What learning platform? Part 1

Often we see a number of posts on social media where people are asking “what platform should I use to get my courses online?” And the community responds with this whole range of suggestions around what would be a good platform, based on their own individual experiences. Very rarely do we see comments to take a step back and consider what they specifically need the platform for.

Not every learning platform is the same. We’ve got learning management systems (LMS), learning experience platforms (LXP) as well as content aggregation systems that you can use to promote and sell your course. The run yourself LMS & LXP’s come in a variety of types. There are the ones that are WordPress (and other content management system) based plugins. There are other ones that are better designed for the small course creator or edupreneur. Then there are others that have been developed for large corporates.  They all have a number of similarities (namely host a learning experience) but they also have their own specific functions and differ in a number of ways. Selecting a platform that a large corporate would use and then trying to use that for your own small course that you are delivering to an outside audience it’s probably going to be overkill or not going to work.

What is the experience you want to create?

Before you select your learning platform you need to think about a few different things. First of all, consider, what is it that you want the learning platform to do? I’m not just referring to delivering a course, but what is the experience you want to create and the features that you will need. Also, think about the audience. Who are we delivering this course for? How are they accessing the course? If you are building a course for an internal audience; the way they promoted to the course and given access to that course is going to be completely different to an external audience. There is an extra level of a promotion that you needed to attract people to the course. So think about what are the capabilities of that platform to achieve this.

How do you want people to engage with your content? Do you want people to become active participants in the learning, rather than just sitting back as passive consumers? Do you want to encourage participation through gamification, providing rewards to learners? Do you want to encourage social learning? You need to make sure the learning platform allows for this. Make the decisions around the required learning experience first, then find the platform. The alternative is selecting the platform provides and then building the experience based on what it provides, which can be very limiting and a bad decision.

Most importantly, think about the course itself. What are you trying to achieve? How are you delivering this course to people? Is it purely online? Is it part of a blended learning experience? If it is a blend how does the platform allow people to engage with the content as part of that experience? Are they able to go into the online space and see when events are happening? Are they able to book into events through the learning platform? Does it have that capability?

What learning assets are you delivering?

Consider what does the course look like? What is the content – the learning assets – you are delivering as part of the course? Often, we see a lot of video only courses. There are a lot of platforms out there that allow you to simply just put in video and some basic text content. But is that how you want your course? Certainly video is a medium that can be used to engage, but it’s not the only medium, and you need to think about matching the method to the media.  You might need to look at creating content in an external authoring tool to provide a higher level of engagement, to deliver content in a much more engaging way. If you’re looking at having to do that, then you need the ability for that content to be simply and easily put into the system. I have seen some great platforms that have got great front ends, great on the marketing side, great on the landing page. But when it comes to building the content inside, you’re limited to video and basic text. So, the course experience obviously then leaves a lot to be desired. Consider the learning experience you want, and the learning assets required to create that, and if this can be done in the platform.

We advocate the idea of building the content in an external authoring tool (to give us greater flexibility and functionality) and then putting it into the platform. It also provides greater flexibility if you want to move to another platform. If you build everything directly into your platform, and something happens to the platform or you decide that you’re no longer going to operate your courses through that platform because you have found a better alternative, then you’re going to have to build everything. Very rarely are you able to pull content built directly into a platform back out with ease. Whereas, with an external authoring tool you could pick up those objects, pick up those assets, and put them into a new learning platform.

What external systems do you have?

You also need to consider your existing systems. Now, obviously if you are just moving into this space and you have nothing then the decisions are going to be a bit easier. But if you’ve already got existing web pages, a CRM, landing pages, or other elements that for part of this potential ecosystem for your clients then obviously you need to consider some of those factors as well. If you already have people engaged in a community, and this is using a membership site through a WordPress plugin and they are used to going into your WordPress site, well then logically a WordPress plugin platform might be the best option.

How are you promoting the course?

Also, you may need to consider how you are promoting the course, and the marketing functionality of the platform. Do you need people to be able to see an external page that displays a course catalogue? Do you want people to be able to buy and enrol courses directly from the front end of the platform? A lot of the learning platforms were built for corporates and may not be able to be access the course catalogue into you logged into the platform.

What is the usability of the platform?

Consider the usability of the platform, not only for the course creator but also usability for the facilitator and learners? How easy is it for learners to engage in the course? How does the platform to provide a positive experience? But also, how easy is to actually create content, to upload your content, to enrol users and do all of the management functions required? How easy is it to pull reports? What sort of reporting and analytics do you need?

What is your budget?

The final factor to consider is your budget. How much do you have to spend on the platform? What pricing model works for you? There are some platforms that provide you the administration functions to build a course for free, or a very small amount, and then charge for every user who enrols. Others will charge you a higher fee for hosting and managing the platform but no extra costs per user, with the same price regardless of if you have 5, 50 or 500 users.

In conclusion

So it’s not simply a case of selecting a platform, and then building a course. Consider all of the other factors you need. Develop a checklist of your essential and desirable features to create your ideal learning experience, then choose the platform to fit your needs.

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