Online Learning Platforms: What You Need to Know

Michelle Bouslog
Michelle Bouslog
EdTech Teacher; M.A.Ed. in EdTech, Concordia University St. Paul, MN

Online learning platforms have been around for 20-some years. They have made it possible for people to get degrees without ever getting up off their couch. Recently, due to the world-wide COVID-19 pandemic, online learning platforms have provided students across the world with a means to stay connected with their education when schools were unable to keep their doors open. What exactly is an online learning platform? What things should one consider when choosing an online learning platform? What are some online learning platforms available for teachers in grades K-12?

What is an Online Learning Platform?

An online learning platform is an integrated set of interactive digital tools. These tools provide students and educators with the information, resources, and communication means to help support and enhance the education, delivery, and management of teaching and student learning. Online learning platforms give teachers a way to connect with students by sending announcements, assigning classwork, and distributing tests. Some online learning platforms allow classmates to use video chatting to see and talk with one another and their teacher. Online learning platforms can be capable of grading work and connecting with both students and their families. There are hundreds of online learning platforms available, and there are some important things to consider when choosing the right one for you and your students.

Things to Consider When Choosing an Online Learning Platform

With the enormous amount of online learning platforms out there, it can be overwhelming choosing the right one. There are several things to take into consideration when selecting the best one for you as an educator and your students. For starters, what are the learning needs of the users? Is the platform needed to simply distribute information, or are students going to be interacting with one another, submitting assignments, and being graded?

The latter is usually the case, which opens doors to even more options. Are you looking for an online platform that is iPad, desktop, and mobile phone compatible? This is important when students may not have their own device, may be sharing devices with siblings, or may not have the internet available aside from logging in at a library or through a district-provided hot spot.

Additionally, the ease of integration is another important consideration. Especially so if students will not have much guidance when launching into the platform, such as was the case for many when COVID-19 so quickly engulfed the nation. The content an online platform is able to provide is a very important consideration, which needs to be weighed with the  price of the learning management system. Below are four different online learning platforms that educators have found successful, productive, and engaging.

Online Learning Platforms

Seesaw is a learning management tool that creates collaboration between students, teachers, and families. Each student has their own portfolio where they can submit their assignments, write notes, upload photos, and submit drawings. Teachers have access to an activity library that has thousands of already made assignments on just about any searchable topic. Teachers can also design their own assignments and easily share them with colleagues. When a student submits an assignment, the assignment is seen by both the teacher and the parent, creating a seamless line of connection into the student’s class work. The basic Seesaw platform for teachers, families, and students is free. However, Seesaw does offer a Seesaw for Schools and Seesaw Plus edition that has extra features. These editions are for cost, but may be desirable if the teacher is looking for advanced assessment tools and grading processes.

Bloomz is an award-winning app rated, “Best Parent-Teacher/School Communication App or Tool” by Tech Edvocate two years in a row. Similar to Seesaw, Bloomz provides users with two-way messaging and student portfolios. Bloomz, however, includes a behavior tracking feature that many teachers find beneficial for data collection and for giving parents a clearer picture into their child’s days, especially in the age of elearning. Parents can like their child’s work, comment on assignments, and easily connect with teachers. One drawback to Bloomz is that the free version limits photo/video storage, so a teacher that posts lots of images may run out of space. Regardless, Bloomz is worth a look. 

Google Classroom is an online learning platform that was developed by Google for schools. It is aimed at simplifying the creation, distribution, and grading of assignments. It makes sharing files between teachers and students more streamlined. Google classroom works from any computer or mobile device. Many teachers find the grading features very smooth, and Google apps are fully integrated with Classroom, making sharing Google Docs, Slides, and other Google-made tools very efficient. Thousands of educator-approved apps also integrate with Classroom such as Pear Deck, Kami, and Quizizz. Some users complain that the interface looks too dry and the icons are confusing to someone unfamiliar with the Google world. However, many educators have found this online learning platform a favorite, and Google Classroom users doubled during the pandemic to over 100 million.

Schoology is another online learning platform worth a nod. Schoology was designed specifically with kindergarten through 12th grade students in mind. It boasts of providing 200+ educational tools and platform integrations, such as DropBox, Quizlet, and Infinite Campus. Schoology makes creating assessments fairly straightforward, and the built in gradebook makes keeping track of scores easy. One downside to adopting Schoology (particularly if it is with short notice) is that, due to the array of features and possibilities offered, it can be confusing both to the educator and the students. A gradual rollout is best for this online learning platform.

Conclusion

While online learning platforms have been around for the past few decades, very recently they have taken on a greater momentum. Students across the world are staying connected with their teachers from their front door step. There are some important considerations to think about when choosing the right online learning platform, but with the hundreds that are available, the right one is just waiting for you to sign on.

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