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Effective Features of a Digital Learning Platform

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The unprecedented rollout of online learning solutions in recent years has been largely experimental. Although it has been challenging, strides have been made delivering digital learning platforms that use instructional design features to significantly enhance the online experience for educators and students.  

Educational institutions were forced to roll out emergency remote learning strategies at an unprecedented scale at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. More than 220 million tertiary education students were affected, according to a World Bank report, as tertiary institutions grappled with plummeting academic performance and rising drop-out rates.   

While few could have predicted the speed and scale of the transition to remote learning in 2020, educators, learning and development managers along with their technical departments, were compelled to provide students with high-level online learning functionality. In a spirit of collaboration and bold experimentation, they have, in many instances, made significant progress in elevating the online learning experience for their students. 

Achievements have no doubt been made in the shortest time. However, there is still much that can be done to present education online using technology and learning design principles that improve the experience for students and educators in a way that sets an institution apart from its competitors. 

Optimising Digital Learning Platforms 

When choosing a digital learning platform, Learning Technologist at Hubble Studios, Lesego Monametsi, cautions organisations to pick carefully. “If you’re in the process of selecting a digital learning system, it’s important to choose a platform with features that enhance the particular teaching style of your institution. If you’re already locked into a platform,” he says, “you’ll want to ensure you’re fully utilising your online learning platform’s features to drive engagement and keep learners returning to the platform while also expediting teaching excellence.” 

Consider these three teaching methods when choosing a platform – the case study approach, self-directed learning, and project-based learning – and the features you’ll need to optimise in order to elevate your institution’s particular instructional method. 

Case Study Approach 

The case study method of instruction requires a platform that promotes a collaborative learning environment and allows educators to guide students through the various stages of student analysis and reflection. 

Hubble Studios’ Lesego recommends that educators choose a digital learning platform with instructional design features that render content accessible to a diverse range of students in both on-screen and downloadable formats. Open-source learning platform Moodle, for example, has a versatile book of resources that lets educators type in their content, which can then be opened immediately by students without having to download a file or worry about having the right software to open it. Moodle’s book resource has the added functionality of allowing teachers and students to download a PDF version of a book, which can be printed on paper. 

The resource essentially acts as a mini website with intuitive navigation, and it’s easy to update content changes and add images, links, audio and video to text. The built-in H5P authoring tool means that branching scenarios and interactive videos with question prompts can be added to further improve the student experience online.  

Moodle’s built-in discussion forums and integrations can be used to drive learner engagement by aiding problem-solving, debate, and role play through posted text, short video responses, audio clips, and images.  

“Choose a learning platform,” Lesego says, “that supports integration with synchronous and asynchronous collaborative tools that educators are familiar with, including Zoom, Miro, Yellowdig and Panopto. Yellowdig is a popular collaboration tool that can be installed on Moodle, while Miro boards can be embedded into most book pages.” 

For educators, to minimise manual work while optimising teaching efforts, automated moderation tools, and reporting and gradebook functions are crucial elements of a digital learning platform.  

Self-Directed Learning 

When choosing a platform that will support self-directed learning, it’s important to use one with features that empower students to get familiar with course content and demonstrate their learning in measurable ways. 

Again, using Moodle as our example, educators can upload short, pre-recorded lectures with captions, transcripts, and supporting text. Videos are easily embedded within any page using video platforms like Vimeo and YouTube, or Kaltura, which offer tools that take the virtual classroom to the next level with a lecture-capture function and campus portal. 

Educators automatically track learning completion and manage interventions while students pace their own progress. Lesego says, “Online learning needn’t mean additional time and effort for educators. Automated grading of multiple-choice questions or manual grading of short essay answers is possible as are integrated proctoring tools such as Examity and Proctorio for examinations. 

“It’s advisable to use instructor-led live contact sessions to optimise the consolidation of learning. You can do this using a discussion forum, or adding Zoom or MS Teams integrations. By tracking attendance and using a re-engagement plugin, educators can just as easily send an email to prompt learners who might be falling behind as they can make an announcement when new content is released.” 

Project-Based Learning 

Project-based learning is designed to give students the opportunity to develop knowledge and skills through participating in projects that are set around challenges and problems they are likely to encounter in the real world. A platform that supports this approach should have online learning functionality that fosters collaboration and enables students to submit assignments both individually and in groups.  

Lesego advises that educators use a digital learning platform that allows them to assign students to groups. “Moodle’s group feature allows you to do this either manually or automatically. Then within these groups, learners can participate in discussion forums and submit assignments. Educators can grade these assignments individually, or assign a grade to a group, and teaching assistants can be assigned to learner groups to help facilitate discussion.” 

Where assignment submissions are concerned, educators can choose to assign due dates and build in extensions for individual learners when necessary. The instructional design features of your digital learning platform should allow students to submit a range of file types including PDFs, LateX files, Word documents, and images, which educators can define or restrict when setting up assignment activities. The platform functionality also allows learners to type assignment responses into text boxes and record audio and video clips directly in the text editor. Plagiarism checkers like Turnitin can also be integrated, allowing students to check their reports before finalising their submissions, and allowing educators to check plagiarism scores from the grading screen quickly. 

Elevating Learning Outcomes 

It can be daunting making the right pick when it comes to a digital learning platform. There are more than 600 online learning platforms to choose from and in a recent study it was found that out of 78% of higher education organisations, 33% had to replace and upgrade their system in favour of new technology.  

Lesego’s advice is to start by considering your resources and technical needs then taking into account system design, ease of use, and mobile compatibility. “You’ll need to understand exactly what you need from a digital learning platform. This will help you determine how a particular system can help you reach your goals and objectives. 

“With change happening quickly in this space, you’ll need to keep an eye on future trends that could impact your system, such as the growing popularity of MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) platforms, the possibilities around personalised learning, a transition to learning experience platforms (LXP), and the increasing importance of facilitating mobile learning.” 

Not sure how to choose a system that will enhance your institution’s learning style or how to ensure your system can adapt to upcoming advancements in education and technology?  

The technology team at Hubble Studios are experts at building and supporting the Moodle digital learning platform to reflect your institution’s unique brand and voice and to meet your institution’s standards of delivering uninterrupted learning. Our learning design team can also help you go beyond using a digital learning platform simply as a document repository by selectively utilising the toolbox of features on your learning platform to elevate your learning outcomes. The goal is to craft engaging solutions that intentionally and purposefully enhance the experience of both students and educators in the online space. Get in touch with us today at https://hubblestudios.com/  

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