Deakin University | Customer Success | D2L
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Deakin University

Engaging every learner


Each year, 2,100 students enroll in Dr. Jaclyn Broadbent’s first-year blended Health Behaviour class. It’s a daunting number for any professor—but Dr. Broadbent of Deakin University in Australia, isn’t just any lecturer. Although her students come from four different campuses and represent varying backgrounds and skill sets, she’s determined to get through to each and every one.

At a glance

Client: Deakin University
Students: 2,100
Industry: Education

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  • Each student must feel important
  • An equal chance to succeed
  • Timely feedback was lacking


  • Students feel acknowledged and valued
  • Meaningful feedback when it's needed


  • Dramatic evidence of forging connections
  • High rate of retention
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The Challenge

Each student must feel important

Dr. Broadbent is one of those teachers you never forget. You can tell she’s passionate about her subject and that inspires you. But there’s more to it—you also feel like she cares.

Her secret? Dr. Broadbent really does care. A large cohort like Health Behaviour only intensifies her need to ensure that no one is left out or left behind. “I want my students to feel a connection,” explains Dr. Broadbent, “and the main challenge in connecting is making them feel like they’re important.”

An equal chance to succeed

Getting to know her students was complicated by their diversity. While most were in their first year, they came from 43 different degree programs, displaying a wide range of academic skills, interests, and pre-existing knowledge.

With so many students starting from different places, Dr. Broadbent was concerned with equalising education. “Everyone deserves the same chance to succeed,” she says. “That means providing an enriching, stimulating, and personalized learning experience to each student, despite their vast differences.”

Timely feedback was lacking

Providing timely, quality feedback heavily influences student engagement and outcomes, yet the sheer number of students was preventing Dr. Broadbent from reaching them individually when it mattered most.

“In our students’ exit surveys we were consistently getting comments about how frustrated they were with the lack of timely feedback,” she explains. “And I understand that. How do we expect them to make progress when we don’t tell them how they’re doing gradually and meaningfully throughout the subject?”

When Deakin switched to the Brightspace learning platform, Dr. Broadbent saw opportunities for change: “I was so excited about all of the little things I could do and how I might enhance education.”

teacher speaking to students

The Solution

Students feel acknowledged and valued

It’s easy to feel disconnected when you’re one amongst hundreds of students. To meet the issue head on, Dr. Broadbent enables the Intelligent Agents tool, an automated functionality in the Brightspace platform that uses event triggers to help teachers scale personalization. “If students don’t log onto the platform for two weeks they receive an email,” she says. “It’s just-in-time attention that aims to give them a connection with the School of Psychology. Each email is personalized and comes from me, and it’s all automated so I don’t have to monitor students or manually send emails to 500 students.”

Grade time is a key moment in a student-teacher relationship. With the help of the Intelligent Agents tool, Dr. Broadbent also maximizes opportunities for support and motivation. Struggling students receive an email outlining what they can do to improve next time. High achievers get congratulations and those who are improving receive encouragement to keep going.

“Sometimes students just need someone to notice,” she says. “It’s so rewarding for me when I have been able to target someone possibly ‘at risk’ of dropping out early in the semester, and then reading their assessments pieces at the end when they’ve come so far.”

woman showing students something on computer

Meaningful feedback when it's needed

Perhaps the most impressive of her innovations is the creation of the Model Demonstrate, a method of feedback supported by Brightspace platform tools. “My goal with Demonstrate is to increase the level of feedback students receive and improve their critical thinking,” she says.

Now students receive feedback two weeks after submitting an assignment and at least a week before their next assignment is due. Individual assignments submitted through Brightspace ePortfolio Presentations receive audio-video feedback using the Brightspace platform audio and video messaging tools in order to draw out each student’s best possible performance on subsequent assessments.

According to Dr. Broadbent, it’s having the desired effect: “I absolutely love the audio-video tool for personalizing the experience. Some of the feedback about it from students is mind-blowing. They say it feels like someone is there talking to them about their assignment instead of scribbling notes all over their work and it makes them want to try harder.”

"I appreciate how collaborative D2L is—they’re so responsive to my needs. We work in a continual process of revision on the Brightspace platform, always thinking about what’s working, what could be improved, and what additional tools are necessary. It’s refreshing to have a technology partner that’s driving innovation forward, tailoring education to the needs of students and teachers alike."

