Online Learning Platforms

What they are and what makes them good

You might not be familiar with the term Online Learning Platform but you’re probably more familiar with its sister term: the LMS or Learning Management System.

Colleges and universities have been using LMS systems, such as Blackboard or Moodle, since the turn of the millenium. Over time, they have become excellent at managing learning, such as grades, attendance and resources, but they haven’t contributed much to the actual process of learning itself.

As a result, the term LMS has become synonymous with systems for managing learning but not enhancing it.

One size fits all

The Learning Management System was born out of an era where education followed a one-size-fits-all model. In this approach, the educator is at the centre of the learning process, giving classes, disseminating reading texts and evaluating assignments.

However, education has since recognised that learning comes in many shapes and sizes, and that thanks to technology, the teacher doesn’t have to be the fount of all knowledge. As a result, learners no longer have to physically attend a lecture to learn about a subject. Instead, they can be given videos to watch — many of which don’t even need to made by institutions, as the materials already exist.

As education moves away from the ones size fit all approach, its system for supporting learning will have to adapt. The LMS reflects the one-size-fits-all approach, with everything necessary for managing learning being stored inside. Future generations of Online Learning Platforms will have to be designed with the recognition that learners will be using various sources of education materials, not just what the teacher hands out.

Enhancing learning

Over the last few years, as institutions have recognised the ever-growing need to marry technology with enhanced pedagogy, numerous terms have come to the fore, including:

  • Adaptive Learning
  • Gamification
  • Social Learning Networks

The result has been universities using numerous systems simultaenously for managing as well as enhancing teaching and learning.

There is a clear need for systems which merge the two: systems which allow you to both manage and contribute to learning. This is where the term Online Learning Platform comes in. Supra to managing learning, OLP’s fulfil both administrative and pedagogic roles.

Features of an OLP

If an Online Learning Platform is to replace a number of other systems, then it is going to have to be an agile and multi-faceted system. In fact, the system will have to have a number of key features if it’s going to be successful, including:

Being available on mobile as well as web is today a pre-requisite of learning systems. This includes availability across numerous operating systems, including iOS, Android and Windows. What’s more, the number of students using devices with different operating systems is growing, so the system will have to work seamlessly across devices, as students move from their Windows PC, through their Android phone to their Apple operated iPad.

Online and Offline
Being available solely online will cater only for those students who are in developed countries with excellent communication networks, such as 4G. However, students are signing up to university courses from across the globe, with a single institution having students from numerous continents, where online access may be limited. This means OLP’s need to function both online and offline.

Data and Analytics
The platform will need to do more than just track scores. It will need to give insightful data and real-time analytics about the learning process, what students are struggling with, suggest extra materials and predict outcomes and grades. Reporting on learning is no longer enough: OLP’s now have to provide the data for making informed decisions on the next stage of learning.

The days of the one-size-fits-all model of the LMS are long gone. We know learners come in many shapes and sizes. They require different modes of learning, as they learn in different ways. The system needs to be flexible enough to allow learners to pick and choose what works for them. It also needs to be flexible enough to allow teachers to bring their own style of educating, without constraining them to a one-size model of pedagogy.

Is the future bright?

Probably. In the space of 20 years, technology has come very far and has changed the face of education. Where computers were once used as nothing more than word processing machines, they are now indispensable as platforms of learning. As online technology grows and online learning grows with it, the future of education will be drastically different 20 years from now.

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