How to Build an eLearning Platform in 7 Easy (and Cheap) Steps
This week sees the start of my Digital Assistant Academy which will train 18 low income women from diverse backgrounds in new media skills. After a small pilot last winter funded by www.unltd.org.uk , I was lucky enough to get further funding from Nominet Trust to run the Academy again, and this time, to try a blended learning approach, combining on and offline learning.
This new Academy is turning the learning model on its head. My 18 digital trainees will undertake the majority of the training at home in their time, using multimedia resources - a mixture of text, video and assignments. Four live 'meetups' have also been programmed during the eight weeks of the course to provide further support and a private Facebook Group is being used to provide peer support and learning.
eLearning can be a good way of delivering learning to a distributed community. The women on the course are based all over London and there is even one in Manchester! The students can also access the learning wherever they are using their smartphone rather than being tied to a classroom or home computer. Delivering training this way is also great for scaling up the social impact as once the training has been designed, it can be reused again and again.
Let's break down the 7 elements of the Digital Assistant Academy eLearning platform:
1. Web Hosting
The first thing you will need is web hosting to host the platform. This can be a protected part of an existing website, or you can set up a new dedicated site. There are a host (pun intended) of web hosting companies to choose from but my personal recommendation is Bluehost due to their unlimited storage space and their excellent support.
Cost: $60/year including domain name.
WordPress.org is an open source software that will allow you to build flexible websites for your projects. With thousands of free and premium themes available, you can have a great looking website up and running in minutes. Plugins (little pieces of code) add functionality to WordPress websites, so whatever you need to add to your eLearning platform, there will probably be a plugin for it.
You can install WordPress manually onto your web hosting space or if you use a host like Bluehost, you can install it using their One Click Installation.
To find a theme (design) for your new platform, search the free themes on the WordPress site or have a browse of premium theme sites like Woo Themes or The Theme Foundry (where my theme for the Academy, is from).
There are a number of ways of protecting content on a WordPress site. The easiest is to add password protection to individual pages or posts.
However, if you want to be able to manage members and add sequential layers of content, a premium plug-in such as Wishlist Member is worth the money. Wishlist Member allows you to turn any WordPress site into a membership/eLearning site. For the Academy, I have used Wishlist Member to create different trainee levels with modular content that students can only access once they have passed the previous module.
Video is a great way of engaging learners. There are a number of free and paid for ways of creating videos for your lessons.
If you have a PC, the free Windows Movie Maker software allows you to easily record and edit videos of yourself from your webcam or video camera/smartphone. If you are a Mac user, iMovie would be your first choice.
If you want to record your screen to demonstrate a piece of software or record yourself speaking over a PowerPoint presentation, Camtasia Studio for the PC or Screenflow for the Mac are the market leaders. They are not cheap though.
Next, you have to host your videos. If you are open sourcing your content, YouTube is a good (and free) place to store your videos as it is a good source of traffic. Videos have to be less than 15 minutes though in length. If you are hosting a lot of video, it might be worthwhile looking at setting up an account with Amazon S3 to host the videos and using the Flowplayer player to embed them into your site.
Podcasts are a great way of delivering content to students as they can download the podcasts to their smartphones and learn on the go. The voice recording on most smartphones is usually of high enough quality for recording. If you need to edit them, install Audacity (for PC) or use GarageBand if you have a Mac.
For distribution, you can have them available to download from your platform or, if you are open sourcing your content, upload them to the iTunes store for wider distribution.
Another quick alternative is recording short podcasts on your iPhone or Android phone using AudioBoo and embedding them into your site.
6. Live eClasses
You may want to programme some live eClassess, webinars or class tutorials as part of your course. I have tried many webinar solutions but WebEx is one of the best. It has all the normal features you would expect such as screen sharing, chat and VOIP but it also allows for 7 way video which means you can get a live workshop feel for a small group.
Another option to try is the free Google+ Hangouts where you can share video with up to 9 people.
Cost: Free to £30/month.
For the pilot Academy I asked 6 successful women to come speak about their experiences of working on the web. This time around I will interview them on Skype, record the calls using a call recorder such as Pamela, and upload them as videos for the students to watch.
So that's it. 7 easy (and cheap) steps to building an eLearning platform.
What have I missed? What tools or platforms do you recommend for your training? Do share in the comments.