MET:Learning Platforms 101
Learning platforms are getting more and more ubiquitous as they are integrating with Social Media .
While the Illinois Wesleyan University began institutionally sponsoring distance learning in 1874 it was not until 1883 when the first diploma courses was granted solely through distance learning and was awarded from The Chautauqua College of Liberal Arts. They began offering their courses through correspondence by post. Throughout the 20th century this concept developed and adapted with technologies and distance courses were offered through radio, television, tape, CD and CD-ROM. This learning over a network, was coined eLearning and it has developed into the Learning Management Systems (LMS) or Virtual Learning Environments (VLE) that exist exclusively online and can assist face to face teaching or act as as a solely online interaction. Todays LMSs are regarded as being the peak of distance learning and are deemed to be the most efficient of all the elements that preceded  and are used as both stand alone delivery devices as well as in blended learning.
Best Practice Tips
While a LMS will provide some elements like authoring, classroom management, knowledge management, customization, chat and group discussions, at the heart of it is still the course content. As a result the teacher/facilitator, similar to the classroom, is the single most important element in any LMS (this teacher can be of traditional nature organizing and facilitating, or personal nature where individuals are responsible for their own learning). Outside of the learning platform itself courses must be conceptualized, created, and designed. Each LMS will have different functionalities available either natively or as an add-ons and it is only from experiencing will one be found to be better than another. LMSs below are outlined and can be used as a guide for the initial decisions which are usually based on core requirements some such as budget, technical ability or access to technical staff and size of student audience.
Text based courses are becoming increasingly less and less appreciated by students due to the bombardment of visually stimulating media that exists on the web today. While LMSs have prioritized the functionality of media integration sourcing content that exists already on the web can be time consuming and make related courses very similar to each other. Producing bespoke elements of content will always ensure that specific course goals and focus can be met within the course that is being developed.
21st Century Skills made easy with a LMS
Preparing students for todays workforce requires a combination of skills that can be broken down into 4 broad heading; Core Subjects and 21st Century Themes, Learning and Innovation Skills, Information, Media and Technology Skills and Life and Career Skills . The various tools available in some of the LMSs can help a teacher touch upon, teach, strengthen and even help students master some of the 21st century skills.
Below are just a few examples of how to use a LMS in combination with 21st century skills
English, World languages, Arts, Mathematics, Economics, Science, Geography, History, Government and Civics. Any of the above subjects can be integrated with a LMS ranging from a basic information holding place to a full online course.
21st Century Themes:
Global Awareness: Google Docs, Blogs or any tool that allows communication between students in different countries, will help promote cultural awareness.
Financial, economic, business and entrepreneurial literacy: A number of the LMSs allow you to add a RSS feed. The RSS feed can be linked to most major sources of business news which students can then access through the LMS.
Civic Literacy: As with the above theme, RSS feeds can keep students up-to-date with their local and global news. Students can also create a private blog commenting on various civic issues.
Health Literacy: Students can create online journals tracking their personal health, which can include keeping track of basic nutrition, hours of exercise and any other health-related categories.
Environmental Literacy: Students can create online groups to discuss environmental issues in their local community and then brainstorm possible solutions.
Learning and Innovation Skills:
Creativity and Innovation: A lot of the LMSs let students create their own products. Some of the LMSs will have tools that let students create a product, like a website, and other LMSs allow 3rd party tools to be integrated within the LMS.
Critical Thinking and Problem Solving: When solving a problem, a teacher that is actively involved in a LMS, can provide a student with immediate feedback when the student is working on analyzing and evaluating a problem. This almost 24 hours access to class material removes the need for the student to wait until their next class and therefore encourages the pursuit of problem solving anytime anywhere.
Communication and Collaboration: Forums are a great way to promote both communication and collaboration between students. Just like the forums in the MET course a firm set of rules and active community can make a forum a very educative tool.
Information, Media and Technology Skills:
Information Literacy: A LMS will allow a student to organize the flow of information coming his/her way. With the massive amount of information available online, finding information isn’t the problem anymore, the challenge is teaching students how to organize and evaluate the information.
Media Literacy: Media literacy is not only understanding what the media is trying to convey, but also how to create effective media. Most LMSs don’t have very advanced tools that allow students to create media that goes beyond static images, nevertheless the LMS will allow students to integrate the media they produce.
ICT Literacy: A LMS can truly help with ICT Literacy through its ability to help students organize information. In addition, students can use the collaboration tools to help evaluate the information they have organized by soliciting help from other students and teachers.
