An online learning platform is a digital environment that provides a centralised space for users to upload content and integrate features. It is, in many ways, an educational institution’s online hub, representing an essential piece of the teaching and learning puzzle.
Common Features of Online Learning Platforms
Online learning platforms are flexible virtual spaces, allowing users to upload materials and integrate features that elevate the teaching and learning experience. This means the systems operate more as a customisable canvas, rather than a rigid solution with predetermined functionalities.
Nevertheless, it is extremely important to understand the range of support provided by learning platform solutions. After all, you want to get the most out of your chosen product.
Online learning platforms act as content management hubs for sharing, organising, and creating teaching materials.
Sharing:Educators can upload and share a diverse range of learning materials, including documents, presentations, PDFs, and various types of multimedia content.
Organising: A centralised repository provides a straightforward method for storing and structuring your uploaded learning materials.
A search function and/or tagging system can simplify the process of finding content, and version controls empower educators to monitor document modifications and return to previous versions as needed.
Access controls, such as staff-exclusive repositories or student filters tailored to specific classes, courses, or year groups, grant flexibility in determining who can view and use certain content.
Scheduling capabilities allow instructors to sequence learning materials, creating a structured learning path for students.
Creating: The ability to aggregate and organise various types of learning materials facilitates content creation, and certain online learning platforms will either have built-in authoring tools, or support integration with third-party software. This means custom lesson materials, assessments, and even interactive eTextbooks can be created.
Online learning platforms allow students and instructors to engage digitally, both one-on-one or in large groups, and both during or outside of class.
Informational:Announcements, notifications, alerts, and social media integration allow institutions to share information, ensuring that everyone is aware of critical course-related information.
Surveys and polls allow schools and colleges to gather information, collecting input on course content or teaching methods.
Two-way flow: Dynamic tools like discussion forums, chat rooms, and email capabilities facilitate two-way communication.
Reflective: Blogs or journals can help students share reflections on their learning experience.
Progress Tracking: Students and educators can track learner progress within courses, including attendance, completed assignments, and grades. Dashboard or progress bars can be employed to provide a visualisation of performance.
Progress Reporting: Tracked metrics can be used to generate reports within the online learning platform, allowing informed decisions to be made about course improvements and learner support.
Learner Management:Administrators can use a online learning platform to access useful information about students, including their progress, special educational needs details, classes, and course information. They can also add and manage user accounts for learners, instructors, and support staff, as well as enrol individuals in courses or programmes, either through manually or automated processes.
Users can create and update their profiles, providing personal information, contact details, and preferences. These profiles may include photos, bios, and links to social media or external websites.
A word of caution Please be aware that not all online learning platforms will offer these features (some may provide even more!). It is, therefore, your responsibility to thoroughly review each platform to ensure that your eventual solution aligns with the specific requirements of your school and its students.
Typical Benefits of Online Learning Platforms
Just as the features of an online learning platform exhibit flexibility, their yielded benefits depend on the extent to which applications and content are seamlessly integrated into the system.
Personalised Learning: Being able to choose from a wealth of content, as well as customise it to your choosing, means instructors can deliver materials matching the various learning styles and paces of their students.
Rich Multimedia: Diverse multimedia content types can make learning more engaging and effective, and allow teachers to accommodate the different learning styles and preferences in their classroom.
Updated Resources: Instructors can maintain their content, thereby ensuring that learning materials are relevant, accurate, high-quality, and applicable to the real world.
Formative Assessment: Online learning platforms allow for ongoing, formative assessments, providing instructors with valuable insights for improving instruction and meeting specific learner needs effectively.
Self-Paced Learning: For students with diverse schedules, learning styles, and goals, unlimited access to digital materials and assessments can help them master material at a speed better suiting their needs, as well as alleviate the stress associated with feeling like they’re falling behind.
Objective Grading: By supporting the incorporation of a structured and transparent framework for assessment, as well as automated grading where possible, online learning platforms help ensure fairness and consistency in the evaluation of learner work.
Global Interaction: Online learning platforms facilitate connections among learners worldwide, fostering diversity, cultural appreciation, and cross-cultural collaboration in the educational journey. These interactions are particularly significant in today’s interconnected world, as highlighted in our article on the benefits of global collaboration.
Continuous Support: Learners can reach out to instructors or peers at their convenience, establishing an enduring support network for addressing questions and concerns.
