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Desire2Learn Offers Alternative MOOC Platform, Integrates New Tools

Education technology company Desire2Learn has introduced a new all-encompassing version of its flagship offering, Learning Suite, incorporating all of its latest acquisitions and partnerships. At the same time, the company has also launched a service for delivering massive open online courses that integrates with the learning platform. The University System of Georgia is among the institutions that have tested the the MOOC platform, Open Courses.

The newest edition of Learning Suite puts the student and faculty member at the control center of an extensive collection of tools and programs and deemphasizes the traditional focus of course management systems as being an application solely controlled and delivered by the faculty member or institution. The latest release includes course management components, as well as mobile tools, predictive analytics, adaptive learning, social sharing and collaboration services, the capabilities of delivering or participating in MOOCs, and an ecosystem of third-party Desire2Learn partners, including IBM. These elements are all available from one place; data is shared and used across the platform.

"If you're a student today, you have to log into four or five — maybe as many as 20 — different systems. What we're trying to do is pull that all together into what we call an integrated learning platform," explained Desire2Learn CEO and President John Baker. "The result should drive better student engagement, better graduation rates, better outcomes."

Among the new integrated components are these:

  • The feature set from Wiggio to deliver communications tools for managing group messaging, doing file sharing, setting up ad-hoc learner or group collaboration, handling scheduling, and performing task management. The Learning Suite can also integrate modules from Microsoft's Office 365 and Google Apps. While students have been setting up study groups "in droves," Baker said, another major use may turn out to be faculty members doing research. "Our new model here enables them to set up their own groups, share their own documents, share their own research with collaborators all around the world."

  • Binder, a mobile and Web-based app that lets students access and work with content from courses, digital textbooks, and online storage services such as Dropbox and SkyDrive. Desire2Learn has also introduced the Binder Shop, which allows learners to buy or rent textbooks and study guides from major academic publishers, including Cengage and McGraw-Hill Education.

  • ePortfolio provides a repository for students to store, organize, and share educational work, goals, progress, and accomplishments. A mobile edition of that lets them post content and share it from a mobile device. For example, said Baker, "A great example of this technology in action is found in the field of nursing. Future nurses can capture and share their learning experiences with their classmates while in the hospital, helping them all accelerate their learning." He added that this component could be kept open for students after graduation.

  • The updated Learning Suite includes updates to the interface in order to simplify navigation, the company said, to help users find faster routes to the tools and services they want to use.

The enhanced Learning Suite is being rolled out to cloud customers as a free upgrade, Baker said. He suggested that full adoption may not go smoothly in all institutions. "The main issue is, how do we help our clients really bring together this integrated experience and feel comfortable ceding control to the students or faculty member to manage their own experiences?"

The company's new MOOC service, Open Courses, takes on Udacity, edX, and Coursera as an alternative to those MOOC delivery platforms. According to Desire2Learn, Open Courses "redefines" the standard MOOC model by ensuring that institutions retain the copyright on their content and data and have the option of determining how to recognize students who complete the MOOC course of study and manage revenue generation. The curriculum for a MOOC can be pulled from existing content and continue to be managed within the Learning Suite.

The launch catalog includes courses from Colorado Community College Systems; Fanshawe College in London, Ontario; and Montana State University; among others.

Open Courses is also being made available as a standalone cloud service for institutions that don't use Desire2Learn. Both editions provide a self-registration feature.

"With this new platform, educators maintain control of their content, maintain course integrity and can open up new forms of profitability," Baker said. "MOOCs are not a new business for Desire2Learn; they're a natural extension of what we do. The Open Courses platform benefits from the rest of the products that we already created."

"A key measure of success for an online learning initiative is its demonstrated ability to help increase student learning and graduation rates," said Houston Davis, executive vice chancellor and chief academic officer for the University System of Georgia. "Working with Desire2Learn, we are using MOOC formats to give our students opportunities to earn additional credits, so they have more options to succeed." The system has made delivery of "new, flexible, and affordable degree options" — including delivery of open courses — an ingredient of its 2013-2018 strategic plan.

"Desire2Learn Open Courses is a tremendous asset to the success of our MOOC initiatives. The user progress and reporting tools have helped us track student response and personalize the course to fit their learning needs," said Wendy Wilson, e-learning designer and MOOC coordinator for Fanshawe College.

Editor's note: This article has been modified since its original publication to correct a factual error. We previously reported that UGA had delivered 160,000 instances of a course using Open Courses. That information was not correct. [Updated Oct. 8 at 12:53 p.m.] —D.N.


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