Managing eLearning Platforms: Challenges And Dilemmas
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4 Challenges To Overcome When Managing eLearning Platforms 

To go or not to go online is no longer a question for the training providers. Even face to face training programs of significance (such as University or Certification courses) are hard to deliver without interactive online presence. Some are using established eLearning platforms such as Moodle or Blackboard and tailor them to the delivery needs, while others develop eLearning platforms of their own (e.g. Interact eLearning Platform by the Charles Sturt University). This brief article attempts to discuss some of key challenges faced by the eLearning platforms’ exponents.

  1. Getting Started: In-House Development Vs. Outsourcing.
    When a training provider wants to make his courses available online, the very first dilemma it is likely to face is: To handle development and implementation of the eLearning Platform on his own or to outsource the task to the 3d party. So far, there appears to be little consensus among the providers which path to follow. Some Universities like to “stay in control” and keep a team of in-house developers who can cement commitment to eLearning by working continuously on the platform development and improvement while others trust the “hired experts” – aka the outsourced consultants. While the in-house developers are arguably more committed, few of the Universities are able to boast a level of technical expertise that is high enough to develop an eLearning platform that is tailored to the ever changing learners’ needs and incorporates all of the necessary learning and teaching technologies such as embedded video streaming, Turnitin, online marking tools, user support area, etc. Therefore, outsourcing of the eLearning platform development does pay-off!
  2. User Support: Teaching To Learn And Learning To Teach?
    Both students and instructors take time to acquaint themselves with a new eLearning platform and utilize its capacity to the full. Furthermore, some of the users (including instructors) never discover major potential joys that eLearning platforms have to offer and focus on employing the very few functions and tools that are absolutely essential for training delivery (at the instructor end), such as uploading lecture slides and assessment requirements, and for completing the learning tasks (at the learner end) such as submitting assignments and downloading the resources available. Both parties often tend to ignore a wide range of teaching and learning options that the eLearning platforms are capable of delivering. For instance, distance students often feel isolated throughout their studies and would love to have some peer support, but even if a video chatting option is available (even though majority of the students is likely to be using technologies such as Skype already) they may not even be aware that the video chatting option does exist. They rarely if ever read user documentation or use the site help function leave alone calling or emailing the helpdesk. As evident from the passage above, availability of effective user support systems and processes is critical for optimizing the eLearning experience. It confirms the need for every eLearning platform to incorporate a virtual helpdesk function that supports both the teachers and the learners 24/7 as well as keeps “promoting” all of the platform’s functions to the users continuously.
  3. Managing Platform Administration Rights: Who Is The Boss?
    The concept of empowering users is central to any eLearning platform. However, there are obvious limitations to how far the empowerments should progress. We cannot allow instructors to make alterations to the system settings (not to be confused with customization) and certainly cannot allow students to manage assessment requirements or the Gradebook section. Therefore, training providers need to find the “Golden Middle” between user empowerment to have the platform customized and keeping settings in accordance with the established standard. Another important factor is managing access rights. There has to be a clear policy to address access related issues. During the initial stages of eLearning implementation, there have been cases where students were accidently provided with “Staff Access” and vice versa. Furthermore, lecturers/instructors should be provided with access and administration rights that are on the one hand sufficient for managing their classes but on the other hand do not allow them to access irrelevant areas as it may lead to potential data security breaches. For example, it is common for eLearning platforms to store students’ personal data that they provide on enrolment (e.g. date of birth, home address, contact phone number, etc.). It is transparent that while even access to complete personal data set for the students that the instructors are currently teaching is questionable, they should definitely not be able to access personal data of the students enrolled in other subjects and programs.
  4. Learner Engagement: Communities Are Hard To Build.
    Learner engagement takes more than availability of fancy communication tools to build. Students love using mainstream social media channels such as Facebook or Twitter, but often tend to be reluctant to communicate via Moodle forums or Blackboard blogs. Building online student communities is an ongoing challenge. Usefulness alone will prove to be insufficient for successful community building unless there is also a truly social twist to it. “Smart” communities invite learners to combine discussion of study related matters with chatting about social issues, hobbies, sports, and other topics of interest making it feel like a friendly community rather than a purely study oriented one!

To sum up, eLearning platforms take time to develop and grow. Launch of such a platform is just the starting point. As evident from the discussion above, successful eLearning delivery is not just about delivering suitable eLearning platforms, but also (and even more importantly) about effective management of these eLearning platforms and tailoring them to the users’ needs!

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