Friday, September 09, 2011

Finding the perfect learning platform in 5 steps

After the holidays I have been bumping into the same issue with different clients: "Which platform you choose for a online part of a learning trajectory as trainer/facilitator?" It is already clear that you want to combine online learning with face-to-face meetings, you need a private online platform and there is also a budget for it. With the enormous amount of social media tools it is much easier for a trainer/facilitator to make his/her own choice of tools fitting the learning activities rather than trying to fit your learning activities into a predetermined platform.

I have a first blog post written about the broader range of platform options that exist for online discussions.
In this blog post I'm going deeper into the selection process for online exchange in a private group. In large organisations, there may be a platform available and you may have to decide whether you want to use this, or an alternative. I noticed many start with the tool rather than thinking about the participants and the learning activities.

For a good selection process, take the following five key steps:

Five step approach to finding your learning platform
  1. Make a shortlist of potential platforms by asking around (and I'll help if my shortlist), review and test them on the following criteria:
  2. Identify what your participants are familiar with
  3. Determine the features you need by designing the learning activities
  4. Look at the implementation trajectory of the platform
  5. Find out what the price is

Make a nice table (something like this) to sort out your findings in writing and help support your decision to support (x-ax the potential tools, y-ax the criteria

Re 1. Make a Shortlist of possible platform There are many different platforms. You can be practical by asking some experienced people. The shortlist that I currently have for tools that are relatively easy to implement are Elgg, Moodle, Ning, Drupal, Bloom Fire, Buddy Press for wordpress, and Social Engine. Do you have a good platform, please let me know by leaving a reaction!

Ad 2. Familiarity of participants with tools This step is often forgotten, but is important. You can send a short survey, some people call or arrange a meeting. If you combine this with the design of learning you save two birds with one stone. Awareness of different tools also gives an indication of how easily they get used to a new tool. If many people are familiar with such a tool like Yammer, but it has not all the features you want? This may be an argument for your intent to reconsider. Because it gives you a flying start.

Ad 3. Needed functionalities (based on design of learning activities) To know what features you need as a minimum requirement, you need your design of learning activities already have quite some detail. Would you give assignments, much literature do you need to upload, do you want to tag? Can you use videos? Do participants need a blog? This determines the features you want. Often you will develop a good feel for the various functionalities when you have worked with a number of platforms. And balance 2 and 3: if a platform has fewer functionalities, but people have experiences, you might simplify your design.

Ad 4. Implementation path Some platforms like Ning, you can tweak by yourself as a facilitator in one afternoon. Other platforms such as Drupal need more support and expertise. Maybe you want the platform to be hosted on your own server or not. These are implementation requirements. While chosing a platform these are important to consider too. To what extent do you support? How long is the design and implementation process?

Re 5. Price Well, it speaks for itself .. What will it cost? Per month, per year? How easy can you cancel? (Important in a learning process with a clear endpoint)

Although it is now may appear as a very structured process, in practice it will be messier. But what is important is that you first look to at the experiences of users and design of learning activities before you select the best tool - though you will probably not find the perfect tool... after all the process is more important than the tool.

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