Snowed in at Jeff's house with laptops, Costco croissants and a french press back in January.
“It’s amazing how rapidly it all starts to fall into place once you plan out the platform you’re going to use and how you’re going to deploy it.” There, as they say, lies the rub. That’s me to Jeff in February of this year.
It sounds pretty straightforward: you set out to do something, identify the tools you need for the job and get to work. But when we started out to build Sociallogical Learn, we hadn’t done anything quite like it before – and it required some heavy lifting to get it to where it is today.
If you haven’t heard of Learn, you should check out Jeff’s launch post about it. He covers a lot of the high-level hopes and dreams that we’d like to achieve; how it benefits businesses and people alike and the outcomes one can expect from leveraging it.
As all of that fun stuff has already been hashed out for you, I won’t go into it. What I will go into is a breakdown of how we built Learn to best serve our students and mentors alike.
Learn is an ecosystem. Educators can author rich materials and assignments for students, who keep track of their readings and personal portfolio as they dive, at their own pace, deeper into the course.
Those students always have direct access to their mentors, who lead them through the different modules. Meanwhile, all parties can engage in relevant discussion around the course materials in real-time.
All of this is possible thanks to the heavily customized Drupal platform that we deployed – it acts like an operating system, allowing us to write and plug-in anything we need to fit any specific purpose. I’m a geek through and through, one that could go on and on. But there are three especially important elements that make Learn unique.
1. Real Conversation
Communication is extremely important in both learning and in social media, making it a two-fold top priority for Learn. As such, we’ve made painstaking effort to make sure that participants are able to connect on every level. Though they’re able to move along at their own pace, students are never alone in Learn.
Synchronous and asynchronous discussions with real people happen via real-time, AJAX-powered class chats and DISQUS commenting respectively, and a built-in private messaging system is leveraged for direct one-on-one contact between mentors and classmates.
Class chats are automatically archived so students can review them at any time, giving an opportunity for those who missed out to catch up on the latest discussion. And, of course, there’s the occasional Google+ Hangout.
And, hey, Learn is still a baby; it isn’t quite perfect yet. So we’ve deployed a feedback tab on every page that, when clicked, brings up an overlay to our GetSatisfaction community - every problem or question that students have is immediately brought to the attention of our team.
2. All in Context
Confusing menus and other additional overhead have no place in a learning environment. Making use of Drupal panels and views, Learn’s Dashboard provides an engaging experience for students by providing them quick access to the course they’re taking, their fellow classmates, and their personal portfolio.
Assignments and latest discussion are clearly highlighted. Once a student dives into the course, all distractions are set aside. There is no annoying advertising; no fluff to lead them away from the task at hand. Their reading progress is clearly indicated in a dedicated navigation bar and they are carefully guided through each section.
3. One System, One Roof
Early on in its development, we looked carefully at our options for the features that Learn provides today. It became very clear that courses would lack cohesion if we had students jumping all over the place to keep in touch. