Review - Top Online Platforms for Learning

The web provides us with free access to all the world’s information. Whether you want to learn to build a robot, or you want the answer to a pub quiz, the information will be available somewhere online for you to use.

The only problem? Turning that pure data and information into usable knowledge. Just reading through dense reams of text is no way to learn a subject and that’s why it’s so important to use a learning platform of some kind should you hope to become knowledgeable on a new subject.

But where do you begin?

Learning Management Systems

One option is to find a learning management system, or what is known as an LMS. These are designed to effectively function as an ‘online classroom’, such that instructors can hold discussions and run ‘lessons’. These can also store and deliver the materials you need to aid your learning, from Office documents, to videos and even additional software.

Common LMS companies include Moodle Rooms , Desire to Learn or Blackboard . Each has different strengths and weaknesses but they generally work on the same principles, offering analytics, apps, assignments, forums, grading systems, wikis and other useful tools. When choosing between the different options, you’ll want to consider such factors as the price, the ease of use, the appearance, the compatibility with other systems (such as Student Information Systems) and the courses available.


Massively Open Online Courses

Massively Open Online Courses are simply LMS systems that can be used by hundreds or thousands of learners at once. These tend to have a very clean interface but provide a slightly less ‘one-on-one’ feel in terms of the way the teaching is handled and the assistance you get.

Some good sites that offer MOOC are Udemy (which allows anyone to build and take courses for free), iTunesU Free Courses , Standford Free Courses and others. Udemy is a particularly good resource that aims to ‘disrupt and democratize education’. A lofty sounding aim!

While there are some common platforms such as those already mentioned (Moodle Rooms, Udemy), in other cases the learning systems will be proprietary and created by the educational institution itself.

Email Courses

Another, simpler method for learning online is to take email courses. These operate through a series of emails that you’ll receive, with each one being a separate‘lesson’. The best email courses should challenge you to do your own research while pointing you in the direction of online resources. They should also offer information in a manner that’s easy to understand and follow and should break the lessons up nicely into separate emails.

Of course email courses again aren’t as hands-on as LMS courses of MOOCs and instead tend to be very much ‘one way’ unless they have other hosted elements. This is normally reflected in the price however, so if you’re looking for a cheap online course, email is a good platform.


Social Media and P2P Platforms

You can also learn via social media or other peer-to-peer platforms. Some people will teach through Facebook or Twitter, providing more resources and materials through their page as well as linking out to other materials and questionnaires. Of course social media can also be used for communication which means you can normally reach the course leaders relatively easily.

Better are those social networks that are devised specifically as learning platforms. One good example is Edmondo which offers a good number of tools and is being used as an alternative to LMS by several colleges and universities.

The great thing about tools like Edmondo is that they’re free, less intensive in terms of bandwidth, intuitive to use and still focused on education.

Then again, they do still offer somewhat less functionality than a full-blown MLS and for educators already using other platforms, moving materials across can involve a lot of work.

Video Conferencing

Another option is video conferencing. This is the online equivalent of receiving one-to-one tuition, though it is of course possible to engage in conversations with multiple people at once using the best hardware and software set-ups.

Either way, video conferencing allows for a more natural approach to teaching that also supports the use of props, whiteboards, notes and more.

There are downsides to this type of learning however. For starters, the number of people you can address at once via streaming is more limited and this means that educators might charge a premium. Video conferencing also removes the option to work at your own time and pace – instead there will be a set meeting time for discussions and if you miss that, then you’ll miss the opportunity.

Of course, arguably the best known video conferencing software is Skype which will be more than fit for purpose in the vast majority of cases. For larger conferences with multiple students however, some of the new streaming apps that are recently becoming very popular could also be useful: such as Periscope , Meerkat and Blab . Blab in particular would be a good fit for online tuitionowing to its conferencing-based nature. Something like Blab allows educators to stream to large numbers of students and lets them post live comments or even take the hot seat for questions using their webcam.

That said, there currently aren’t that many educators using these technologies yet. This might be an interesting next step for educators and is certainly one to watch!

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