eLearning platforms are for when you want to deliver courses and training events online for learners to use at their own pace rather than delivered live.
Virtual learning environments (VLEs) are for when you want:
- to deliver live training events as well, or
- learners to be able to discuss and collaborate together.
What they do
eLearning is a way of running training courses so people can access them from their computer or mobile device. You control who has access. Once registered, learners can ‘self-serve’ anytime, or you can deliver the learning in paced sections
You add or upload your course content to the platform. Slides, video, audio, written content, quizzes and games are all options. Then you organise them in the order you want your learners to access.
You advertise your course and learners register. The software allows learners to work through the content at their own pace. They can pause and return anytime. It also lets them send you completed work and recognises when they complete the course. You can see each learner’s progression on an administrator’s dashboard.
Virtual learning environments are eLearning platforms that offer more ways to collaborate with learners. You can add:
- Online classrooms where you teach content over a live video stream sent from your computer and learners can discuss it together
- Forums and groups where learners can discuss and collaborate as an online community when you are not there
- Ways for learners to see their progress against that of other learners
Within the industry eLearning platforms are called Learning Management Systems, or LMS for short.
There are hundreds of eLearning platforms designed for different contexts. Few are designed for charities but many are suitable. Most offer scaled pricing based on features or number of learners.
- LearnDash (for WordPress websites)
You can also deliver learning content through email automation platforms like Mailchimp and through community building platforms. You can also groups posts into learning units in Facebook groups, to create a course with topic folders.
Things to consider
Thinking through what you and your learners need will help you choose an eLearning platform.
Creating a course
Weigh up the cost-benefits of the time it will take to create a course. Content creation and set up will take time. Try and create a minimal version first, launch, learn, then iterate.
Think if your course will need online classrooms or another way for learners to collaborate or connect with one another. If it’s a short and simple course you may not need this.
Number of users and courses
More learners and more courses usually cost more. Think about the minimum you need to get started and check how much flexibility your platform would offer as you grow.
Consider if you need an eLearning platform or if your course could be delivered in another way, e.g. by webinar, video call or video streaming.
It’s important to choose a platform that is intuitive and friendly for your learners. Try out some sample courses before you commit. Even better, test a small course with your learners.
Interactivity and content variation
Variable content is important with eLearning because it’s easy for learners to leave if they aren’t enjoying the course. Only watching someone speaking or only reading text is not enjoyable. Research suggests offering an interactive activity every eight minutes.
Also always encourage your learners to take notes, just as they would in a physical learning environment. This will help them learn better and stay engaged.
Easy registration is important. Think about the process from your user’s perspective, as if they were on a journey. How can you make it easy? What are the potential blocks on their journey? Give extra attention to payment processes if your course is not free.
Send them a confirmation email with a link to the course to make sure they know where to go to login every time thereafter.
Charities using this tool
Good Things Foundation have developed the Learn My Way platform to deliver digital skills courses
Oxfordshire Breastfeeding Support Sunday use Zoom to run antenatal workshops.
CAST’s Design Hops use Thinkific to deliver training in designing digital services to charities
Many digital services will require a combination of more than one tool. As part of the Catalyst initiative service recipes are being developed– these practical guides describe how charities have used tools in combination to deliver digital services.
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