E-Learning in Education – Features on the Rise

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As anyone who has ever gone to school knows (excluding higher ed) when the bell rings that means you are in your seats ready to start the day.


Hey Aaron get in your seat. You can stare at Ohio on the map another day.

Features On The Rise

As previously noted in other articles, my big gripe with e-learning in education is the idea of taking the whole classroom learning experience and shoving it online and saying that is e-learning.  Ah, first off its not, but let’s move on.

This synchronous based experience, including the linear course approach, the groups (breakout with students going into the groups or having a group project, etc.), the syllabus part of the linear course experience, the assignments/homework (and stated as such without any jargon spin),  student portal, parent portal (in some K-12 systems), instructor/teacher portal or section, oh the discussion boards whereas you – the student post your paper/assignment/comments on the board and then other students have to respond.

At the university level the discussion board is a big part, because posting and then having people respond – typically a minimum of three – and the responses can’t be “I agree” – and then the instructor/professor responds – assuming that they have read all the posts – and in some cases that is not always the case.

Don’t forget about those office hours – joy!

That’s the way it has been and continues to be for many education platforms, but thankfully some educators and honestly the systems themselves have realized that maybe they need to continue to grow and adapt for early 21st century, rather than re-live the old days.

Based on my analysis, what I found are the following features heading upwards, like salmon or whatever that fish people always mention that heads up stream. Uh, not for the reason that the fish do, this is after all a Rated E – for everyone site.

Features Unite! Activate Wonder Twins

  • Asynchronous based courses – i.e. “self-paced”.  Finally, let the school bells ring across the world, the real form of WBT is now starting to appear in education LMSs, and on behalf of those who have waited and waited, I say thank you. Especially to the one vendor who includes “interactive” or as they call it “immersive” self-paced courses.
  • ePortfolios – Some systems call them “portfolios”, all systems seem to spin that it is highly unique – their portfolio, but when you look – most are the same.  Point is they are in systems and continue to appear more frequently
  • Learning Mastery – Remember a few weeks ago where I mentioned “mastery” as a trend word and trend in general? Well, it is arriving in education LMSs not at a bookstore near you – same approach for corporate but the twist for some is the pitch that mastery is tied to self selected learning paths (i.e. student picks their own learning path – which I can see a good and equally bad thing). Others are tied to learning paths in general.
  • Workflows aka Workflow management
  • Teacher/Educator Network/Repository/Exchange, etc. – Basically is breaks out this way – lots of educators are connected with one another and can post and access (i.e. read and download) other teaching materials, videos, audio files, educator resources, syllabuses, test questions and so on. 

Some systems toss in content from PBS and similar, one ties in the NY Times repository of articles or something like that (I forgot it was that memorable).  One system says they have 186,000 educators using this network/exchange.   I saw a couple of systems that are now offering a student exchange as well (I’m sure test questions is not part of it)

  • Rubrics are in the middle, used to be a lot of systems had it, now plenty still do, but not as they once did.   I for one, would rather play with a Rubix cube that use Rubrics.
  • Peer to Peer Review – slowly showing up. More than ever before, a trend to watch.  While I have seen it more at the HE level than primary/secondary, I recently saw a couple of systems that offered it at the secondary level.  I’m not sure that I as a 15 yr old would want Jimmy who winged me last week with a spitball, being my peer and reviewing my work.
  • Publishing components – eTextbooks, eBooks (a couple of systems you can create eBooks),  built-in authoring tools but not what you would ideally want sans the asynch based courses, in which case the authoring tool is not great but will work.
  • Mobile – Responsive is on the rise, along with native apps in iTunes and Google Play, but what really shocked me was the lack off on/off synch even though data is showing that most students today are using their tablets more than computers and going places with them.

Oh, and the lack of support for Windows 8, despite the fact that Windows is widely used as the OS for computers at many schools and institutions – oh and invests heavily into the education market.  I mean I saw more Kindle Fire apps than Windows 8 apps.

Many systems still show their mobile with smartphones, and not tablets. 

 That stuns me because there are countries who have committed to using tablets in their school systems’ classrooms, to the point they are replacing the computers with tablets.

One of the pluses for a long time was as a whole, education systems were ahead of the game in offering unique feature sets.  In a few systems that is still applying i.e. doing something highly unique, but in general it is as though they have hit the Dome (Under the Dome..get it?) and are stuck.

  • Social – Following corporate with the same ol same, although I still love the systems that enable their students to leave video messages on the discussion board rather than just text;  Kudos!
  • Gamification – What’s that?  Very few systems are on board, and yet if one audience could really maximize and want to use gamification it would be students, regardless of age.  I honestly was expecting more.
  • Selling courses or setting up a course exchange which could include “selling for a fee” – I expect this to slowly grow. One system charges a transaction fee for each course.
  • Flipped classrooms – I call it homework then reviewing it when you came back to class, today the e-learning edu world calls it a “flipped classroom”.
  • MOOCs – Either you can build them and include them in the system OR you can build, upload, use and the system has a platform within their LMS for MOOCs.  But what is missing is a syllabus generator – I’ve seen a few syllabus generator systems on the net, they are kind of cool – still waiting for something similar to appear in the Education LMS world
  • Video – For students regardless of age, video is huge. Heck it is huge for adults.