Life and Career Skills:
A LMS is not only a location to store and share information, it is a good simulation to how students need to be able to work online as is the case in many jobs today. Students need to be able to learn that work can be done anywhere and at anytime, problem solving is more efficient in teams and that technology is ever changing and they need to be able to train themselves.
Graphics are highly important to the structure, look and feel of a course. It is highly recommended that graphics are customized to create a uniform flow and fits with with overall graphical user interface theme.
Photoshop is the industry standard
Gimp free alternative
Splashup allows image editing in the cloud
While using clip art is very tempting it does give an impression that the course was complied in the 1990's. Here are a list of royalty free sites where images and graphics can be sourced. Copyright is a real issue here and be careful - free is not the same as unrestricted, always read the 'Terms and Conditions' as some referencing or links might be required to use images.
Web cameras are ubiquitous but so too are unwatchable web camera videos. Give the camera every chance it can, don't shoot with a window or light source behind the subject - third deadly sin!. The location of your computer is not always the best location for you as you present to the camera. With today's technology in phones and consumer cameras the quality can quite high with little to no budget costs. If a budget is available it is important to make it extend as far as possible. Never be tempted to buy a professional camera in the hope that it will take better video. An iPhone in the hands of an amateur would be more forgiving than a professional camera.
Tell-tale signs of amateur video
Tips to Make an Amateur Video Look Professional
For further reading please see the ETEC510 Filmmaking in the Classroom, Process to Product
Sound is the single most important element - video buffering, quality and look can be forgiven largely if the sound quality is good. It is highly important to be careful of natural sound in the room. If possible try not to have the sound auto adjust the volume, this will create a hiss if there is a break in the delivery. The distance between the mic and the contributor is essential.
Audio and production tutorials, from beginner to advanced | Audiotuts+
Free video and sound editing software
Windows Movie Maker (PC)
Screencast are a popular form of capturing your desktop while your are moving your mouse and talking. The screencasts tend to be little weight and compatible with most LMSs, making it an easy method to share visual lectures with students.
Some popular screencast tools:
Moodle is a free software engine that allows educators create powerful, flexible and engaging online learning experiences. It is a global development project designed to support a social constructionist framework of education.  Moodle is provided freely as Open Source software (under the GNU Public License). This means Moodle is copyrighted, but that you have additional freedoms. You are allowed to copy, use and modify Moodle provided that you agree to: provide the source to others; not modify or remove the original license and copyrights, and apply this same license to any derivative work.
The word Moodle was originally an acronym for Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment, which is mostly useful to programmers and education theorists. It's also a verb that describes the process of lazily meandering through something, doing things as they occur, an enjoyable tinkering that often leads to insight and creativity. Anyone who uses Moodle is a Moodler ().
Moodle has features that allow it to scale to very large deployments and hundreds of thousands of students, yet it can also be used for a single school or for a single class. Many institutions use it as their platform to conduct exclusively online courses, while some use it simply for classroom based blended learning.It natively supports activity modules (such as forums, databases and wikis) to build richly collaborative communities of learning around their subject matter (in the social constructionist tradition), while others prefer to use Moodle as a way to deliver content to students (such as SCORM packages) and assess learning using assignments or quizzes.
Constructivism - people actively construct new knowledge as they interact with their environments. Everything read, seen, heard, felt and touched is referenced against prior knowledge. This knowledge is strengthened if you use it successfully in a wider environment. Constructionism reinforces knowledge learning through spoken word, a blog or forum posting or illustrating it to others. Moodle does not give guidance or guidelines as to when and why to use any of its features or what effect it will have on the student experience (). As a result each teacher and course will be different.
How does it work?
The Moodle engine needs to be installed on a web server that supports PHP and database it is supported by Windows and Mac and many flavors of linux (for example Red Hat or Debian GNU). If this is too technical then there are numerous Moodle Partners that can assist you, and even host your Moodle site. This can be your own/companies server or with a web hosting company. There is no facility to run courses through the Moodle servers like for example Wordpress. Moodle divides data into three and places it in different locations on the server; The application is in a directory of its own with subdirectories for the different modules. Data files that teachers and students upload (assignments, photos, graphics etc) are located in the data directory. Course material that is created within Moodle (Pages, quizzes, workshops, lessons etc), grades, user information and user logs reside in the database.
With the division of the data on the server it is very easy to erase the information from one course to the next without affecting the platform entirely. For further Moodle Course Management go here.
Who uses it?
