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Educational tech firm picks Boston as its US base

A student’s screen view of the Learning Management System, created by Desire2Learn, a Canadian company.

Desire2Learn

A student’s screen view of the Learning Management System, created by Desire2Learn, a Canadian company.

Desire2Learn Inc., a Canadian firm that helps schools and teachers manage instructional material via the cloud, is basing its US operations in Boston.

The fast-growing company got a foothold in Boston when it bought the mobile app maker Wiggio in March. The company makes a Web and mobile platform that college students and groups use to coordinate calendars, share files, and message each other. It will be integrated in Desire2Learn’s online Learning Suite, which allows teachers to post grades and course documents and students to take notes and discuss assignments with others.

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“It’s great to see Wiggio be turned onto the masses,” said cofounder Dana Lampert. “We’re going global, which is something we couldn’t do as a small, independent company.”

Though it has only 10 employees in Boston, Desire2Learn is planning for “aggressive growth” as use of technology in the classroom explodes, founder John Baker said.

“Technology was missing from education,” Baker said. “Students have not been getting a personalized learning experience.”

Desire2Learn will also host its annual conference in Boston this year. Fusion 2013, as it is called, begins Monday and runs through Wednesday; it is expected to draw more than 1,000 of the company’s clients.

In September, Desire2Learn raised $80 million in its first round of venture capital funding, the largest-ever investment in a Canadian software company. It added 300 employees in the last year alone, swelling its ranks to 800.

‘We have all the major components we need to bring people together.’

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The Canadian software business has partnered with educational publishing companies such as Pearson Education, and more recently, McGraw Hill Education, to make textbooks and other information available to students through the Desire2Learn suite.

“There’s a real overlap in terms of schools and teachers using Desire2Learn and McGraw Hill,” said Stephen Laster, chief digital officer of McGraw Hill. “Anything we can do to help make the life of a teacher or student better allows them to take that energy and focus it on teaching or learning.”

Laster established a partnership with Desire2Learn when he joined McGraw Hill from Harvard Business School. As with other educational publishers, McGraw Hill is spending more on the technology side of the business; in June it announced the opening of a research and development lab in Boston’s Innovation District.

In addition to established universities, publishers and major researchers, the city has some 200 start-ups in the educational technology sector, making it a center of the industry in the United States.

“We have all the major components we need to bring people together,” said Marissa Lowman, cofounder and executive director of LearnLaunch, a nonprofit that supports ed-tech entrepreneurs and their start-ups.

Gail Waterhouse can be reached at gail.waterhouse@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @gailwaterhouse.
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