With sites such as Instagram (where you can also post videos), Vine, etc., why aren’t education systems utilizing this as a feature, in other words, allow students to upload video shot with their mobile device (smartphone, tablet, Kindle Fire), DV cam and whatever else, into the system, provide some editing and adding effects and then post them.

A system today can wrap behind the scenes a video converter and even an API to transform the content into SCORM content.  Same with photos – I mean that would be awesome, but nooo..that is forbidden – you know fun.. I’ve seen a couple with upload video, but there should be a ton more

  • Sharing Video/Audio/Docs –  Peer sharing is what it is called and it is increasing in EDU systems – I am a big fan!
  • Pitching your system for Education and Corporate, even though it is quite clear you are first and foremost an education platform.

When a system lists Primary, Secondary, Higher Education and then corporate, you should quickly realize that this is their core market, and corporate is just an expansion play. I have a good friend who is pro-Apple across the board. His Mac uses the latest OS for Mac, but can also switch to Windows.  What does he do? Sticks with the Mac OS.  The point is – just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should.

  • App stores – On the rise.  More so than on the corporate side, which I find surprising, but again, it makes sense.  Most of the apps are API/integrations but still.  I will state if you are into app integrations check out Zapier – I use it and love it.
  • Lack of anti-virus and/or malware check when someone uploads or downloads a file; actually this is a universal industry issue, but if someone you would think is leading the charge it would be higher education systems, oh wait..they are instead going with
  • Salesforce.com – is appearing in more education systems.  Why?  Oh, now I remember they are also going after the corporate market too.. my mistake

Honestly, I would rather have an edu system that is 100% edu that one who tries to do both, without having two different platforms.

Edu and Corporate needs are not the same, learning experience not the same, learning methodology not the same, types of courses -synch based which is still the most preferred method of teaching in Edu systems vs. asynch which is most preferred way for corporate, well you get the idea.

Three more – but who is counting?

a. Education Management Systems – they toss in items such as advisors, financial aid, among other types of items, and learning is a component,  Workday is jumping into the EMS and I wonder who else from technically the corporate HRIS/ERP world will enter as well.  I highly doubt Workday’s competitors are not going to do anything.  Highly doubt it.

b. SIS – You have to have an integration into a SIS or you should not even be on the playing field for edu systems

c. Modern UI –  At the minimum it should be geared towards the system’s audience – i.e. primary, then the theme should be for primary, but not look like something a 10 year old would create.   What some systems are doing are including “theme” templates, which is the predominant way of creating these themes.  I would hope that for the money a school or university spent on some of these platforms, that a “theme” template would not be the only offering, and thankfully that is the case.  

That said, there are still a lot of systems out there whose UI is awful.  They would get a big “F” if someone was grading them not only on UI but also on student experience and admin experience.  

On a side note – every education system should include free training, ideally F2F one week training – with only the district, school, university, etc. paying for air fare/travel expenses.

I mean if a district drops 500K on a system, you can come out and train on-site for a week, without charging additional fees for the usage of that trainer.  Just because some schools and higher ed institutions can afford it, doesn’t mean you should do it.

Bottom Line

E-learning in education is on the rise and with that rise comes more challenges, ideas and ways to set yourself apart.

It could be as simple as enhancing current features or adding new features that go beyond what is possible today.

Because everything is possible.

It only becomes impossible when you say it is.

And saying something is impossible, should never be taught

In the physical classroom or


E-Learning 24/7


  1. Really interesting post Craig and very timely for us as we have just returned from a few days exhibiting at an education technology show in the UK. As you say, corporate and education markets have very different needs and the people, personalities and what drives them are also very different. Two very consistent themes kept coming across whilst talking to educators and their technology peers – firstly, budgets are continually being squeezed so the cost of technology is becoming one of their most important buying factors rather than quality or fit for purpose, (‘free’ being their most preferred price!). Secondly, time – tutors seem to have so little time to learn new technology, let alone use it so it so they often just keep using what they know (eg. Powerpoint).

    What are the answers? Well to solve the budget issues, we technology vendors perhaps need to listen to the market and consider a separate business model for education, perhaps based around freemium or similar where revenue is made from different channels rather than straight licence sales. To solve the time issue which is perhaps the biggest issue, we vendors need to help educational institutions build and fund capable hybrid teams of learning technologists and educators to support the thousands of already overworked educators who have too much teaching, admin and constant quality checking by authorities. It’s too much to expect them to be able to adopt and use technology on their own. Food for thought. Has anyone else come across these issues in Education?

    +1 on Zapier. Love it too.

  2. ‘help educational institutions build and fund capable hybrid teams of learning technologists and educators’ <- THIS!

    Also agree with Steve that time is probably the biggest barrier to effective (culture-wide) reform of edu-tech usage within the educational sectors.

    We've been working on a case study with a London university where they use a social+informal learning approach to upskill tutors and lecturers to become better at using technology to lighten their workload and meaningfully engage their students, which will be available soon.

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