Phil Hill, commenting on Desire2Learn's $80 million first-time venture round over at e-Literate, asks:
"What does it take to get the attention of the higher education press? Given the significant size of this funding for educational technology, I was surprised to find zero coverage from Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle yesterday."
"Despite the well-documented shortcomings of the LMS market and the walled-garden approach to legacy systems, I believe there is no other system that has as great of an impact on faculty and students as does the traditional LMS. What does it mean for the second largest commercial LMS provider – with over 8 million learners – to raise such a large amount of venture funding? I believe this question deserves more discussion."
Let's take Phil's questions in reverse order.
Question 1: What do we make of the $80 million venture capital investment in Desire2Learn?
The thing with edtech is that a little money goes a long way. $80 million is a small number in the world of consumer or enterprise technology, but a huge number in e-learning. What your investment in a company like Desire2Learn gets you is an asset that remains somewhat unusual in the technology world: a real business model. Desire2Learn has real customers that pay real money each year for access to its platforms and services. Desire2Learn has valuable intellectual property, and hard earned experience in recruiting and retaining customers. Every time I think about how much Facebook paid for Instagram I cringe a bit inside - imagine how much more good that money could do if placed in education.
I don't know the details of the investment, of exactly how much of the company $80 million purchased, and I'm curious to find out. Nor have I seen Desire2Learn's financials (as being privately held they do not need to report anything). Despite this lack of key data, I'd venture to hypothesize that OMERS and NEA are making a smart investment. Desire2Learn seems to have a very loyal set of customers, and all the folks from D2L that I've ever interacted with seem to be both smart and passionate about education. Desire2Learn, however, does not enjoy the mindshare in the educational technology community that is enjoyed by Blackboard, Moodle, and even Canvas. My perspective is no doubt biased by the higher ed circles that I travel in, but right now D2L is simply not top of mind. $80 million can buy lots of mindshare.
Question 2: "What does it take to get attention in the higher education press?"
Desire2Learn should take Phil's questions about the lack of press coverage around the $80 million investment as a signal that the company has lots of work to do in improving its communication strategy. The obvious place to start would be to invest resources in turning every D2L employee into a communicator. Train, support, and incentivize every employees (yes, every single one), to actively participate in education and edtech communities. Who at Desire2Learn is regularly participating in our our InsideHigherEd community? Who are the thought leaders in education and edtech at D2L? Where can I find these people on social media? What research, conferences, and opportunities for professional development is Desire2Learn sponsoring?
The biggest mistake would be to use this cash to follow a traditional public relations / press communications strategy. Desire2Learn has an opportunity to re-think how an edtech company can proactively and authentically engage with our education community.
How would you answer Phil's questions?