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Deciding on a Learning Platform – One University’s Experience

  • 3 Min Read

COVID-19 accelerated the rollout of education technology in universities and other places of learning. Now, many institutions are taking stock of the solutions they implemented at speed and are setting technology strategies for the future. A modern innovative learning platform provides a single, cohesive learning environment for classroom-based, online and blended teaching models. However, selecting a learning platform is a big decision, so how do you decide?

Here, we take a look at one university’s experience.

The University of Groningen’s 5 steps to choosing a learning platform

The University of Groningen in the Netherlands was established over 400 years ago. It offers 180+ highly ranked Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD degree programmes across 11 faculties and has a student population of over 35,000 from more than 120 countries.

In 2019, the University began a tendering exercise to replace its learning platform. It recognised that teaching had changed significantly since the platform had first been introduced, with cross-faculty and interdisciplinary teaching, more group assignments and a greater variety of assessments.

The search for a replacement to take the University forward in its learning and technology goals was an extensive one. It incorporated site visits, technology evaluations and comprehensive usability testing. This is how the team went about it:

1. Supplier and university visits

The University established a Future of the Learning Environment (FLE) Steering Committee to manage the comprehensive selection process and the eventual change management programme that would introduce the University’s next-generation learning platform.

The team visited three suppliers in contention to investigate their technology solutions thoroughly, but the research didn’t stop there. The Committee also visited six universities that already used the platforms to get first-hand experience of how they made their choices and to learn from their implementations. All interests were covered in these visits as the University’s investigating groups comprised lecturers, experts from the faculties and service units, and students. This ensured all stakeholders were represented and that everyone who would use the platform was able to have their questions answered.

It was an extremely productive learning exercise. Here is what the University learnt about migrating to a new learning platform from the experiences of its peers:

  • Take time for implementation
  • Train and support lecturers in working with the learning environment
  • A standard template makes it easier for students to navigate courses.

2. Setting criteria

The Steering Committee used the information and advice it had gathered to prepare a schedule of requirements and wishes. At this point, the team also thought-out scenarios for user testing with lecturers and students.

The set of criteria that the University decided would be used to make its final decision was as follows:

  1. Focus on usability
  2. Functionality (with the minimum being digital assessment, portfolio, portal, grade centre, mobile readiness and possibilities for integration)
  3. Partnership
  4. Implementation support
  5. Pricing


3. Bid submissions

Three suppliers submitted bids and the team asked each how it would translate the University’s learning objectives into their platform’s functionalities.

“That was an eye-opener,” says Educational Innovation Professor Jan Riezebos. “It included, for instance, learning analytics and reminders that are sent to students automatically to personalising emails.”

4. Assessment and usability testing

The University then put the learning platforms under consideration through their paces. For three days, test groups totalling nearly 70 lecturers and 30 students, including some with accessibility requirements, tried out all three learning platforms. They tested a range of scenarios including marking, handing in and reviewing work and giving feedback.

5. Learning from others

Having learnt from the experiences of other universities implementing new learning platforms, the University of Groningen didn’t end contact there. Once the decision had been taken to appoint Brightspace as its new learning environment, it stayed in touch with a number of fellow University users who were able to offer advice and tips for platform implementation and use. This set the University up well as it embarked on its implementation, migration, and rollout of Brightspace, with an initial target of 6,000 courses on the platform in the academic year 2022-23.

The University of Groningen took a comprehensive approach to evaluating and deciding on the next generation learning environment that would help it meet its objectives and provide rich and rewarding learning experiences. Its rigorous assessment of platform functionality, levels of support and partnering credentials led it to select D2L Brightspace. For further information, discover why the University of Groningen partners with D2L to support blended, interdisciplinary learning goals

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