Collaborative Portfolio: Students can showcase their collaborative work in a digital portfolio, a valuable asset for future career opportunities.
Learner Inclusivity: Surveys and polls can be answered anonymously in virtual learning platform, helping anxious and indifferent learners overcome barriers to participation. Classroom signals, such as reaction emojis, also encourage broader engagement during lessons.
Lesson efficiency: Digital hand-raising minimises unnecessary disruptions in the classroom, ensuring a maintained lesson flow.
Immediate Feedback: Timely feedback on interactive assessments and quizzes promotes a deeper understanding of material among students, and allows them to make targeted improvements based on observed strengths and weaknesses.
Furthermore, teachers can employ interactive surveys and polls to gather immediate insights into students’ comprehension and learning preferences.
Interactive Learning: Real-time functionalities foster a dynamic learning environment, enabling learners to pose questions and participate in live debates. This transforms the educational process from passive absorption to active engagement.
Synchronous Collaboration: Breakout rooms, as well as collaborative workspaces, can play a pivotal role in nurturing teamwork and critical thinking skills.
Personalised Learning Paths: Learning platforms tailor resources and activities based on students’ recorded progress and performance.
Data-Driven Interventions: Similarly, instructors can also use data insights to identify at-risk learners and provide targeted support, increasing retention rates.
Efficient Management: Through task automation, robust data analytics, customisable features, and centralised user management, online learning platforms empower educational institutions to efficiently oversee learners and courses. This not only saves valuable time and resources, but also guarantees a smooth and hassle-free learning experience.
Developing the Best Online Learning Platform Strategy
Before searching for an online learning platform, it is important to develop a procurement strategy tailored to your students’ and institution’s needs. This will enable you to outline specific objectives that act as a vital foundation for effective market research.
On EdTech Impact, we map solutions with their impact (the outcomes they claim to improve). This categorisation allows you to align your market research with the solutions that best match your objectives. Here’s our top-level taxonomy:
Identifying the Role of your Online Learning Platform
Despite their seeming simplicity, educators commonly harbour misconceptions regarding online learning platforms. More alarmingly, these misconceptions often relate to their everyday employment in education.
Microsoft “The biggest misconception with learning platforms is that they are static, passive, and used for consumption of content.”
Satchel One “People often believe an online learning platform will provide content for learning and replace the need for teachers.”
So what role should online learning platforms actually have in education?
Microsoft “The best online learning platforms are dynamic. They allow learners to communicate, create content, and get real time feedback, and give educators seamless insights into the learning behaviours, social emotional health, and progress of their students.”
Satchel One “A well-delivered online learning platform can become the hub of a school classroom and an essential piece of the teaching and learning puzzle. It can better support students with diverse needs by facilitating clear and accurate learning instruction, organised homework and revision, and timely, personalised support from teachers.”
Evidently, though online learning platforms can function as content repositories, this represents far too reductive a role for systems so multifaceted. Their best use, then, is as an assistive and dynamic tool that continuously supports the developing needs of your institution and its students.
The specific nature of this role, however, comes down to you.
Who is your Target Audience?
Before conducting market research, be sure that your procurement strategy is shaped around your institution’s specific contextual needs.
To provide you with a useful initial reference, we have conducted market research on the intended learner age groups of online learning platforms, and their propensity to provide parent access:
Elevating Market Research Through User Experience Analysis
Evaluating User Outcomes to Shape Effective Market Research
Effectively understanding the objectives of online learning platforms provides essential context for shaping your market research. This means understanding precisely what goals the market’s solutions aim to achieve, and how effectively users perceive them to actually deliver them.
To help with this, we conducted an analysis of our online learning platforms, uncovering the most common solution outcomes that providers target and their observed impact. Here are the results:
This data, coupled with a well-considered procurement strategy, provides an excellent benchmark for shaping your market research. It enables you to gain insights into the observed strengths and weaknesses of online learning platforms, as well as understand which outcomes they target most frequently.
Leveraging User Reviews for Key Insights
However, whilst general user data on impact is valuable, it should not be the sole driving force behind your decision-making process. Effective market research will establish why individual products either support (or don’t support) outcomes aligned with their strategy, and will compare the context a product was used in to their own.
