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Saint Leo University

How the school took advantage of an LMS search to change its learning experience

Saint Leo University is Florida's first Catholic University and offers a liberal arts-based education for people of all faiths. Its mission is to provide an exceptional learning experience while strengthening the character of its community by creating a student-centered learning environment.


Saint Leo University



Saint Leo University provides online programs and personalized attention to its students while maintaining high academic standards.
Adult learners make up the majority of online students at Saint Leo’s, which is why they needed a system that could not only be easily learned, but was also accessible from any device. They saw Brightspace as the upgrade they were looking for.


  • 40 locations across seven states
  • Offering online programs since 1998
  • 86% of students are adult learners


Like so many good stories, it all started with a problem. It was 2015 and Saint Leo University, a school just north of Tampa, Florida, received some unsettling news: its learning management system (LMS) was being shut down. But Jeff Borden, Chief Innovation Officer at Saint Leo, decided to look at it as an opportunity to do something better for the school’s students.

When faced with a problem, Jeff says that “with every solution that we have, we try to see if we can impact other problems.” If the school needed to replace its LMS, why not find a solution that could help tackle some of the school’s biggest challenges? Social learning, integrating learning science into every classroom, and the inclusion of mindset and grit were top of mind problems that Saint Leo desired to address.

But for Saint Leo, like many schools, the two biggest issues involved shifting from college access to college success. With enrollment, the school wanted to better connect the right student to the right program at the right time. But retention more closely aligned to the school’s core values. How could Saint Leo more quickly identify students who weren’t going to graduate? How could the school understand the realities—both inside and outside of the classroom—for its 15,000 students and help them in real time?

Saint Leo wanted to create a platform that generated meaningful, educational experiences, where rich data would help the school learn through analytics, on its own. They wanted a system that was both effective for faculty and satisfying for students. Saint Leo wanted one experience, regardless of how many platforms their vision required.

Testing the waters

Saint Leo decided to take advantage of the LMS search to create a whole learning ecosystem for the school. Jeff purposely uses the word “ecosystem” because it implies interdependence—all the parts would need to work cohesively to create Saint Leo’s vision of creating immersive, personalized, adaptive learning at scale.

In order to integrate a true “system” of learning, Saint Leo had to choose commercial products that were API rich, while also being highly data-centric. After curating the list of available tools, pilots were performed. One pilot involved Brightspace and another LMS provider in fall 2015. Following this pilot, the clear winner from both satisfaction and behavioral analysis was Brightspace. As it had already been determined to be API-rich and data-centric, Brightspace became the obvious choice for Saint Leo.

Let me upgrade you

But it wasn’t simply ease of use, technology capability, or learning analytics that attracted Saint Leo to Brightspace. The evolution of the Brightspace platform was a natural fit for Saint Leo. With the platform’s highly centralized curriculum (generated by full-time faculty and carried out by adjuncts), Saint Leo could ensure that required parts remain in the course to maintain accreditation requirements with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). Saint Leo could also have the consistent look and feel to all its courses, while still allowing for flexibility in delivery by the individual section professor.

As the school deployed five external facing and nine total commercial systems, all leveraging API integrations and solving multiple problems, Saint Leo could now move forward and build “Lions SHARE”—that complete learning ecosystem that Jeff had envisioned. And with mature, cornerstone pieces to the system like Brightspace, leveraging its Valence APIs, Saint Leo was also open to other student-centric tools that would complete the vision. Jeff felt that the Brightspace APIs helped to give “a much richer, more connected experience for [its] students.”

We were instantly upgrading from a 2002 Cadillac to a 2016 Lexus.

Jeff Borden, Chief Innovation Officer at Saint Leo University

Hitting the ground running

Jeff describes the transition to Brightspace as “instantly upgrading from a 2002 Cadillac to a 2016 Lexus,” over the previous LMS. He credits the Implementation Services team at D2L with being an integral part of ensuring that upgrade ran smoothly. In fact, those quick wins and the ease of working together allowed the Saint Leo team to focus on the other tools included in the system and ensure they would work just as effectively.

About four months before beta testing and eight months prior to full launch, Saint Leo hosted a vendor summit where all desired platform representatives came to campus. Jeff describes, “We locked them in a room and made them promise to come out only when we had one system, one experience. D2L helped lead the charge and within 24 hours had already integrated with our most promising on-ground tool, MeTL.” Saint Leo would use the MeTL technology as a digital whiteboard with powerful analytics.

During the fall, Saint Leo added in the other tools, all of which are white-labeled to students. This put the finishing touches on the infrastructure of the ecosystem that is Lions SHARE. Including Social, Courses, Whiteboard, Folio, and Productivity, Lions SHARE went live for all 15,000 students in January 2017.

For the first time, Saint Leo students can instantly connect to other students and faculty at any of the school’s locations, in 44 centers or fully online from around the world.

Almost instantly, students were impressed with the new system. Some students have posted that they never felt connected to the students outside of their courses before, actually thanking Saint Leo for the move.

Another immediate benefit was a mobile experience. Lions SHARE now has an app for the social component as well as leveraging Brightspace Pulse to give its students access to their courses, making it far more in line with how many students today want to learn. When they took courses at other schools, the students couldn’t access materials in the middle of the night or on a train. Now, Saint Leo doesn’t have to stand in the way of students looking to learn anywhere, anytime.

Finally, students are also being supported 24 hours a day, seven days a week throughout the whole platform. Through email, phone, or live chat, students can get help with any of the diverse parts of Lions SHARE, allowing them to quickly resolve any issues and get back to learning. Through D2L, students’ needs are met by a single helpdesk, only receiving warm transfers if a student needs to speak with a Saint Leo representative. According to Saint Leo, with a current 95% first call resolution rate, faculty and students have never felt so supported.

Saint Leo is looking forward to the flexibility that this new ecosystem has added for both its teachers and students. Jeff has ambitious goals for Lions SHARE. He says, “We think we will be able to create a kind of learning environment that students won’t get in most other places.”

Jeff says he’s never been one of those people who says, “If we could only save one student, it’s worth it.” While that sounds nice, it doesn’t result in a particularly impactful school. Instead, Jeff notes, “what we’re doing here is savings a truckload of ‘one-students.’” And it’s all because when the school was faced with a challenge, it decided to think differently. Saint Leo connected learners to one another, to educational experiences, and ultimately to success.

Saint Leo received honorable mention at the 2017 Learning Impact Awards.

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