The purpose of this article is to give a bird’s eye view into the world of e-learning platforms without getting too much into the specifics of which e-earning platform to use. So, if you’re new to the concept of online learning and are charged with developing an online training program at your company or you work in education and would like to get a broad sense as to what e-learning platforms are all about, then this article is for you.
Learning Management Systems
When most people talk about e-learning platforms, an LMS or learning management system will typically come to mind. For the uninitiated, an LMS is a type of online training or learning software that can be used to serve content to trainees or learners remotely. In its barest form, the LMS enables a trainer or teacher to create learning or training modules, upload files, and communicate with the learners, all in an online environment.
And, learning management systems inherently create a lot of room for flexibility in choosing an associated learning model. At one extreme, the LMS can be used as a “flipped classroom“. In a traditional setting, the learner first gets acquainted with new material in a lecture or classroom. The teacher presents the material and then the learner goes home and works on problems related to the material.
In the flipped classroom, the learner is often asked to go through a learning module using the LMS and then come back to the classroom for discussion and question-answering. The initial learning then is on onus of the learner; it is an active process from the start. And, while an exciting concept, whether a flipped classroom really works is still up for debate, and perhaps is a model that only works well in certain circumstances.
In the flipped classroom, the initial learning is on onus of the learner.
At the other extreme, the LMS software can be used merely as a glorified place to store files and record learner outcomes. In this scenario, the initial teaching of the material still occurs in the classroom. And, the learning management system is more of a “course management system” than a true e-learning platform.
However, as a course management tool, it can be a really convenient way to record scores, connect with learners via e-mail, and store course related documents. Further, these course management features can be an indispensable way of saving administrative time, and those time-savings can then be used by the teacher to focus on the learners.
Video As An E-learning Platform
E-learning platforms are not limited to the LMS concept. Another popular means of e-learning is through video conferencing such as Skype or Google Hangouts. For training that works well in a one-on-one environment, a video based e-learning platform can be a very effective model.
As one practical example, if you are a corporate trainer for a company that has small satellite offices located far from each other, and you need to provide one-on-one training for some new product, then it wouldn’t be cost effective to travel to each of the locations. Using Skype or Google Hangouts, you can simply set up a meeting and provide the training without having to leave the home office.
Massive Open Online Courses
A third type of e-learning platform that has come to prominence in the past several years is the MOOC or Massive Open Online Course. Popularized by companies such as Coursera, the concept is to have one teacher serving thousands (or even hundreds of thousands!) of students at the same time through the MOOC platform.
It’s similar to the LMS in the sense that there are learning modules and assessments. However, the role of the teacher is more that of a Course Moderator. Though the teacher created the course material, the students move through the course without ever really interacting with the teacher.
Instead, students interact with each other through forums and discussion groups. And while these types of courses have broad appeal, completion rates hover around 15%, indicating that this type of learning is perhaps not suited for most learners.
A “looser” type of e-learning platform that should also be mentioned is the whole of the web itself. There are countless tutorials online for topics ranging from Cooking to Physics. In addition, there are online forums for just about any topic filled with people who are interested in answering questions and sharing their knowledge.
This type of “platform” probably wouldn’t work the best in a large organization which needs a formal training of topics. However, the whole of the web can serve the employee or student who would like to further develop his or her knowledge without some formal course structure in place.
In addition, it could be an interesting way to develop an Independent Study Course at a University. The learner would pick a topic and then have to find all of their resources and learning materials through the web.
There is no one way to define “e-learning platforms”. Instead, one should think of it as a concept that encompasses a variety of methods that one can use to learn online.