Why We Developed Our Own Learning Platform

by | Jul 27, 2021 | Learning Design

As an organization that relies on technology for everything we do, we are constantly planning ahead and asking ourselves what we can do to improve. How can we make our platform better? What functionalities are important? How can we do better for our learners, our partners, and for ourselves as we work to create and manage our content?

We didn’t start out with the idea to develop our own learning platform. A key part of TEL’s mission is to provide equitable access to college-level learning. This means offering affordable, high-quality online courses. To keep costs manageable, we knew we had to focus on scalable content creation and delivery. We also knew we had to work in an agile, fast-moving environment where we plan, prototype, implement, and refine. Then start all over again to make everything better. We will always be iterating toward a better product and better experience for our students and partners. TEL decided to create our own learning content platform so we could be flexible and iterate at the speed our students needed.

Our First Iteration

As you may have read in some of our other blog posts, our first steps were to design our learning experiences. We focused on learning progression, content presentation, content reusability, and learner engagement as we created prototype lessons, modules, and courses. We mapped out how a lesson would be structured, where to put breaks in the content, and how to move from formative to summative to mastery in our assessments. All of these first steps were completed on paper.

Now it was time to build a prototype. We looked at many of the existing learning management systems, and though they all had great features, they didn’t offer us a way to create our own structures in a platform that matched what we wanted our students to have. So, we started our first work using WordPress. This content management system gave us the flexibility to build out our first courses and to test out our learning structures and tools. WordPress allowed us to quickly experiment with features, such as polls, glossary tools, templates, quiz question types, and course shells, to refine our learning models.

We offered our first courses through WordPress. We then used what we learned to create our own learning content platform

Scaling Our Platform Design

Approaching our platform as a content management system enables us to structure our content outside of the typical LMS frameworks. We specifically design our platform to support scalability, we can build a course once and use it multiple times. We are also able to quickly implement new partnerships and offer new courses. Because we can anonymously group students into a master course, we are able to offer courses to large and small groups.

We approach content creation like a publishing company, which allows us to build out multiple courses, reuse media and visual content, and quickly scale up our offerings. This is not just in building new content, but also in quickly offering our courses to students. We’re able to take one course and implement it with multiple partners. We are also able to quickly customize course elements to meet our institutional partners’ specific needs.

Connecting All the Pieces Through Metadata

My background is in librarianship. Well-structured and highly organized content is near and dear to my heart. Organization is also key to achieve what we wanted our platform‒and the content created in it‒to be able to do for students.

Because we started with a content management paradigm, creating metadata was important to help track where content belongs. For example, lessons can be used in multiple courses. Our platform supports multiple levels of metadata that can be assigned to any content item that we create in the platform. This ranges from high-level items like courses and institutions all the way down to individual quiz questions. Each item can support shared platform-wide metadata as well as content-specific metadata.

This has enabled us to structure our content as a whole curriculum, not just a set of siloed courses. In our platform, we can use metadata to track the skills that students are learning, from the quiz question to the course level. This allows us to create a full map of skills and competencies across all of our lessons, activities, and courses. This is also the foundation of our badging and Student Learning Dashboard. The metadata allows us to track how students are acquiring skills and mastering competencies in our platform, and then surface these additional learning layers to the student.

Building On the Foundation

That is the foundation for where we are today, working with a platform that gives us the ability to plan, prototype, iterate, and implement as we continue to build out new functionality.

In my next post, I will focus on what we are doing as we move forward, and how we continue to iterate toward better learning and student engagement.

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