This year is different. That’s data.

As part of the rebranding, Desire2Learn/Brightspace just rebooted their community site – which was previously run within an instance of the D2L Learning Environment (which was a great example of “eating your own dog food”), and now it’s a shiny new Igloo-powered intranet site. They also removed access to the product suggestion platform, which was full of carefully crafted suggestions for improving the products, provided by their most hardcore users.

The rebranded community site looks great, but the years worth of user-provided discussions and suggestions didn’t make the journey to the new home. So, the community now feels like a corporate marketing and communication platform, rather than an actual community because it’s empty. I’m hopeful that there is a plan to bring the content from the actual community forward. The content wasn’t there at launch, and it was about the branding of the site rather than the community. That’s data.

And there are other signs. The relaunched community site is listed under “Community” on the new Brightspace website, broken into “Communities of Practice”:

Screen Shot 2014 07 16 at 8 51 49 AM

The problem is, those aren’t “communities of practice” – they are corporate-speak categories for management of customer engagement. Communities of Practice are something else entirely. I don’t even know what an “Enablement” community is. That’s data.

It feels like the company is trying to do everything, simultaneously. They’re building an LMS / Learning Environment / Integrated Learning Platform, a big data Analytics platform, media streaming platform, mobile applications, and growing in all directions at once. It feels like the corporate vision is “DO EVERYTHING” rather than something more focused. I’m hoping that’s just a communication issue, rather than anything deeper. Which is also data.

They’re working hard to be seen as a Real Company. They’re using Real Company language. They’re walking and talking like a Real Company. Data.

The thing is – they’ve been working on the rebranding for awhile now, and launched it at the conference. The attendees here are likely the primary target of the rebranding, and everyone I talk to (attendees and staff) are confused by it. It feels like a marketing push, and a BigTechCo RealCo milestone. It feels like the company is moving through an uncanny valley – it doesn’t feel like the previous teaching-and-learning company, and it’s not quite hitting full stride as a BigTechRealCo yet.

I really hope that Brightspace steps back from the brink and returns to thinking like a teaching-and-learning company.

  1. this isn’t about the name – personally, I like the new name, and wish they’d used it all along. But the company had built an identity around the previous name for 15 years, and it looks like they decided to throw that all away []
  2. and there’s the unfortunate acronym. 30 seconds after the announcement, our team had already planned to reserve bs.ucalgary.ca []

9 replies on “Brightspace nee Desire2Learn”

  1. I’m sorry I missed meeting you at the conference. We too have been drawn to D2L for their “in the weeds” teaching and learning perspective, and I know that this new posturing has made a lot of people uncomfortable. When the product spotlight encompasses such a broad ecosystem of needs, it’s hard to get excited. And therefore, they don’t have the same excitement as talking about addressing simple irks like getting rid of the Java equation editor, or updates to discussions that impact the every-day lives of users.

    I chatted with a few people about this drift and while I think it’s critical that we all understand that this is a manifestation of the change we’re sensing in higher ed. (and one company’s sincere desire (or just D) to lead in it), the audience at the user conference never seems quite right. But who is the audience, and who doesn’t this change affect?

    I still came away from this conference with the same confidence that D2L is who I want to be partnered with in this massive change, even if it has lost some of the comfort and familiarity of the small, manageable learning environment paradigm. I saw so many examples of fellow institutions and D2L staff rising to meet and embrace these serious, major, and difficult changes that I always lament that more of our faculty, admins, and students couldn’t attend.

    I appreciate the new name as well. So apparently I’m buying in to D2L’s BS.

    1. I had a really good conversation with John Baker after the closing keynote – to his credit, he reached out directly to discuss this post, and wanted to make sure we knew that teaching and learning is still absolutely the focus of the company. Part of the problem is that this was the end of a 2-year rebranding exercise, and they forgot that we all haven’t been along for the ride and so didn’t have any of the back story. After the chat, I’m much more confident in the company. They have some work to make sure they’re communicating their vision, and that the branding/marketing folks don’t get too far ahead of things. I am still confident that they’re the right partner – they have some work to do on communicating their vision, but the people are all in place, and they all care deeply about the original teaching-and-learning core of the company.

  2. D’Arcy! 7:56am on a Sunday morning & I finally finished reading this blog post. Typical haha. 3 days after the conference this still sounds right to me. I noticed the archive on the Community site though & activity there has resumed. Perhaps the ship will be righted in the end.

    1. Yeah. Looks like the old community site is back up as an archive – that should have been the default state before the announcement, so we didn’t have to ask about it, though. I just signed up to be invited to participate in the new community site, as well. Not sure what that’s about. Feels like it was rushed out the door before the paint was dry in order to make the Fusion deadline…

  3. D’Arcy, it was great to finally meet you at #D2LFUSION. While I share your concerns, I do feel that the way we feel is in part the nature of a maturing industry. Edtech as we know it has reached its teen-aged years and is indeed “growing up.” This is why I feel it’s now more important than ever to support innovation “at the edge.” It’s a shift that we are all still getting used to, but this is where the particularly cool stuff is happening – eg: the tools and content that support specific disciplines and pedagogies that would never make too much sense as part of a core LMS product. It was encouraging to me to learn at this conference how D2L is approaching the challenges of playing well with other solutions in the space.

    D2L’s challenge now, like other companies in the space, is that at the end of the day they are a software company whose roots are strongly in the education space. And this often means that the lines of audience and purpose while aligned are sometimes blurred. Maybe the messaging was a little too far down corporate-speak this year, but in some ways I do think D2L sees their role shifting to be an enabler that allows us to use the tools and techniques we choose to do the teaching and learning. (For me, I was actually surprised by how many instructional folks were present and telling stories about how they were using the product rather than talking about the product itself.) And so long as they continue to provide good quality software, retain their many phenomenal employees, and seek to support the latest practices in terms of open standards and interoperability, I won’t get too worried about their marketing messages. 🙂

    1. Agreed on all points, George. The only reason I needed to write the post in the first place is that it feels like the company is at a pivotal point in their growth – they will need to decide which way they finish the transition to a Real Company. There are signs that the enterprise sales side of things are gaining louder voices, which is worrying. They only people we’ve had contact with at the company that left us feeling lied to and taken for granted were executives from their sales group. I hope they adjust back toward the emphasis on teaching-and-learning, and veer away from the path they’re on. They aren’t IBM or Oracle. That’s why they’re interesting. Here’s hoping the next big press release is written by humans, rather than Enterprise Synergy Leveraging Engineers.

Comments are closed.