As an Open Source Course Management System it has become very popular among educators around the world as a tool for creating online dynamic web sites for their students. The focus of the Moodle project is always on giving educators the best tools to manage and promote learning, but there are many ways it has been used. Moodle registration is also voluntary so there is no complete list of uses but there are some statistics available from Moodle themselves here as well as a list of the registered sites
Try it yourself
Moodle have set up a Demonstration Site which is a full working site with sample courses and allows a full trial as a teacher, student and administrator. In this you can move, change, explore and develop what you like but it does reset all settings back every hour.
For more about Moodle see the dedicated wikipedia site or go directly to Moodle itself.
ETEC510 Blended Learning with Moodle in Adult Education
WordPress was in 2003 a single bit of code to enhance the typography of everyday writing with less than 5 users but it is now the largest self-hosted blogging tool in the world. It is used as the backbone of millions of websites in every country. It has and is being developed by a community of developers making it an Open Source project which means that it is free to use without a license fee.
Due to the increasing popularity of WordPress there are thousands of plugins, widgets and themes that are available to enhance your site or blog and there are thousands of forums and support discussions to be able to call on if you are having trouble.
Within WordPress there is a LMS course plug-in which allows for customization of any of the settings and has student, grading, enrolling and scheduling features. As it is a plugin to the WordPress engine it is accessed from within its UI and as a result is very easy to use and customize.
How does it work
WordPress requires PHP and MySQL database on the server. Recommended are Apache or Nginx servers as being the most robust but it will run on the majority of servers. Some server knowledge is required but some hosting companies offer the WordPress engine as a preinstalled feature on their server packages. Once it is installed it works differently to any other website that runs normally on a server. All of the components, pages, development tools and editing is done from within the WordPress log in. The traditional 'httpdocs' file structure on the server becomes redundant and all components reside within the WordPress installation structure.
Who uses it?
While it is used by millions of sites across the world from Fortune 500 companies to personal pet pages it is best to focus the LMS aspect which the most popular plugin is called BuddyPress and has had almost 12,000 downloads since it was developed in the summer of code 2010/11.
Try it yourself
Unlike any of the other LMSs WordPress also offers a free service where it can host your blog or site for free. It only takes a few minutes to get started and gives you a yourdomain.wordpress.com domain address so that you can share it with the world (Sign up). This service can be upgraded to a paid premium feature set that will give additional flexibility but the most flexible of all is when it is downloaded and installed on your own server.
Blackboard is deemed to be the “Rolls Royce” of today’s LMS . As a business model which is to sell managed learning solutions their clients are thousands of higher education institutions, K-12, professional, corporate, and government organizations. They do not set up individual accounts therefore it would not be suitable for smaller student target audiences. The price structure is calculated based on the size of use of the student body.
Blackboard’s most notable feature is its Web 2.0 interface, which makes it easy for educators to navigate when adding content to an online course and for students to navigate when accessing course content. There are many add-ons and plug ins (at additional costs) like Blackboard Connect which alerts students to deadlines, due dates and academic priorities within a course or like Blackboard Mobile Learn which allows a user friendly mobile experience.
How does it work
Once you have the budget and the student audience base Blackboard will set up an account which will be managed so from a technical development point there is very little to do. But as with all LMSs the courses need to be populated with content. It does take out some of the technical aspects and headaches out of the system but perhaps skips the opportunity for technical advancement of teachers/facilitators – this can be taken as both a positive and a negative.
Who uses it
Blackboard is the market share leader in higher education and is used by over 3700 educational institutions in more than 60 countries. Blackboard acquired rival Web CT Vista in 2006 which was developed at the University of British Columbia by a member of the computer science facility Murray Goldberg and it is this third level online learning solution is currently in use still by The University of British Columbia, Canada for their MET and other programs.
Try it yourself
Blackboard have a ‘test drive’ facility where a form can be filled out and through email, if deemed a potential client, a confirmation code and time limited access is granted to their evaluation server. For existing clients this location is where to preview new releases here.
For more on Corporate E-Learning
The Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) was launched in The University of Manitoba in September 2008. 24 students were getting credits for it but there was over 2200 registered participants of which 150 were actively interacting. The main idea was that "participants would learn about connectivism by exploring both the experience and the theory" . Through blogging and forums the learner was encouraged to develop personal learning networks. Daily newsletters of discussions from the forum and weekly discussion sessions sometimes with guest speakers. Colabroated with a Moodle discussion site.