Dr. Jaclyn Broadbent, Lecturer in Health Psychology, Deakin University

The Results

Dramatic evidence of forging connections

Despite the enormous class size, students love their Health Behaviour class—a fact that’s reflected in their professor evaluations.  Amazingly, students score Dr. Broadbent at 4.72/5 compared to the university average of 3.9/5.[1]

High rate of retention

The best measure of Dr. Broadbent’s success is not the awards she’s won—although there have been plenty—but rather the impact she’s having on her students. One of the best measures of that is retention. Since being on the Brightspace platform, retention rates sit at an impressive 90%.[2]

[1] Results courtesy of Deakin University
[2] Ibid.

Excited to learn more?

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Fueling up:

Upskilling to grow careers

Name: Zaria
Age: 27

Policy prescriptions: Invest in a Learning-Integrated Life; Transform the learning of today with new partnerships; Accelerate the shift to skills-based learning and hiring

Zaria has five years of work experience and is ready to change jobs and enter a field that has high growth potential in her region. The national government has been investing in collecting better skills-based labour market information for years and has developed a public platform to offer individuals specialized tools to assess their skills against current market needs, and to locate employers that are currently hiring.

On the employer side, the human resources team is closely examining a recent internal skills audit done at their organization and determines that the organization needs additional digital marketing specialists. They initiate a search for individuals with the skills they will soon need and spot a strong candidate in Zaria who requires only light training on regulatory issues regarding the sale of electric vehicles, along with some formal skills development courses on social media marketing strategy. After a successful interview, Zaria is offered the job.

Upon joining, Zaria will receive an educational benefits stipend from the company, and access to a company-provided platform of curated programs for skills building from approved providers. Upon completion of a set of courses, Zaria will receive a credential from a company approved program verifying her technical knowledge and marking the end of her probationary period at the company. To ensure she continues to build her skills, she will move into a formal mentor program with one of her colleagues to receive continual peer-to-peer feedback on her demonstration of skills and knowledge. information

This affordable and accessible learning through employer-funded training has enabled Zaria to begin working while also upskilling to ensure her long-term success in the company and growing industry. The employer is investing in its employees, and company leaders are thinking further into the future about the skills the company needs, and the types of job candidates who will succeed. This match, based on skills potential, was made possible because of government investment in high-quality labour market information and a national platform that matches job candidates with career opportunities based on the candidates’ skills and the identified skill needs of a given job.

Taking the road less travelled:

A networked postsecondary education

Name: Sam
Age: 18

Policy prescriptions: Transform the learning of today with new partnerships

Sam is a prospective postsecondary student who has always been interested in pursuing a global and interdisciplinary education. Sam’s siblings have all instilled in her the importance of studying abroad, having spoken fondly of their academic exchange semesters, field research trips, and intensive language immersion programs. She is inspired, but unsure whether this pathway will be available if she chooses not to complete a four-year degree at one institution.

Sam is interested in understanding how emerging technologies can be used to modernize and improve government services—an area in need of talent not only in her home country of Canada but also abroad. She could take on a general political science, public administration, engineering, or computer science degree at the university close to her home, but none of those degrees feels like the right fit to build the skills she needs to pursue this career interest.

While researching options, Sam learns of a new degree completion pathway that allows students to take courses from a network of universities, colleges, and polytechnic institutions throughout Canada and stack them for skills-based  credentials that are recognized by major Canadian employers. A set of four of these credentials grants an individual a degree-equivalent endorsed by each institution. Sam identifies the skills and knowledge she wants to work towards and charts out four credential pathways:

  1. Service delivery design
  2. Change management
  3. Applications of emerging technologies (e.g., artificial intelligence)
  4. Machinery of government

With this customized learning pathway, Sam has full flexibility to decide how she wants to structure her courses, the institutions within the network she will study at, and the format and model of courses she prefers—whether live in-class instruction or online courses.

Cost flexibility is built in as well—students pay a standard fee based on the number of competencies they intend to learn rather than the normal standard of ‘credit hours’. The province in which Sam lives has endorsed this networked model of  postsecondary education and adjusted its financial assistance program to better support students. Grants and other non-repayable assistance take into consideration the number of courses the student is taking across all institutions when assessing financial need. Previously, Sam would have been required to be a full-time student at every institution to receive support.

Sam also has the option of starting with foundational courses or applying for Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR) information so her existing knowledge and skills can be tested and she can move on to more advanced topics.

Sam completes her first three credentials in three years and uses her certifications to apply for a one-year work-integrated learning experience with the federal government in Germany where she can learn first-hand about the applications of artificial intelligence in government. When she returns home, she applies for PLAR to certify her learning on the machinery of government and is granted a degree acknowledging her four-part customized education.

