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South University

Transforming Adult Education at South University: Elevating Online Learning With Data-Driven Insights

Despite investing countless hours in learning via online courses at South University, numerous students were struggling to attain satisfactory grades. Educators pinpointed text-heavy content as the root cause of this issue. Thankfully, they were able to harness the power of Creator+ from D2L to craft more immersive and learner-centric courses. This transformative initiative not only rekindled student engagement but also catapulted academic performance to new heights, significantly elevating student scores on critical assignments.


South University



  • Brightspace Core
  • Creator+
  • Data Hub

South University shows how exceptional course design elevates learner engagement and significantly contributes to higher academic achievement.


  • Sara Portoulas, director of training
  • Suzanne Gamble, instructional designer
  • Katie Ramos, instructional designer



  • 30% reduction in course development time compared with other design tools used
  • Increase in the number of students attaining A and B grades on assignments
  • Encouraged learners to test their knowledge with stress-free practice


Building rewarding careers

Established in 1899, South University helps adult learners develop the skills they need to thrive in the business and technology, public health, nursing, and legal sectors. As well as offering in-person classes across 11 campuses, South University provides a wide variety of online courses.

“We have a very diverse learner population,” explains Sara Portoulas, director of training. “Many of our learners juggle full-time jobs and education at the same time, so it’s vital that we offer courses that can easily fit around their busy lives. Online programs enable us to do just that while also reaching learners across the whole of the United States.”

South University has offered online courses for decades. In that time, the organization has curated a rich library of e-learning tools and resources, which instructional designers use daily to create new courses or enhance existing programs.

We’re constantly developing our courses so they are accessible, easy to use and engaging. In our latest review, we found that some content was very text-heavy and difficult for learners to parse. Using Data Hub from D2L, we could see that student grades were not reflective of the time spent in the course content.

Sara Portoulas, director of training

South University made simplifying hard-to-digest content a top priority. However, redesigning course materials was a time-consuming task for the instructional design team.


Success-focused course design

With multiple courses scheduled for redevelopment, South University searched for a solution that could help instructional designers create engaging, accessible content faster. Having initially built many of its courses using D2L Brightspace, the university jumped at the opportunity to pilot Creator+ as soon as it launched.

During the pilot phase, instructional designers extensively explored the features within Creator+. To gauge its impact on learner success, South University implemented two versions of a communications course—one incorporating Creator+ and the other without.

Designing engaging content is so much easier with Creator+. We really like the different ways the solution lets us break up information into more manageable segments by using carousels, accordions and hotspots. Creator+ helps us make the key details stand out.

Sara Portoulas, director of training

Impressed with the new D2L authoring tool, South University decided to roll out the solution beyond the pilot program. Today, the university uses Creator+ to build online faculty training courses as well as LinkedIn Learning modules for students, faculty and staff.

“We love the content templates provided in Creator+, and we’ve already started using them on our LinkedIn Learning courses,” explains Portoulas. “We want course information to really resonate with learners, to be interactive and to make sense. Creator+ allows us to do exactly that, and the templates really help our instructional designers improve development time.”


Harnessing data-driven insights

To measure the impact of Creator+ on the learner experience, South University used Data Hub to create detailed before and after reports.

“Learner grades offered an excellent objective measure of the impact of Creator+,” explains Gamble. “We looked at learners’ performance in assignments during weeks three, four and five, and saw that there was a higher proportion of learners achieving A and B grades from content designed with Creator+. We also looked at the time learners spent working through content, which had reduced significantly. The fact that learners’ grades improved while spending less time with the material confirmed that Creator+ had a positive impact on the learners’ experience. It helps us build courses that enable learners to process, retain and recall information much more effectively.”

Inspiring positive learning habits

To encourage learners to test their knowledge and review key topics, South University incorporated knowledge checks throughout course modules using the Insert Practice tool in Creator+.

“Our learners love the knowledge checks,” explains Portoulas. “This gives them a safe space to really put their knowledge to the test. Learners can identify knowledge gaps and focus on reviewing the content before completing a graded assessment.”

Streamlining instructional design

As well as helping learners spend less time digesting course content, Creator+ has helped instructional designers build new content and update existing programs.

Creator+ definitely saves us time. We can create engaging content in 30% of the time compared with other design tools used. We can now spend some of that time measuring the impact of our designs and ensuring our content improves the student experience.

Katie Ramos, instructional designer
Four elementary school students working on a laptop
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