Using User Evaluations to Uncover Nuanced Insights
At EdTech Impact, our user reviews go beyond a single rating and comment. Instead, our reviewers map ratings to each of the solution’s purported outcomes, and provide an accompanying rating and summary. This maximises the potential for uncovering insights about online learning platforms that directly pertain to your market research objectives.
For instance, if a learning platform is recognised for ‘improving school processes’, you would want to know how it accomplishes this goal. Does it streamline existing processes, or does it introduce new procedures? Similarly, if a platform is found to ‘Improve Parental Engagement,’ what is the extent and nature of the parental involvement it allegedly fosters?
The Power of a Review
Let’s illustrate the significance of this approach with a real-world example.
In the below review of EDClass, our user awarded the platform’s ability to ‘Build Student Knowledge’ five stars. However, this wasn’t predicated on the solution’s comprehensive content hub or personalised learning support, as one might assume. Instead, the reviewer was impressed that EDClass ensured that more challenging students could learn remotely and receive live support, thus enabling them to continue their education:
“A lot of students at risk of permanent exclusion have low attainment levels due to being constantly excluded, in isolation, or out of the classroom. Having EDClass means we can offer high quality lessons and live support to these students, rather than leave them to work independently.”
While ratings provide a useful snapshot of a solution, it is the detail found in user reviews that really illuminates the mechanisms at play. This deeper understanding is crucial for selecting a solution aligned to the needs outlined in your procurement strategy.
Comparing Reviewer Context to your Own
In addition to providing judgements on specific outcomes, we actively encourage our reviewers to provide detailed contextual information. This includes school-specific information, such as their institution and staff role, as well as usage pattern insights, including how long and how often they used the solution.
After all, since numerous factors can influence a user’s experience with a solution, the most effective way to discern the relevance of someone’s assessment is to compare their situation to your own.
The Online Learning Platform Market: Essential Information
Training and Support
With EdTech systems, their ability to positively impact teaching and learning is analogous to an architect’s knowledge of their blueprint. Users must be well-versed in their features, and possess the confidence to implement them effectively.
This is extremely pertinent among learning platforms, given their typically comprehensive blueprints. Consequently, in your market research, it is crucial to understand what training and support is offered by each solution. Here’s what our analysis found:
Remember, technology isn’t always immediately accessible, so its success often hinges on the availability of comprehensive training and support. Be sure to keep this in mind as you conduct your market research.
Pricing Models and Costs
When it comes to budgeting, it is important to understand the pricing models commonly employed in the online learning platform market, along with their associated costs. Depending on your circumstances, the model offered may not be right for you.
Using the EdTech Impact marketplace, we’ve unearthed the prevalence of specific pricing models adopted by our learning platforms, and calculated their average and median cost:
Please note that the guidance and market research in this guide is centred around online learning platforms. For general support with purchasing EdTech solutions, including key questions to ask solution providers and quality benchmarks to look out for, have a read of our EdTech Buyers’ Guide.
Looking to the Future
Half of our online learning platforms were founded before 2013, establishing this category as somewhat mature in the world of EdTech. However, among the remaining 50%, two newcomers – founded in 2020 and 2021, respectively – have surged to become among our top five most-reviewed platforms.
This highlights the likely continuation of online learning platforms as essential cornerstones within teaching and learning. But what exactly does the future hold? How do online learning platforms plan to keep up with transformative changes in modern education?
Here’s what our experts had to say:
“AI will continue to carve a path for itself into learning platforms and LMS. As long as AI is implemented with rigour and fidelity, this can begin to tackle teacher workload and better support a wider range of students too, by streamlining processes and creating quality learning content that is tailored to the level and preferred learning styles of individuals.” – Satchel One
The future of learning platforms sits with the power of AI to create truly personalised learning experiences for students, help teachers create the most relevant and impactful activities to accelerate learning, and provide coaching tools to help empower students to own their learning. – Microsoft
“Adaptive learning. Using algorithms, adaptive learning technology constantly measures a learner’s engagement and performance to identify patterns and trends, which then allows it to adjust the type of content it pushes out.
Furthermore, educational institutions are becoming increasingly “data powered” and “data driven” globally. An investment into learning platforms without true data capabilities, therefore, is an investment in the past.” – Claned
In each comment, the emphasis on AI’s role in reshaping modern education through personalised learning strategies is evident. To be at the forefront of this transformation, view your online learning platform as a dynamic support tool, rather than a mere content repository.