As my fourth year working in online learning comes to a close, I look back and think about all the systems I’ve seen, I’ve decided to take a moment to do a public service. For those of you interested in implementing a complete online learning system, here’s what you’re going to need:
The systems obviously should center around the curriculum, which is housed in a Learning Management System. Moodle is one such system that, with some work, can be setup for free. The Learning Management System is where your curriculum is kept, assignments are turned in, lessons are delivered, and grades are displayed. A well thought out Learning Management System can encompass all components of this system to allow students and staff a consistent online learning experience. The less switching that a student has to do, the less opportunities they will have to choose to give up.
Now, as the Learning Management System requires students to login, you will also need a public face to your school. This is where the Website comes in. For any online learning program, having a strong web presence is essential. You want a site that has both depth of information and simplicity of navigation. And you want it all to look nice and feel consistent.
Of course, communication cannot just happen via coursework and your website. Somewhere, you are going to want synchronous contact with your students. The best method to do this is through web conferencing solutions. These solutions give you the ability to display a PowerPoint, go through a lesson, get feedback from your students, and have conversations about the curriculum. Elluminate is a powerful albeit expensive web conferencing system targeted specifically at education. And there are always web conferencing systems that can be setup for much less, sometimes even for free.
But not all communication needs to be en masse. Sometimes a lot of information needs to go out, but does not need the security of knowing the other person is right there listening to it. Correspondence, including many forms of both synchronous and asynchronous covers this one-on-one contact. For this type of communication, you will want to use a variety of mediums (email, phone calls, ect.) that allow you to target multiple learning styles. Be sure your internal systems for communicating with students reflect the various ways that students learn.
All this is great, but you are going to need a way to track everything: your student’s information, their course history, grades, personal notes, etc. Having a good Student Management System is essential to running an effective online program. A Student Management System will keep all of your information in one place. It will track student success, log contacts, and deliver information to students, staff, and parents. In an ideal world, your Student Management system and your Learning Management System will share information.
And of course, none of this will be worth everything if the computer you are storing all this on goes kaput. You need an effective backup solution. The cloud seems to be the direction backup is going, but be sure the solution you use is both stable and secure.
So, for all those online schools who have wondered what all it takes, it’s as simple as that. (Not really, but that is for another day.)