Monthly Archives: February 2015

e-Learning Ecosystems

e-Learning Ecosystems

By Mark Sivy

There’s growing awareness of the need for e-Learning Ecosystems that are designed to be adaptable to specific learning environment requirements and contexts. This parallels the increasing dissatisfaction with the classic learning management system (LMS) that tries to be the Swiss army knife of online education. Instead of attempting to use a LMS as a one-size-fits-all tool to develop and facilitate online teaching and learning, a growing trend is to adopt an e-Learning Ecosystem (eLE) strategy that offers the needed flexibility to address divergent educational requirements, differing instructor preferences, and the need for adaptive and personalized learning approaches. The bottom line is that educators and innovators in educational community are calling for well-developed eLEes that provide the learning resources and facilitate the educational experiences that instructors and learners desire.

e-Learning EcosystemLearning Management Systems Out?

Many traditional LMSes have become increasingly complex and bloated, and are less able to conveniently or easily be adapted to the specific needs of various fields of study, courses, administrators, educators, and students. To take advantage of what these LMSes do offer requires costly support, time consuming training, and the expectation of fitting education to a standard formulaic package. Many individuals are not willing to undertake or accept these caveats. This is not to say that the LMS is not useful as a means of course management, providing beneficial services such as class student lists, grade book functionality, certain means of communication, and file access.

e-Learning Ecosystems In

An eLE is a suite of e-learning tools that range in purpose from design and development to learning delivery and ecosystem evaluation. What a properly planned and vetted eLE can do is merge desirable LMS abilities (if an LMS is even used) with those of other specialty tools to create a collection of options that not only meet current needs, but is also adaptable to future desires and additions.

So how does one accomplish such an undertaking? From the conceptual onset, it should be realized that an eLE involves more than technical mechanics and innovative learning technologies. It requires a philosophical approach, a collective acceptance, and cooperative development. The project must have a soul.

SoulFirst and foremost, an eLE must involve stakeholders, including learners, instructors, managers, vendors, administrators, IT staff, and support staff. It’s important that this continues throughout the process, from the commencement through maintenance and updates. It’s then highly recommended that agile project management be used since it maintains an iterative process that is flexible and has a focus on groups of individuals working simultaneously and interactively. This contemporary approach is based upon the revolutionary, highly praised, and successful Agile Manifesto that was introduced in 2001 as a means of software engineering and development.

In Comes the Pareto Principle

Pareto PrincipleOnce the project stakeholders have been identified, the plan developed, and a budget target set, the next crucial step is the identification of the specific tools that will be active components of the eLE. At this point one might want to reflect upon the Pareto Principle (also known as the 80-20 rule) and consider its relevance to the eLE and the educational process. What this principle implies it that it may be found that the majority of learning will likely result from a few of the core tools that comprise the eLE. In other words, escalating expense and resource consumption will probably result as more specialized and niche tools are added to the eLE.

Reflection Point – ““Doing less is not being lazy. Don’t give in to a culture that values personal sacrifice over personal productivity.” ~Tim Ferris

Online Teaching and Learning in Practice

Online Teaching and Learning (OTL) Framework

by Mark Sivy

The current global academic arena is being shaped and led by innovation and online courses, MOOCS, certifications and degrees. Learners, whether young adults who are full-time learners or working adults fitting courses into their busy schedules, are demanding and benefiting from on-demand access to online education. Developing a robust OTL program enables higher education institutions to be competitive, to meet learner demands for online content and collaborative learning, and to address SME and industry needs for employees to have a working knowledge of online learning and operations.

MOOCProgram stakeholders need to realize that a new OTL initiative will take a few years to gain momentum, but once that occurs, rapid growth and development will follow. The following is a summary of the necessary considerations for strategically planning and developing a successful OTL program. Not all items must be implemented in association with the faculty development, but they will be to occur early in the deployment of OTL.

Elements That Facilitate Effective OTL Practices:

  1. Infrastructure
  2. Support
  3. Learner Fulfillment
  4. Faculty Approval
  5. Learning Outcomes
  6. Cost Effectiveness


To ensure success, the technical, administrative and instructional foundations for an OTL program should be strategically planned to be sustainable and scalable. Common technical aspects include servers and database capacities, load analyses, student information systems, a learning management system, end-user devices, and bandwidth. Administrative backing in areas such as providing financial resources and staff, policy, advising, online library access, and learning object repositories.


Multiple areas of support will be needed. This will involve help desk support for students, professional development and training for faculty, and technical support and maintenance for systems. Very often with a start-up program, support is provided by faculty, teaching assistants and user communities, but this should be supplemented and eventually replaced by institutional support facilities.

Support Services

Solid support services can make all the difference between program success and failure

Learner Fulfillment

Online learners prefer and need responsive and individualized services. This includes not only the learning management system and faculty, but also areas such as advising, registration and tutoring. Effective and frequent communication is a premium in OTL, and thus the learning environment should sustain high levels of communication, social interaction, and collaboration. Student surveys and needs assessments should be performed on a regular basis.

Faculty Approval

At the core of a successful OTL program are the faculty. They should be involved in the program building process from the very beginning. Input surveys identifying faculty needs, learning needs, and technological needs should be implemented. Marketing of the OTL program should begin early, showing the benefits and advantage of how OTL can enhance instruction and the academy. It is also vital to host faculty forums, create faculty focus groups, form communities of practice, and identify faculty champions. A grassroots faculty advancement of OTL is likely to have a much higher degree of buy-in and success than a program that is a top-down initiative. With that said, administrators should acknowledge that OTL can be more time consuming for the faculty than in-person courses.

Learning Outcomes

It’s essential that both students and faculty feel that the quality of OTL is on par with face-to-face learning. If done well, OTL can exceed traditional classroom outcomes. This can lead to better enrollment, retention and graduation rates.

Cost Effectiveness

A well-planned and supported OTL program can increase financial, infrastructure and human resource effectiveness, thus reducing overall costs.

Reflection Point – “The challenge is not simply to incorporate learning technologies into current institutional approaches, but rather to change our fundamental views about effective teaching and learning and to use technology to do so.” ~Donald Hanna