Desire2Learn (D2L)

D2L is the MGH Institute’s Learning Management System.  D2L is an online, password-protected environment where you can provide your students with electronic resources such as your syllabus, handouts, and lecture material for your course. D2L also include interactivity among students beyond the classroom by setting up In addition, students can submit their assignments and projects to you electronically or take an exam for your course online. Access D2L.

For tutorials and instructions on common functions of D2L please visit the MGH Institute of Health Professions D2L Help Site.

Popular tools and features within D2L:

  • Dropbox - collect student assignments and projects electronically
  • Quizzes - online quizzes with automatic grading capability for multiple choice questions
  • Gradebook - manage students grades and calculate final grades
  • Discussions -  asynchronous discussions allow students to begin a discussion before an on-site class or continue a discussion from a particular class meeting time
  • Online rooms (Adobe Connect) - online synchronous “webinar” style collaboration spaces 
  • HTML Editor - allows faculty to embed multimedia, including videos, into the course material in a way that easily and seamlessly integrates with text and other audio and  visual elements
  • Respondus lockdown browser - prevents students from being able to navigate to websites or to other areas of  their computers. This is used when students are taking quizzes or exams on their computers in D2L.

For more information about D2L please submit a ticket to the MGH Institute IT Help Desk.

Tips for Organizing Your D2L Course

A well-structured D2L course will be easy for your students to navigate, allowing them to focus on the content of your course rather than where to locate a given resource. Consideration for your organization and structure of your course should happen throughout the design process: have a plan at the beginning, but also review as you build to identify areas that should be clarified. These tips should help minimize student confusion and frustration as they work through any course.

Overall Structure

Modules are the “containers” for content and activities within D2L. There are a variety of models for organizing an online course such as by unit, project, or textbook chapter, or weekly. Weekly modules are the most common for fully online courses but can be useful structure for any use of D2L. The weekly format breaks a semester into smaller chunks that are compatible with students’ standard “What do I need to be doing right now?” mode of operation.

Labels and Titles

Consider how to include all of these in your titles for any modules:

  • Sequence (i.e. “Week 7”)
  • Date (i.e. “November 8-15”)
  • Topic (i.e. “Stoichiometry”)

By providing multiple identifiers to key off of you can improve students ability to find the items they need.
With individual items in your course, be consistent in your terminology (i.e. don’t flip back and forth between “assignment” and “project”). Particularly for activities such as assignments, quizzes, or discussion, include the type of activity in the item name. Items such as quizzes, dropboxes, and discussion that are created with the various tools in D2L should always be linked to the content map so they appear in the appropriate context. Make sure to differentiate between required content and optional or supplemental content.

Organizer Pages

Each week or module of your course should ideally contain an organizer or overview page that informs students about that week’s activities. An organizer page can be thought of as a letter to your students that provides an introduction to a given topic, defines the learning objectives, and details all readings or assignments that need to be completed.  As you build and grow a course overtime watch for places where a module may now contain a variety of items that are now referenced in your organizer pages. Organizer pages play an important role in providing context for the items in a given module – they can make the difference between a well orderly, structured online course and a jumble of files.


If you have a module with a large amount of content it may be helpful to break it into subsections (in D2L you can have modules within modules). As a general guideline: if you have a module with more than 7 items look for an opportunity to organize them into subsections. Subsections are frequently organized around activities (readings vs. discussion) but it may also be worth looking at organizing subsections around topics. Depending on the number of items in a subsection, a subsection may be substantial enough to merit its own organizer page.


D2L has the capability of time releasing modules or individual items. Whether your entire course is available on the first day of class, or only the first few items, be consistent about when new material becomes available (i.e. every Sunday at noon the next week opens). If you do make frequent use of time controls be prepared to be flexible about students wanting early access. For this reason I recommend mainly using time control with entire modules rather than individual items within a week (quizzes that are only open for short windows would be a notable exception to this).

Visuals and Usability

Try to keep your content clean and simple by using consistent fonts and color choices. Avoid using all caps or underlined text for emphasis. When using images try to size them appropriately for display on the web.
If you are posting large files that students have to download, make sure that they are clearly labeled so students can anticipate a wait. When possible save Word and PowerPoint documents as more web friendly PDFs.


When we think of D2L as a collection of files and formal activities we sometimes forget to provide opportunities for the other types of interaction that can be important for keeping a class running smoothly. Consider these ideas:

  • In addition to your formal course syllabus consider a introductory welcome message that describes your background and introduces the class.
  • A “Student café” discussion area can be a helpful tool providing a place for off topic interchanges where students can interact with each other and while keeping your other discussion areas focused on the topics of the week.
  • An “Ask the Professor” discussion area can invite questions about course logistics or content related question that might seem to be off-topic. Some interchanges will always need to happen via private email, but when appropriate this area can let students see answers to questions they may also have.

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