The eLearning Environment is critical to the overall look, feel, function and effectiveness of the virtual classroom. It facilitates or challenges the collection and use of data, and ease of use for the learner. Many elements need to be considered as part of the eLearning ecosystem. The Learning Management System (LMS) is key. You’re probably familiar with some of the major Learning Management Systems – or LMSs – including Blackboard, Desire2Learn, Moodle, Sakai and Canvas. Recently there have been more changes in the LMS marketplace, with newer platforms like the openly sourced Open edX, as well as other LMSs that are coming up from the K-12 marketplace like Schoology.
The Wikipedia definition of an LMS on June 6, 2016 was: “A learning management system (LMS) is a software application for the administration, documentation, tracking, reporting and delivery of e-learning education courses or training programs.”[i]
Additionally, there are other technologies that plug into the LMS, including those that are publisher content and other platforms, like adaptive learning platforms. Though LMS systems are not popular, and the lure to change out LMSs can be powerful, learning systems should be evaluated within the context of both the institution and the needs of learners.
Read this article: In Defense of the LMS on WCET’s blog (Thackaberry, 2017).
Systems that impact online courses, programs, customer service and retention go far beyond the eLearning ecosystem. One of the main systems at institutions is the SIS. Student Information Systems house information like student data including name, address, demographic information, transcript information, etc. For a full list of all the functions of a typical Student Information System, click on the link for more information from the wikipedia entry on Student Information Systems.
The college you are taking classes at, or the one you are working at, likely are on one of the big three SISs – Banner or Colleague, both from Ellucian, PeopleSoft, Jenzebar or Workday Student, or potentially even something homegrown. These systems are the college equivalent of what would be called an Enterprise Resource Planning system – or ERP – at a different kind of company.
Another major system is a Customer Relationship Management system – or CRM. This is used to track all of the interactions between the learner and the institution, or in some cases for specific parts of the learner experience only, like the admissions process. Examples of a CRM include Microsoft Dynamics, Slate, and Salesforce.
There are many sets of regulations that apply to online courses and programs. Traditionally, the requirements associated for on-campus higher education apply plus specific elements for online courses and programs. A synopsis of some of the larger regulations can be found below:
- Attendance reporting (also called non-par in the field): Requires that learners engage in an activity that is substantive and academic in nature within the first week of the course. A good explanation of that can be found on Ohio State University’s site. A backup of that page can be found here.
- Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI): RSI requires that, for a distance learning course that is eligible for Title IV aid, subject-specific qualified faculty regularly interact with learners in a substantive way. This WCET article helps describe those requirements, additionally the Office of the Inspector General report released on Western Governors University provided additional color to what “regular” is.
- Initiated by the instructor.
- The instructor must meet accreditation standards for expertise.
- Interaction must be academic in nature.
- Interaction must occur on a weekly basis.
- Accessibility is a large commitment in online courses (as noted in the Learning Experience section). Generally institutions have accessibility trainings and checklists for faculty, as well as assistance from designers and/or developers. Most institutions are currently using WCAG 2.0 AA as their targeted standard for accessible content.
Partnerships and Continual Innovation
Partnerships contribute to innovation and vice versa in higher education online programs. While partnerships with granting organizations are common, B2B, or U2B (business-to-business or university-to-business) partnerships are increasing, as institutions attempt to align their curriculum and offerings more closely with the needs of employers.
Some granting organizations that fund innovative projects (and in many cases, study their effects) include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Post-Secondary Success and the Lumina Foundation.
As an example of the impact that funding can have, the MacArthur Foundation significantly funded the creation of the Open Badge Initiative, from which the original open standard for Open Badges Infrastructure (OBI) was created. The innovation in digital badging is just now beginning to take hold as more and more institutions are offering them to learners, and more and more businesses are using them internally to track competencies.
Other interesting partnerships include those between Arizona State University and Starbucks first for degree completion and then for simply undergraduate degrees, and IBM and Northeastern University (which is directly tied to digital badging). Walmart announced partnerships with three non-profit universities for education benefits, including Brandman University, a leader in Competency-Based Education (CBE).
Forming partnerships beyond traditional grant-based giving is impactful in many ways. It enables colleges and universities to become more relevant and responsive to employers; it provides the institution with a group of learners who will have tuition benefits; it also enables non-profit institutions to extend their mission to the post-traditional learners historically poorly served by traditional educational models.
- Page 1: A Holistic Look at the Field of eLearning
- Page 2: Learner Experience and Support
- Page 3: Faculty Support, Analytics and Financial Models
- Page 4: eLearning and Tech Environments, Partnerships and Innovation