Considering an online learning or training program for your team, client or organization? If so, you’re probably shopping providers, or at least engaging an instructional design expert to steer you in the right direction. (Pro tip: asking for professional help is always a good idea!) It’s still important for you to know what’s what when navigating this now ubiquitous space. But even if you hire a pro, its important to know the basics. At most, you’ll want to know about e-courses, LMSs and peer-to-peer platforms so you can keep up with the pitches and proposals you’ll receive.
Learning management systems (LMS) are widely used for online learning environments, yet are only part of a total training program. A simple search will reveal more vendors than you’ll care to review. A high quality LMS will enable learners to engage online via text and video posts, discussions and chats, activities and assignments, message and calendar features, and allows trainers to assess participant work and evaluate course outcomes. Litmos is a well-regarded, user-friendly platform offering flexibility and customization options for both trainers and participants – even for those who have limited computer experience and know-how.
Other educational platforms like MOOCs (massive open online courses used by many colleges and universities to enroll and engage tens of thousands of learners) have come a long way in providing flexibility and functionality with existing institutional software. Educators are currently using Canvas, an open-source LMS similar in functionality to Moodle. Edmodo is a terrific, free platform offering tools that make collaboration between and amongst teachers, students and parents easy. Udemy allows anyone to create a public or private course for free or for a fee (none for college credit – yet).
Aside from true e-courses, social media, peer-to-peer platforms and online conferencing apps are often used for group meetings and one-to-one coaching sessions. Google Hangouts, Skype, WebEx and so many other providers offer free or cheap modes of communication, including live chats and video streaming, desktop screen sharing and more. These are great for online team meetings and class-like discussions, although they aren’t true learning platforms – we’re just using them as such these days.
As an instructional designer for consumer products companies and creative agencies, and as an educator at the undergraduate and graduate levels, I’ve used Litmos, Canvas, Blackboard/CourseInfo, Moodle and custom-made online learning centers. Each platform offers intuitive features focused on facilitating online learning. (To be fair, each also offers some not-so-intuitive features, primarily for those of us attempting to create smart, easy learning experiences for our users. That’s when you call in the IT department.)
Consider your context. Are you a company, school or nonprofit organization? None of the above? Consider your goals. Are you hoping to disseminate information, engage learners or evaluate learners? Conduct some initial research into various platforms. Take virtual tours. Talk to current users. Ask for free trials. And, let us know what’s working for you, we’re always on the lookout to bring the best products to our clients and share them on our blog.