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What everybody should know about online learning environments

Creating blended/online learning courses is now easier than ever, but there is a growing problem. The diversity of resources now available will actually hamper effective teaching, and thus learning, in the near future.


Blended learning requires an effective delivery system. A web based solution that allows courses to be structured effectively, is easy to use and has a range of educationally useful features is vital.

Products that meet these needs have evolved rapidly, and have grown well beyond what used to be called Learning Management Systems (LMSs). Some are probably better described as Online Learning Environments (OLE).

Online resources have also proliferated and matured. There are now many, many useful resources to extend and supplement learning. These range from simple resource repositories to adaptive learning sites that shape themselves to the needs of the individual student.

Hence the problem. Organizations that use a range of these specialist sites usually have to duplicate their management of students and teachers; they have to create independent logins and passwords for each student and teacher, and also have to organize these users into courses or classes. This is not a problem from a vendor viewpoint.

However, for an educational institution it is a growing management problem. Imagine a student who studies four courses/subjects. Imagine that each course/subject uses two additional online resources to supplement the courses in their OLE. This is eight additional user names, passwords and web sites to remember. Additionally, an organization may have dozens of sites requiring user management as faculties increase their resources…and the number will grow.

(Next page: Blended/online learning solutions)

Someone has to manage users in all of these systems. Add online resources for textbooks/eTextbooks and the problem becomes even greater.

Some online resources test students as they progress. Most are “walled gardens.” They do not let information flow in or out. The students’ results are trapped within the system(s). Students have to visit each site individually to determine progress; teachers have to visit several sites to determine an individual student’s progress.

This situation must be fixed, before it grows too large.

There are solutions. The author uses an OLE that allows integration of external resources. Several resources have been integrated already.

The benefits are amazing; the management overheads are virtually nil.

One method of integration is the Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) developed by IMS Global Consortium, a nonprofit, global, member-driven consortium. It allows remote tools and content to be integrated into a LMS. The list of products that currently offer interoperability is impressive.

Integration removes the need to manage multiple accounts for users. An LTI-compliant online resource automatically creates user and course/room online areas on the fly. Administrators do not create/manage external user accounts. Users no longer need to remember a series of user names, passwords and URLs; everything is automatic.

As student results are generated, these can flow into a central grade area. With the trend towards greater data analysis and predictive analytics for student performance, this single location for data will become more important. The barriers are being removed, retaining the benefits while eliminating the negative overheads.

As educators, our goal must be to develop an Integrated Online Learning Environment (IOLE), where a range of web based resources can specialize, and yet share data seamlessly.

It is only then that blended/online learning systems will reveal their full potential.

Peter West is Director of eLearning at Saint Stephen’s College in Australia. He has over 15 years’ experience leading K12 schools in technology enhanced education, particularly Blended Learning using Online Learning Environments. He is also an advocate for the integration of online learning resources. He can be contacted at

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