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Online Platforms: How To Choose The Right Learning Environment

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LMS. VLE. Online platform. Blended learning experience. While these terms have been used primarily by e-learning specialists in the past, they quickly became the buzzwords for 2020 as businesses and educational institutions rushed to move their learning online. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the shift into the online environment was the logical move for organisations that needed to offer any form of training or education. Then, as the benefits of online learning became apparent, more and more organisations began moving online out of choice rather than necessity.

Does this sound familiar? Perhaps you too come from an organisation that was forced to make swift decisions and now finds that their online platform is not delivering as expected. Alternatively, perhaps you are considering the shift into online learning now that you’ve discovered the many benefits it can offer. In both circumstances, the question which arises is the same: what now?

The new arrival

If you are a new arrival to online learning, it’s likely that you don’t have an existing LMS. This leaves you free to select or develop one that best suits your requirements.

As a first step, consider conducting a robust requirements analysis. This is a process whereby you identify your core learning, technical and business needs.

Consider:

  1. Who are your learners? Are they comfortable with technology? How will they be accessing these courses?
  2. How are you visualising the user journey? Is it linear, non-linear, or even semi-linear?
  3. What do you need to track on this platform? Grades? Completion? Attendance?
  4. Does the platform need to integrate with other software? A central registration or grade-tracking system? A performance management system?
  5. Are there existing assets that will need to be presented on this platform, such as videos or SCORM packages? How do you visualise these being integrated into the course?
  6. What will happen if you decide to move to a different platform? Will you need the ability to export your data from your existing platform?
  7. How often do course materials need to be updated?
  8. What kind of budget do you have available? How much of this is allocated to maintenance?

Once you fully understand your requirements, you can begin the solution design phase. First, take some time to explore the existing options. Here, you would explore the potential platforms and compare their different functionalities, benefits and disadvantages. Setting these out in a comparative table is a useful way to quickly and easily visualise how each option would fulfil (or not fulfil) your identified requirements.

ProviderMoodleCanvas
Landing PageCan link to VLE from any
website
Can link to VLE from any
website
Course OverviewYesYes
Content integration (EBW)Yes – with pluginYes – requires testing

Integration into other platforms/LMSs

Likely – testing required

Likely – testing required
Language switchingYesYes – requires integration
Mobile-firstYesYes, but app provides a better experience than the
mobile browser
Office accessYes – Moodle desktop or appYes – some limitations

Interoperability – cohorts assigned to lecturers

Likely – further specification required

Likely – further specification required

You might also want to consider longevity:

  1. For how long do you intend to use this LMS?
  2. How old is the company that developed/supports this LMS? Will it still be around in five years’ time? Ten years’ time?
  3. What will happen to the LMS if the company closes down?

As a final step, analyse your comparative table in light of your requirements. Ask yourself: ‘Which platform or solution best fits my requirements?’ If there are multiple platforms that meet your present requirements, consider which might best suit your future requirements or additional use cases. If no platforms fulfil your requirements, consider whether there is a way that you could integrate multiple platforms or options to create a customised solution.

The underwhelming or problematic platform

Perhaps you find yourself in a trickier position. You may have already chosen a platform based on one or two specific requirements and devoted time and money to its implementation. Alternatively, you might have chosen a platform without having had enough time to fully explore the options available to you. Now, you’ve discovered that this platform doesn’t entirely fit your needs.

In situations like these, take a moment to articulate why you aren’t happy with the platform. What needs or requirements is it failing to meet? Identify a concrete list of issues or concerns that you have with your existing platform.

The solution design phase is slightly different if you’re already tied to a platform. After identifying your requirements, investigate:

  1. Platform functionalities that have not been sufficiently explored
  2. New or creative ways to utilise native functionality so that you can get closer to the learning experience that you had in mind
  3. Supported integrations or external tools that you could use in conjunction with this platform, including how to ensure a consistent experience for the learner

If you are looking for a solution for a university, you may find this matrix helpful when considering how best to leverage your existing platform for your learning needs. Mapping an existing LMS or VLE to the matrix is a useful way to set out all of its functionality and determine how it could be used to fulfil your requirements.

Note: If you are looking to implement a new LMS, you might find this matrix useful as well. Consider mapping your different options to the matrix for an easy visual comparison.

Whether or not you have an existing LMS, the outcome of the solution design phase is the same: you will be able to make informed decisions based on identified needs and requirements. You can follow the steps highlighted below to help you with the decision-making process. 

Article by: Tayla Brown

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