Using A Communication Platform in eLearning
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Using A Communication Platform In eLearning

Here are 5 reasons why I believe you should start using communication platforms alongside your LMS.

What Are Communication Platforms?

Over recent years, there has been a growing trend for the use of communication platforms in businesses. These platforms combine real-time communication, including text- and voice-based, with collaborative features such as file sharing, video calling and screen sharing. Slack is a perfect example of a communication platform, with over 12 million active daily users.

How Communication Platforms Can Enhance eLearning

Admittedly, I use Slack as a communication platform to complement the delivery of my online courses. Enrolled students are invited to join the Slack group as the main means of communication with me, the course instructor, as well as fellow course students.

But, do communication platforms actually work alongside a LMS? I believe so, yes. Let me share with you 5 reasons why.

1. Greater Student Engagement

In comparison to conventional LMSs, communication platforms have a plethora of engaging features that millennials and post-millennials especially can relate to. Having the ability to instantly communicate and share files over different mobile devices enables enhanced student engagement.

Interestingly, teachers that compared the potential use of Slack in their classroom discovered that their students much preferred Slack over the Blackboard LMS since Slack was significantly more fun to use and seemingly improved group work [1].

2. Avoid Frequently Asked Questions

A perk of communication platforms is that conversations are archived in channels for all members to see. Not only that, but some platforms can even have bots that can be programmed to answer frequently asked questions. When used correctly, these virtual assistants can take some of the burden off instructors by automatically replying to commonly raised topics.

In an exploratory study involving IT undergraduates, students felt that using the communication platform Discord during their studies saved them time in searching for questions that had already been answered; the answers were already there to easily search through and find [2].

3. Constant Connectivity

All communication platforms I know of come with their own application (Android and Apple versions) for use on most devices. Coupled with the instant messaging feature, this means that responsiveness is improved over conventional emails.

An example of this in action comes from my own experience. A student enrolled in my course was trying to troubleshoot results from their laboratory experiment. They sent me a picture of their results over Slack and asked for my advice. Thanks to push notifications, Slack popped up on my phone whilst I was watching some TV. I instantly knew the root of the issue, and so I was able to quickly share my two cents' worth.

Obviously, the above could be achieved using email. However, I felt that Slack did this far more efficiently than email. Everything was instant with no delays, unlike email.

4. Potential For Gamification

Some communication platforms, including Slack, support third-party plugins to add even more functionality. Introducing gamification into a communication platform allows for student recognition and stronger affiliations within the community.

For example, scientists at the University of Pennsylvania use the Bonusly Slack plugin to acknowledge colleague’s contributions by awarding points to certain actions, such as answering questions. Team members that top the leader board are then rewarded with a free lunch.

This means of recognition can easily be applied to eLearning. Students could be awarded points for getting questions right on a quiz delivered through the communication platform. If points are not your thing, then you can even award tacos with the HeyTaco plugin.

5. Keeping Things Formal, With A Causal Touch

Conversations in communication platforms can come in different forms. Channels can be organized based on topic and these can be further set to public or private. Direct one-to-one messaging is also available. This means students are free to create their own private channels for informal networking.

Additionally, most communication platforms have support message reactions, such as emojis and GIF support, much like instant messaging applications. Reactions are a subtle means of providing casual feedback, which again is relatable to millennials and post-millennials. In a case study of using Discord in a classroom that had little face-to-face interaction, a particular student stated the reaction feature "helps you know that the group agrees with you, or at least lets you know that they have read your suggestion or comment [2]."

Wrapping Up

I personally believe communication platforms, such as Slack, have immense potential for use in eLearning. These platforms don’t necessarily replace an LMS, but rather provide an additional complementary level of communication to unite the online community.

I’m super interested to hear if people use communication platforms in eLearning and how they think it is going. Please let me know in the comments section below.


[1] Slack It to Me: Complementing LMS With Student-Centric Communications for the Millennial/Post-Millennial Student

[2] Investigating Team Effectiveness Using Discord: A Case Study Using a Gaming Collaboration Tool for the CS Classroom