CSU EdTech Education Technology

An Online Learning Environment looks like…

So in the last post I discussed the case that regardless of what you deploy – to provide a good online experience you will end up with an Environment. It might be made up of a group of single systems but in essence it operates and functions like an Environment.

To help define what an online Environment might look like I thought it might be best to start off with listing what the Environment should DO!

What are the core functions of an Online Learning Environment?

  1. Single Point of Access
    Users of the system want the simplicity of a single point of access. They want one location to go and perform their tasks, not migrate from channel to channel, system to system.
  2. Single Identity & Profile
    Users want one log in, one profile, one bio and one password! Developers want this too – one set of users, one set of permissions, one source of data.
  3. Structured Collaboration
    The environment needs to be able to set up groups or sites according to their enrolled courses and subjects. This creates a space that is unique to that group and centralises access to all systems, resources and tools for that group.
  4. Fluid Collaboration
    Structuring groups around courses and subject is nice for administration purposes, but with the advent of social media that can hardly be considered best practice any more. Users want and should have the ability to define their own groups and collaboration. From study groups to social clubs – these are all part of the learning process.
  5. Scalable Provisioning & Administration
    Setting up groups, defining membership, access levels, adding, removing, editing and merging sites – these are the facts of administering an LMS and it happens every single session so it should be simple, automated and scalable – from 40 students to 40 000.
  6. Content Development & Delivery
    Academics aren’t designers or publishers but they need a way to develop and deliver content in a variety of forms. More importantly students need to be able to access this content on a variety of devices in a variety of contexts.
  7. Online File Storage
    Despite the post-PC age being upon us we still have files and we need ways to share & store them. The cloud provides a key to unlocking the potential of improving a multitude of systems and creates a space for users and systems to read/write/share information.
  8. Real Time Communication
    As we head towards a more blended approach to our learning and teaching methodologies there is a greater need to offer equivalency or replacements for face to face. Webinars, online meetings and video chat provide ways of replicating some of our spacial settings but in far more dynamic and flexible ways.
  9. Asynchronous Communication
    Chat, email, forums, discussions, comments – are all ways of improving the flexibility of our teaching and communication with our students.
  10. Group Communication and Notifications
    Academics and Universities need to be able to communicate and inform large groups. Staff and students as a whole want to remain connected and know what is happening, how and when.
  11. Rich Media Delivery
    Video and audio are becoming a bigger part of the resources we provide to students. They provide unique opportunities to show students and improve their ability to comprehend. Rich media also forms the backbone of the Flipped Classroom and other initiatives (MOOC, EdX, iTunesU etc)
  12. Assignment Submission & Return
    Key to all educational institutions is the ability to assess. The online environment needs to provide a round trip for students and academics to submit, mark, grade and return assignments in a range of formats.
  13. Evaluation and Feedback
    Key to the development of our academics and their students is the ability to provide be evaluated and receive feedback – early and often. Facebook’s Like button shows how easy this could be from the user’s perspective.
  14. Analytics
    Data drives evolution in a digital sense. We need opportunities to harvest data – but more importantly we need better ways of analysing, interpreting and using it.

That’s my list of the key features. Feel free to contribute any others you can think of!


By Tim Klapdor

Passionate about good design, motivated by the power of media and enchanted by the opportunities of technology.

5 replies on “An Online Learning Environment looks like…”

Hi Tim,

Read your other blog post on the CSU LMS and followed your link here. I like your list. A couple of things that I think need to be added here (although they are perhaps implied in other points):

1) Secure and private – secure for copyright reasons and private because all grades etc are by their very nature private.

2) Accessible – students need to be able to quickly learn where to go and how to do things. It needs to work every time they go to the site (or as close as possible to this ideal).

I agree completely with the idea that it should provide high quality analytics.

Basically, whatever we get should enhance students experience and my ability to teach them. But, it needs to do this effortlessly. Things are not effortless with Interact, far from it. Students use it because they have to, not because they want to. It needs to become part of their lives for that period of time. Something that they enjoy interacting with. Something that I enjoy interacting with. At present, I don’t think the term Learning Management System is justified. They are student and resource management systems. The learning part is something that we supposed to squeeze out of it, but they are often not designed with that in mind.

Because of this, I like the idea of creating an environment with tools designed to meet all needs. The issue are: can this environment be put together? How flexible will it be? Can it be put together in time? Remember, CSU isn’t going to shut down while we implement a new system. It needs to be rolled out in real time.

Thanks James. Totally agree with your thoughts – we need a user centric environment that is built around an intuitive and accessible design. I’m currently trying to put together my ideas about learning – but they run parallel to yours – in the fact that learning is an outcome – not a process.

I can’t speak for the uni – but I think it is possible – and Steve gives an example below of one way it could work. Time directly relates to the resources the uni can put into the project – but some of the work has already started. I’d like to think that if you spend a year on anything you can complete it… but we will have to see.

Sakai 2.9 does all of this. The CLE has come a long way since 2.4 which is what you are using.

– Single Point of Access
You could wrap the LMS behind a portal that aggregates info and access from all of the other systems on campus and develop portlets for even more functionality.

– Single Identity & Profile
This is bigger than the ‘LMS’ and requires some concerted effort across all IT systems to have them
participate in single sign on. The main point of entry would be via the portal and then you are authenticated to everything.

– Structured Collaboration
Core function of Sakai, the worksites.

– Fluid Collaboration
Profile2 is becoming even more integrated into the CLE now. You can also create ad hoc sites for people with common interests.

– Scalable Provisioning & Administration
Quartz, SOAP, REST, Course Management API, this is all out of the box.

– Content Development & Delivery
Probably vest using an external tool and adding content to the courses. Most people don’t like web based tools for editing content anyway.
There are standards for this to be imported.
There is also the Lessons tool, new for 2.9 which provides integrations into all of the other tools and allows you to create a structured lesson, integrating discussions and assessments.

– Online File Storage
Core feature.

– Real Time Communication
Sakai 2.9 provides a chat in the portal like the Facebook chat. Other tools have integrations like Big Blue Button, Adobe Connect, Wimba etc.

– Asynchronous Communication
Forums and email tools, as well as the ability to comment on items. There is also a service to provide ‘likes’ for things so you can rate content.

– Group Communication and Notifications
Communications can be group based. You can have these groups automatically populated from LDAP or some other user directory provider.

– Rich Media Delivery
Take a look at Kaltura for a media delivery platform. Integrates into Sakai.

– Assignment Submission & Return
Core feature, excellent tool actually. Also integrates with Turnitin.

– Evaluation and Feedback
Evaluations tool allows for comprehensive evaluations to be created. Also the like/rating system that I mentioned earlier.

– Analytics
Sitestats has a huge amount of data available to be parsed and presented in various ways

– Secure and private
Core feature of Sakai

The UI is easy to use, much more so in 2.9 with the new portal, and we have a dedicated accessibility working group that keeps tabs of accessibility issues w.r.t screenreaders etc.

Thanks Steve for mapping this out – I will definitely pass it on.

I agree an upgrade to CLE could form a component of the environment and it would make sense given the time and money CSU has put into the community as well as the staff skill set we have. Combining CLE with uPortal and some of the features you’ve outlined with what we already have at CSU – Echo360 etc – would create a great start. As the LTI standard picks up it will improve the flexibility and agility too.

INATT. It’s not ab out the technology.

I’d add the aspect of culture that encourage people to participate and thrive in the online environment. Values such as trust, transparency, and a need to share.

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