MOOC is based on the Stephen Downes created gRRShopper – “a personal web environment that combines resource aggregation, a personal database and personal publishing. It allows organization of your content any way you want to, to import content (your own and others' from remote sites), to remix and repurpose it and to distribute it as RSS, web pages, JSON data, or RSS feeds.”
Ingredients for a MOOC are an open connected interactive design which provides focus via attractors, percolation, personalization and stimulates actions as signs and symbols, loyalty, campaigns, progress indicators. MOOC indicates a maturing in both elearning users as they are creating personal learning networks and affordances rather than just being consumers but also there is a maturing of social networking to accommodate its use of its network of affordances. It is largely bases on an RSS feed concept to collate data from various sources and delivered in one place. Stephen Downes introduced this concept of e-learning 2.0 and with George Siemens and developed and defined the concept of Connectivism using the social network approach to deliver open online courses to three thousand participants over two years.
How does it work?
gRSShopper is required to be installed on a server. There is no centralized hosting for MOOC courses like there is for Wordpress. The installation requires an advanced knowledge of servers, perl, databases, FTP, SSH and RSS. The UI itself is very crude but the functionality and connective freedom it allows is amazing. As well as that the options for dynamic output can be webpages, RSS feeds or even daily/weekly newsletters. The user would need an advanced knowledge of HTML to be able to produce anything aesthetically pleasing above a basic page with knowledge of embedding and RSS very essential. A 2.0 release was announced to be in development and be delivery by 2010 but as yet there is no further update but there is a similar product Edu_RSS 0.2 that has been released but is yet to be finished . This is not recommended for a non technical computer person as throughout the process from installation to content delivery is quite code heavy but also with a lack of popularity technical support is not freely available.
Who uses it?
As there is no central hosting of MOOC sites there are no statistics. It is released through the creative commons license and no statistical information is available. As it can be used as both a personal tool and a small course delivery tool collecting accurate usage numbers is difficult. It was not the desire of Stephen Downes to develop a program with worldwide appeal like  WordPress, the intention was to develop it to allow it to explore the social collective nature of the internet in an educational perspective and allows a filtering or focusing of the massive volumes of information in the web.
Try it yourself
There is a demonstration site here where it is possible to experience the site. Naturally this is limited to the functionality as the networking and RSS content can only be experienced over time.
For further reading on MOOC please see the ETEC510 dedicated MOOC site.
Graham Glass created Edu2.0 in 2006 as a free online educational tool. Since its inception, Edu2.0 has grown to offer more advanced features for a monthly fee ranging from $0.05 per student to $0.30 per student. Depending on the bundle you buy, you will have a predetermined set of tools available to you. There is no open source option for Edu2.0, however there is a forum were suggestions are encouraged. Edu2.0 takes care of all your hosting needs and only requires an Internet connect and web browser; no additional software or hardware is needed.
As the name indicates, Edu2.0 is aimed at in cooperating web 2.0 tools with education. To make it appealing to students, Graham Glass wanted to make the interface resemble Facebook. However, the interface is still highly customable with regards to color, logo and features.
How does it work?
Either a whole school or individual teachers can sign up with Edu2.0. Once you have registered you can start customizing the look of your site by adding your school logo and changing the colours of the background, heading and links. Schools can decide to import all their students into the system or let the students create their own accounts. Edu2.0 then allows individual teachers to create classes were they can start using any of the large number of tools available. Students can access their classes through any web browser or any supported mobile device.
When a teacher is creating a class in Edu2.0 they have a lot of flexibility when it comes to the approach they wish to use, whether they are creating an online course, a hybrid blended course or just a placeholder for files. The power of Edu2.0 is not only how you create lessons, assignments and quizzes, but how they can all be integrated with collaboration tools such as groups, forums, chats, wikis and blogs. In addition, each lesson, assignment or quiz can be linked. For example, a teacher can post a lesson that is linked to a gateway, the gateway checks for understand and the students need to pass it in order to move onto an assignment or quiz. The teacher can either use their own school grade book or use Edu2.0 grade book that is connected to each of their assignments or tests.
Who uses it?
Edu2.0 is available to K-12 schools, Universities, Businesses and individual teachers. A school district can also sign up a number of schools under their name so that resources can easily be shared between schools. Private and public schools are both welcome along with private tutors that wish to make money through their online classes. Edu2.0 supports both PayPal and all the major credit cards.
Try it yourself
Edu2.0 provides you with a free trial at http://www.edu20.org/ The free trail has enough features available to give you a really good grasp of what Edu2.0 can provide for your classes. In the case were you have invested a lot of time building a class and your school decides to adopt Edu2.0, you can easily transfer your existing class into the schools site.
