Kaplan University (KU) is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission and serves approximately 30,000 online and campus-based students. The University strives to help adult students by providing practical, student-centered education that prepares them for careers in some of the fastest growing industries. KU has been a leading innovator in higher education for many years. It is recognized for its pioneering role in delivering online degree programs, its long-time commitment to competency- based education linking mastery of discipline-specific and professional competencies, and its Research Pipeline designed to improve student learning and persistence by testing experimental interventions against empirical evidence. KU’s Concord Law School offered the first fully online law degree. Kaplan is a subsidiary of Graham Holdings Company (NYSE: GHC) and its largest division.


For students learning online, the right LMS matters

While Kaplan University offers a physical presence with 15 campuses and learning centers, the vast majority of the post-secondary institution’s 30,000 students study entirely online.

“Kaplan’s typical student is a 34-year-old working female with children. She is likely also caring for dependents and relying on financial aid to fund her education,” says David Starnes, Chief Academic Officer for Kaplan University. “She hasn’t the time, nor the ability to attend a traditional school to earn her degree. An online education for this student is not a want, it is a need. It allows her to achieve her learning goals.”

“When you have thousands of students depending on your institution to help them achieve their nursing, business, IT (or other) degree, the delivery platform for that learning experience matters — a lot. For over a decade Kaplan has been using another eLearning solution to enable its online learning so it was time to replace our LMS, especially when you think about all the technological advancements that have been made over the years, which have only increased basic expectations.”

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Brightspace the clear frontrunner – in two separate evaluations

In 2014 the university embarked upon a search for a new LMS, the first of two evaluations it would conduct. “We looked at all the major LMS solutions. In the end, after an exhaustive review of the top players, D2L was the top choice. But for various reasons, we didn’t make a move at that time,” says Starnes.

While D2L was the clear forerunner in the 2014 evaluation, the Kaplan team felt there were a few areas where the Brightspace learning management system could be improved. The evaluation team at Kaplan felt the mobile platform, for instance, hadn’t gone nearly far enough. Starnes and the rest of the team were assured by D2L that a new mobile interface was on the roadmap.

In the Fall of 2015, Kaplan revisited its LMS options one more time. They called D2L and one other vendor back to the table.

“Kaplan University is a very cautious organization,” says Starnes. “We wanted to be sure. So we gave it 30 days and put the two vendors head to head.”

The second evaluation team included representation from all departments, and included people from the previous evaluation, along with some new faces.

“We made them put in the time and the effort. During the 30 days we met with each vendor team at least half a dozen times,” says Starnes. “We examined every aspect of the LMS and the vendor relationship; from the mobile interface to the future roadmap, to the financial stability of the organization. In the end, there was overwhelming support for D2L and Brightspace. D2L had made commitments to us back in 2014, and in 2015 we saw that they had done what they said they were going to do. That impressed us very much. While we liked and could have lived with either vendor product, we really liked the culture of the D2L organization and how it fit with Kaplan. D2L talked the language of competency-based learning, and as this is a key part of our future, we felt D2L had the strongest support and understanding of this model.”

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“Brightspace removed all doubt and convinced our leadership they could move forward quickly and with confidence.”
David Starnes, Chief Academic Officer, Kaplan University


Cautious first steps

Kaplan went live with Brightspace in January 2017, introducing the system to one of its smallest programs-about 60 students. It went well. The University added a second release six to seven weeks later to another 500 students. “We laid out a plan to put Brightspace in the hands of all 30,000 students, working in multiple tracks. Our goal was to be fully implemented to all students in December of 2017,” says Starnes.

“We built in every fallback measure and additional time into the plan to allow us to recover when the system failed,” says Starnes. “So we put a plan in place with our advising team to be ready and on call. We would bring students into sessions in groups to walk them through Brightspace. We lined up a one-on-one orientation program to teach students Brightspace. We had teams of people standing by for every release.”

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Experiencing the best

“We were so careful. And yet our releases kept getting bigger. We went from 60 students to 500. Then we began adding increasingly large numbers, culminating in our largest release to 12,000 students. And the funny thing was, no one took us up on our offer of support. You could literally count on one hand the number phone calls we received, and they were trivial requests. I have to tell you we were shocked it went so smoothly. It was quiet, and it’s still quiet.”

Midstream through the implementation, Kaplan also decided to introduce the new Daylight mobile interface. This deployment, like the rest of the Brightspace platform, went off smoothly as promised.

Things went so well, Kaplan University ended up meeting its goal for deployment to all students in August 2017, five months earlier than planned. Starnes reports that in the first year of deployment, Kaplan has only experienced one period of downtime for Brightspace, and the timeframe was so minimal he was not even personally aware of it until he searched back through the IT records.

“Brightspace removed all doubt and convinced our leadership they could move forward quickly and with confidence,” says Starnes.