If you’re in the profession of learning & development you would no doubt select “TRUE” to the following statement if it was presented as a test question:
We know that instruction, when spaced over time, produces substantial learning benefits (i.e., better retention) than instruction delivered at one-time. (follow that link to a great paper by Will Thalheimer – worth your time)
That said, it seems there are still a fair amount of one-time events being developed. One course. One class. One workshop. One time.
At the eLearning Guild Academy, I work with experienced, professional instructors so when they’re developing courses I find they naturally support their live sessions with activities and enriching resources spaced over the duration- ideally using a students actual work projects.
Because most of our courses are virtual, I have had to search for technology that can support our top-notch instructors’ efforts. I’ve found that selecting the ‘right’ technology is less of a daunting task when you realize there really is no ONE right platform.
The platform must suit the activities.
Yet many still have a desire to find the holy grail of learning platforms. They seek rather than search.
Seeking suggests you’ll find what you’re looking for. When you search you’re looking for something…not necessarily finding “it.” We need to always be in search mode.
Of course it’s not easy continuously searching for platforms and then supporting those platforms. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it though.
For Guild Academy courses we use one of two of our virtual classroom platforms – either Adobe Connect 9 or Cisco WebEx Training Center (sometimes both for our train-the-trainer virtual classroom courses). We supplement with either Bloomfire or LearningStone. We use Cameo too for our Articulate Storyline courses to provide scenario-based reinforcement after training.
This is powered by Cameo and supports our Articulate Storyline courses. It can be considered a tool for subscription learning.
Our use of platforms is like a tapas bar for learning : )
Because we use multiple trainers located worldwide and have new groups of learners worldwide for each session, I need platforms that are easy to use. If I have to provide a lot of training on how to use a training platform, I’m out. I wanted instructors and students to be able to get in, get out, and not be frustrated. There’s a certain discomfort using any new platform but it shouldn’t be overly frustrating.
“If something is hard to use, I just don’t use it as much.” – Steve Krug’s wife in “Don’t Make Me Think”
For the virtual classroom, our instructors use the platform that best supports their planned interactivities like chat (group and private), downloading and uploading files, sharing screens, collaborating on whiteboards, breaking up into separate ‘rooms’, application sharing, use of video, etc. (Note: We have a course that, among other things, helps you compare platforms.)
Ditto for the supplemental platforms. Pick the best tool for the job.
We started using Bloomfire for our first software training courses. They are based in Austin, Texas and have been around since 2010. I used the platform in an action learning project while at Bersin & Associates. While Bloomfire is not designed to support instructor-led training (it’s marketed as web-based knowledge management software) it can be adapted for it. There are some things I really like about Bloomfire:
- The ability to record from within the platform via a web cam without additional software. This has proven valuable for a student to receive feedback on something (like their facilitation skills) or to record a welcome video before a course starts. The above is an example of a welcome video recorded by Dr. Pooja Jaisingh who teaches our Adobe courses.
- The ability to upload any type of file of any size. This has proven valuable for uploading work created with a tool like Articulate Storyline or Adobe Captivate. The instructor is able to provide feedback on your actual work. For example, a .story file is shared below in one of our Articulate Storyline courses.
- Easy to use. Because we have different independent instructors for each course and a new group of mixed students for each session of a course, we need something that was relatively intuitive. I’ve found that instructors and students have been able to use the platform with limited support.
- Group announcements and ask/answer questions. We don’t use a traditional LMS where someone can login and see their courses and course access information. We’re able to use Bloomfire to send mass announcements and answer quick questions about the course logistics, content, and activities.
- Social features. Students can easily come together in this platform with properly designed activities requiring threaded discussions (and threaded within a thread). It’s easy to follow others, receive notifications, high-five good responses, upload assignments for feedback, and share LinkedIn profiles for continued conversations after the course concludes.
- Branding. Because Bloomfire is outside of the eLearning Guild’s website, it was important to be able to customize the appearance. I used the same banners and logos we use on our website. The navigation is much different but at least there’s some continuity between sites.
- Mobile support. I like Bloomfire’s mobile app. I can’t imagine using a platform today that doesn’t support on-the-go learning. I’ve answered quick questions and viewed videos and discussions from the comfort of my couch. Managing a community built around a course isn’t a one-time thing either – you must be available when help is needed and this mobile app makes it easier.
- They offer a free trial.
- Private or public. I like that I can use this for private courses and, if desired, for public use.
As much as I like Bloomfire, it isn’t designed for supporting instructor-led training so it can get kind of messy for some programs. My search mode led me to LearningStone.
LearningStone is actually designed for supporting instructor-led training so we started using it for many of our courses when Bloomfire wasn’t the best fit. There are many things I really like about LearningStone.
- Clean interface, easy to use. As I mentioned above, we have different instructors for each course and a new group of mixed students for each session of a course. I’ve found that instructors and students have been able to use LearningStone with very limited support.
- Attentive to our needs. LearningStone is a brand spanking’ new platform, the brainchild of internet and learning entrepreneurs Michiel Klønhammer and Sjoerd Boersma who are based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. While we needed almost no real support, when we did these guys were on it. Like immediately. They even did some tweaking to fit our needs and made the product better. I like this in a technology partner.
- The ability to organize and structure content in a timeline. I think this is what really sets this platform apart. It’s logical and simple. The example below comes from Megan Torrance’s Agile Project Management course.
- Social timeline. This platform has a Facebook-like wall that allows for ongoing messaging. Lots of “I found this…”. I really feel like I’m part of the group and can see people making great connections this way- both with peers and the instructor.
- Reuse of course timelines. Once an instructor has organized their course, they can easily reuse the same timeline…or tweak it. What a time saver.
- Public and private feature. I like that I can set up my home page for anyone to see and then allow people to access the course group to which they belong. I can actually have something of substance there and I’m sure some trainers or training groups could actually use it as a webpage.
- Support for spaced learning activities and materials to support live sessions. The example below comes from Dr. Catherine Lombardozzi’s Designing Environments for Learning course.
- Video and resource integration. We’ve been able to upload external content like YouTube videos and our own content including videos, images, documents, etc.
- Free version is available. Overall, this is a very affordable platform.
- Calendar. When you don’t use a central LMS you have to really on your calendar to keep track of course meeting times and assignment due dates. I like the ability to subscribe to a calendar.
- Language support. I think 10 or so which is important when serving and international audience.
- Support for surveys. I like that this is integrated saving me from using an independent survey tool.
- Admin side is easy to use. Sometimes we overlook clunky administration. No clunkiness here. You organize members by just dragging their picture around. Love.
I’m really happy with the variety of tools we’ve been able to use. We’re not locked in and can be agile enough to make changes based on what the instructor needs. Keep searching my friends and know that you’ll never find the ONE learning technology to meet all your needs. Like tapas, you need more.