Google Apps for Education
Google Inc. has combined all your favourite Google Apps into a bundle to be used for free by any educational institution. Some of the more popular apps included in the bundle are Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Drive, Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Slides and Google Sites. All these apps can be accessed anywhere in the world and you also have the possibility to work offline if you lack Internet connection. Worldwide connection allows for easy collaboration within a school and from school to school no matter the location. Google provides all of the security and hosting for free. Google also guarantees that your schools data is private and only belongs to you.
As a site administrator you have the power to turn on or off any of the apps, change the domain name of your site to match your school name and set privileges to specific apps and website pages. Setting up privileges is accomplished through email addresses (most commonly email address within the same organization). Teachers can also setup privileges based on different items they might have created. For example, a teacher can only allow students in his/her classroom to access their class website.
How does it work?
Once a school has signed up to Google Apps for Education, the school will have to decide on the individuals who will have administrative, editing and viewing rights. There are a large number of security features that can be turned on or off depending on the desired level of security required in the school. For example, email filters can be created to catch inappropriate content within school emails. When the school administrators feel that the administrative work is complete, they provide an email address to each member of the school. The email address will be the method each teacher and student login to use the various apps the school has deemed worthy of use.
Once teachers start creating content in Google Apps for Education, they have two options to share their work with students and/or teachers. Teachers can either send a link to their content via email, or if the school has created a Google Site the teacher can create a link to their content. Don’t forget, only the people that have been given the privilege can view and/or edit the content.
Google provides optional online training to educators in all the major Apps (Gmail, Calendar, Docs and Sites) at http://edutraining.googleapps.com/. In addition, a teacher can become Google App certified through a series of 6 tests ,that are all taken online through http://google.starttest.com, or find a certified teacher in their region at http://www.google.com/enterprise/apps/education/resources/find-a-trainer.html#utm_source=training_center&utm_medium=et that can be asked to come in and provide training.
Jeff Utecht, a teacher at the International School of Bangkok, has created his own version of the Google training that is based on the skills students will need to use Google Apps. All the materials needed to run your own training center are available as a Google Doc from http://www.thethinkingstick.com/become-a-google-apps-ninja/
Who uses it?
Google Apps for Education is available to any educational institution, regardless of grade level. Individual teachers are able to run Google Apps without registering for the education suite, however privacy issues are a lot more complicated to figure out. At this time I wouldn’t say that Google Apps for Education is comprehensive enough to be considered a full Learning Management System. Nevertheless, Google is continuous improving their existing tools and providing new ones. At anytime you can add experimental add-ons to your Apps through a link called Labs. I believe with the amount of tech knowhow, manpower and vast amount of money available for improvements, Google Apps for Education could become a market leader in educational applications.
Try it yourself
To get your institution started sign up at https://www.google.com/a/signup/?enterprise_product=GOOGLE.EDU&hl=en&source=gafe-globalnav-en#0. You can also play with any of the apps as long as you have a gmail account.
- Partnership For 21st Century Skills
- Google Apps for Education
- Google Apps for Education Training Center
- Mozaique Website Studio.com - Advice about Image Sourcing 2011
- How to source Great Images for your website, by Social Media Trader 2008,
- The Development of Education at a Distance by Michael Roberts Jr
- Moodle - E-Learning Course Development, by William H.Rice IV
- eLearning Technology, Tony Karrer's blog 2007
- The Effectiveness of Learning Management System (LMS) Case Study at Open University Malaysua (OUM), Kota Bharu Campus, by Khadijah Abdul Rahman, Siti Aswani Mohd Ghazali, Dr Mohd Nasir Ismail 2010/2011
- Guide to Learning Management Systems by Ryann K.Ellis 2009
- What is a MOOC? by Dave Cormier 2010
- How to Organise a MOOC by Stephan Downes 2011
- Elearnspace blog
- Using Blackboard in an Educational Psychology Course to Increase Pre- service Teachers’ Skills and Confidence in Technology Integration by Y. Yeng and J.Allen
- The Ideals and Reality of Participating in a MOOC by J. Mackness, S. F.J. Mak, and R. Williams 2010
- Blogs and Forums as Communication and Learning Tools in a MOOC by S. F. J. Mak, R. Williams and J. Mackness
- Moodle 2.0 versus Blackboard 9.1 - a Brief Comparison, by K. Walsh 2010
- Teachers explore knowledge management and E-learning as models for professional development by Jane Zahner