The collaboration between universities, polytechnics, and colleges to create a networked approach to degree completion, and its endorsement by the provincial government, allowed Sam to graduate as an alumnus of multiple postsecondary education institutions. Her exposure to different thought spaces and networks was highly valuable for ensuring she was engaged throughout her education and set up for post-graduation success. In the rapidly evolving field she has chosen, she understands how important it is to continuously upskill, and is prepared to return to formal education for more stackable credentials as she continues throughout her career.

Route guidance:

Personalized professional development

Name: ZheYuan
Age: 33

Policy prescriptions: Prepare teachers for their own lifelong learning journeys; Accelerate the shift to skills-based learning and hiring

ZheYuan is about to join Marama’s school as a new secondary school teacher. He completed his professional teacher education a decade ago, and teaching looks a bit different today than it did when he was studying. With the incorporation of learning technologies in the classroom, and expectations of teachers delivering competency-based education information, he needs personalized professional development to feel comfortable and supported in this new opportunity.

The school district has been on its own learning journey since shifting to a competency-based education model, and has had some growing pains. Over time, the district has come to recognize that success depends on school administrators working closely with teachers to co-create systems of instruction, and pathways to professional development. The district has its own online learning management system (LMS) for teacher professional development, with a catalogue of content covering a range of subjects including:

  • Strategies for student-centred instruction
  • Design thinking—how to prototype and iterate on solutions to test new approaches
  • Online content—using learning management systems to advance competency-based education
  • Data analysis—interpreting student progress

ZheYuan is excited that he can take on professional learning to suit his needs on his own schedule. He recalls an earlier time when he had to spend nine hours a month in-person taking the same professional development courses as his peers who were teaching very different subjects and had varied skill levels and pedagogical needs than him, which was less than effective.

ZheYuan can also take advantage of his teacher community in the LMS, connecting both in asynchronous chats and in live discussions with other teachers and experts from across his region to ask questions and share his experiences. He sees some upcoming dialogues hosted by his school district to share learnings and signs up for those sessions, knowing he will get a valuable peer perspective from other teachers. ZheYuan is thankful that his school leaders recognize and value professional learning and provide the supports and the time needed for improvement.

D2L Whitepaper Contributors

Lead Authors:
Malika Asthana, Manager, Strategy and Public Affairs
Joe Pickerill, Senior Director, Strategy and Public Affairs, International

Jeremy Auger, Chief Strategy Officer
Mark Schneiderman, Senior Director, Future of Teaching and Learning
Brendan Desetti, Senior Director, Strategy and Public Affairs, United States
Mike Semansky, Senior Director, Strategy and Public Affairs, Canada
Nia Brown, Senior Manager, Strategy and Public Affairs

In the driver’s seat:

Owning the personalized learning journey

Name: Marama
Age: 14

Policy prescriptions: Prepare teachers for their own lifelong learning journeys; Accelerate the shift to skills-based learning and hiring

Marama is enrolled in a school with a competency-based education model information. Students are responsible for owning the personalization of their learning pathways, making choices alongside their teachers in how and when they learn.iii Teachers play a central role in guiding and validating all learning, regardless of where it takes place—offering formative assessments to evaluate a student’s mastery of skills and knowledge. Teachers use data from these assessments, gathered through an online learning management system (LMS), to differentiate instruction and provide targeted supports so that all students progress toward graduation. As a student diagnosed with a learning disability, Marama is supported in her education by this personalized learning pathway.

All students complete an assessment in ninth grade to identify their natural strengths as a learner. Their teachers use the results as inputs to design tailormade educational pathways with learning materials and activities that suit the individual students’ learning needs. In Marama’s case, this includes:

  1. Supplementing lecture-based teaching with structured but independent reading
  2. Shadowing professionals who work on the concepts she is learning about
  3. Taking the stories and lessons she’s learned and sharing it back with classmates by designing a creative and interactive presentation

Over the course of the school year, Marama spends a third of her time in live lectures (sometimes online) with her teacher alongside other classmates—but the rest of her time is spent learning in the ways that suit her best. She can log into her online LMS from her mobile device to access her school resources and complete on her own schedule before the assigned deadline. When Marama finds a concept that interests her, she can ask her teachers and counsellor for support in finding a working professional to speak to, or work alongside for a couple weeks, from the network her school has curated over time. And when she has learned something, she is encouraged to reinforce her learning by applying her skills and developing content to share back with her classmates.

Marama’s personalized learning journey empowers her to own her education by learning in ways that are effective for her, with the support that allows her to be successful. Her teachers have high-quality data about student strengths and performance they can share with her parents to show them how she is mastering specific skills, and where she may need extra support. Her school experience empowers her to embrace her subject interests very early on, and she advances to deeper topics quickly as she submits evidence of learning that demonstrates her proficiency. She graduates having cultivated a mindset for self-directed learning early in her education.