Visual and motivating in appearance, versatile in content, clear user analytics, enables personal control, the possibility of mobile use. Employees who develop their skills demand a lot from a learning platform. In this way, the Urban Growth Vantaa project found a learning platform suitable for its goals and needs to support the growth of the skills of the Vantaa workforce.
Teaching is constantly being made more agile to better meet the diverse needs of learners. Different learning environments and pedagogical solutions can secure the construction of individual study paths, taking into account the needs of both the student and working life (Ministry of Education and Culture 2019: 23). Learning is increasingly focused on taking place online instead of in classrooms.
Online courses are extremely effective in supporting on-the-job learning. Online courses give busy learners the flexibility to study at their own pace and on their own schedule. In addition, online courses provide good learning outcomes (FITech 2019). However, an online course alone is not enough: studies show that learning outcomes are best when online learning is combined with face-to-face learning (FITech 2019), that is, leveraging diverse learning, such as blended learning (cf. Joutsenvirta & Kukkonen 2009; Joutsenvirta & Myyry 2016).
What kinds of platforms do we learn on?
Perhaps the most well-known, quite different learning platforms and at the same time content services are, for example, TEDTalks, Khan Academy, Google Digital Academy, and The Elements of AI. Regardless of the different content and implementation of online courses, each one has supporting and encouraging everyone to learn and develop new things and self-improvement in common. In addition, what is also common is that the courses are (mainly) free of charge, they can be completed at your own pace, and the learner can complete exactly the parts and blocks that he or she wants and is interested in. The term MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) is used for such extensive open online courses.
The Elements of AI is a set of free online courses designed to encourage everyone, regardless of age or background, to learn the basics of artificial intelligence. The online courses consist of theoretical parts and practical exercises and are implemented by the technology company Reaktor and the University of Helsinki. According to Megan Schaible, Reactor's Head of Education, online courses in today's world no longer compete with other online courses, but with leisure media such as Facebook and Netflix (Schaible 2019). This challenges online course implementers to reflect on and plan their courses from a new perspective. What kind of learning platform would support learning and perhaps ignite a spark for continuous learning and self-improvement?
Learning platform criteria in the project
The main goal of the Urban Growth Vantaa project is to find solutions for developing the skills of the Vantaa workforce, both employed and unemployed. One solution for developing competence aimed at is the courses, training, and coaching planned and implemented in the project by Laurea University of Applied Sciences and Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, which required for their implementation a unified digital learning platform that would be easy to join for members of the project team, who consisted of different organizations. Another important influential issue was that for students participating in the training, logging in on the platform should be easy and not affiliated with any organization.
For these reasons, other existing learning platforms were surveyed. We listed the criteria we hoped to be on the learning platform. First, the platform had to fit the project's goals of supporting the continuous learning and competence development of the employees in Vantaa's companies. Second, for a person to be able to delve into a new thing, the platform must be easy to use, and the operating system can be quickly and easily adopted. In addition, the platform and the courses on it must be inspiring and engaging, both visually and in terms of content. Visuality must also be reflected in progress: up-to-date information about the progress of your own studies motivates you to continue.
In terms of content, the platform should attract surfing of the material and thus strengthen learning. The platform should be like an inexhaustible source of information, where a person can move around and take the most interesting points that develop their own skills. The learning platform should also allow for personal guidance and feedback, as well as peer support. From the point of view of the course implementers, it is important that the user analytics obtained from the courses so that the content and implementation can be quickly adapted to the wishes, needs and “consumption habits” of the users. In addition, a criterion was to have a Finnish-language operating system and support services.
Evaluation of potential learning platforms
A survey of service providers found 12 potential learning platforms from which we selected four operators for calls for proposals and further evaluation. Based on the testing, we evaluated the learning platforms from the following perspectives:
- visuality and clarity of entireties
- opportunity to provide feedback
- accuracy of operating data
- visuality of usage data
- mobile use
In the selection, we emphasized visuality and clarity in the perception of entireties. Giving feedback is important in learning, so its ease was also an important criterion. User analytics was important to the project; we monitored the number of users and usage times of the platform to evaluate necessary and interesting themes. The cloud-based nature of the platform enabled mobile use.
In addition to our own testing, we also conducted a quick user testing on end users. We put together a short course for the platform, which was tested on computers and mobile phones by four employees of one of the project’s partner companies, who provided feedback on usability. The feedback from the testers was mostly positive. Logging in to the platform was found to be relatively easy, as was perceiving the course as a whole. Viewing the course content, i.e. videos, links and files, was felt to be easy, as was answering the exercises and returning the documents / exercises to the platform. There were some challenges in using the discussion area, but the opportunity for giving feedback was felt to be easy.
Why a learning platform?
As a result of the selection process, the Vuolearning learning platform was selected for use in the project, which meets the objectives of the project by acting as a digital facilitator of competence growth. The platform automatically generates reports on user analytics. Reports are available on the progress of the individual user as well as the group as a whole and on reviewing the course material (reading, watching videos, answering assignments). Clear and easy-to-read analytics help the course leader develop the content of the course, and at the same time it serves as a tool and motivator for monitoring the learners’ own progress. At the same time, the project gathers valuable information about participants who are employed and complement their own skills.
This is how the course leaders have commented on the chosen learning platform:
”A clear and easy-to-use learning environment with a browser-based operating model to help with deployment: a platform that follows the logic of a website feels familiar after just a quarter hour of use and experimentation. The structure is simple and clear enough, so you can start creating a learning environment without previous experience or even guidance.”
”Videos, pictures, etc. work well on the platform. The course content and structure are easy to understand.”
”The learning platform is favorable to, and I think it also encourages, the creator of the learning environment to create new material. This is a good thing but requires a little more time. When the old material, the finished PowerPoint file, cannot be imported directly into the platform, the content has to be reconsidered.”
”It is convenient to keep track of who logs into the learning environment with the analytics and what content is read the most and the least. This is direct feedback also to the content creator of the online environment.”
The experiences of the end users, i.e. those who took the courses offered by the project, were collected until March, when the training included in the first deal ended. The students said that the material in the e-learning environment, such as videos and other material, was a good and supportive addition to learning. Online assignments and feedback were also perceived as learning-enhancing. The feedback will be utilized when designing the training content for the next deal.
Overall, the process of finding and deploying a learning platform that meets the project’s objectives and set criteria is time-consuming, but all the more important to do thoroughly. There are many different learning platforms and content providers and the technology behind them is constantly evolving. Similarly, the needs of users are changing. It is important to think realistically about the criteria that a learning platform should meet, and to spend time getting to know and testing different platforms. In this project, we managed to find a learning platform that meets the needs of the project, which in turn supports the development of competence growth.
FITech. 2019. Verkko-oppimisen muotoilukirja.
Joutsenvirta, T. & Kukkonen, A. 2009. Sulautuva opetus: uusi tapa opiskella ja opettaa. Palmenia.
Joutsenvirta, T. & Myyry, L. (toim.) 2016. Sulautuvaa opetusta, käänteistä oppimista. Internet publication. http://hdl.handle.net/10138/161884
Ministry of Education and Culture. 2019. Jatkuvan oppimisen kehittämisen. Opetus- ja kulttuuriministeriön julkaisuja 2019:19. http://julkaisut.valtioneuvosto.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/161576/OKM_2019_19_Jatkuvan_oppimisen_kehittaminen.pdf
Schaible, Megan. 2019. Speech in a Change-Oriented Adult Education and Digitalization workshop.