eLearning Platform Sharing Rules: 5 Golden Ones For The "Communal Living"
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5 Significant eLearning Platform Sharing Rules

It is becoming increasingly common for providers of online delivery services to aim at attracting multiple training providers to use a single shared platform such as Coursera or Open Universities. This concept tends to be appealing to both the learners and training providers, as it leads to creation of "one-stop shops" where the learners can access a wide range of courses from many providers around the globe while the training providers can, in turn, be able to be part of a larger marketplace while having access to state-of-art eLearning tools and features they would otherwise not be able to afford customized development of.

However, sharing eLearning platforms across many training providers raises a number of legitimate concerns both for the platform owners and the providers to consider. More specifically, the eLearning platform sharing approach should not result in compromising data security, quality of the service delivered and, user-friendliness and accessibility of the courses. While each and every eLearning platform has some unique features, challenges, and limitations that need to be catered for, I believe there are 5 core principles (aka the Golden Rules) the training providers and the platforms’ administrations need to follow religiously.

1. Content And Access Security Controls

Given that training providers are disengaged from one another (other than sharing the platform), it is obvious that usage rules and rights should disallow the providers to access courses that are run by others. The platform’s "home page" may contain a collection of links that guide users to courses they are after, but each of the courses should have separate login/registration/access requirements that are to be administered by the providers rather than by the platform’s support team. For example, if I enroll in a Bachelor of Aviation Management degree that is run by Griffith University via the Open Universities eLearning platform, I should be authorized to access only the course-exclusive content. Likewise, the training providers should not be allowed to "wander around the platform" freely and log into courses offered by institutions other than their own! It should be up to the training providers rather than the platform admins to grant/restrict/configure access to eliminate the unnecessary discrepancies and security concerns.

2. Customization Options

Given, potential variety in the courses available, the tools and functions required for the online delivery are also going to vary significantly. Nobody can understand these requirements better than training providers, so platform admins must empower the training providers they are working with to customize the learning environment the way they want to. Therefore, not only the providers need to have full control over the settings, but the settings should also be flexible and user-friendly enough to be managed easily. Empowering the providers certainly does not mean asking them to "handle their own IT support". On the contrary, the provision of the customization options is likely to result in greater technical support being required. However, it should be done, as it is an essential element of the business proposition offered!

3. Online Support Tools And Services

As pointed out above, technical support is pivotal for making the shared eLearning delivery environment work. The support should be available both to the training providers and to the learners. Provision of the technical support services to the enrolled learners is a particularly tricky task, as it should be based on the pre-arrangement with the training providers that could outline the scope of the support delivered and division of the support tasks between the two parties. For example, SLAs (Service Level Agreements) between the two may require the platform admins to look into the platform management issues and queries, while the training providers may be happy to take charge of providing IT support for the online assessments, test quizzes, resources etc. However, there should certainly also be an option for the training providers to receive complete IT support for their learners that may include the platform admins handling all of the learners’ queries. For example, a small online college that teaches creative writing and art courses may not be willing/capable of handling any of the technical queries (internal and external) and may opt for a service arrangement, where the platform admins would be managing the service delivery fully.

4. Having A Clear Service Level Agreement (SLA)

An SLA agreement between the platform admin and the training provider is an agreement between two organizations that are obviously separate commercial entities. In order to avoid potential disputes and misunderstanding that may result in service quality becoming poor or even service disruptions, clear detailed SLAs must be produced. Such SLAs are time-consuming and fairly complex to develop but they are truly essential for both parties. Not only disputes will be avoided but also as spheres of responsibility and service level requirements get established and confirmed, the operation will be running more smoothly. For example, if a learner complains to the service provider about having difficulties to access the platform, the query will be automatically forwarded to the party responsible for handling such issues.

5. Consistent Service Delivery

When servicing multiple training providers via a single platform, it is important to ensure that none of the clients feel short-changed. When signing up to use the platform, new clients are likely to examine services available to the current clients and quality of the delivery. If impressed, they are likely to start using the platform… based on an expectation to receive a similarly impressive service. They will be bitterly disappointed if the service they are receiving (functionality, admin and tech support etc.) is inferior to the services delivered to other providers. Consequently, such partnerships are not likely to last!

Overall, the benefits of the eLearning platform sharing are transparent. The sharing approach gives greater exposure to all of the training providers while allowing the platform provider to optimize his operations. However, as evident from the 5 "Golden Rules" discussed above – it does require effective management of the eLearning environment that is impossible without a truly collaborative approach!

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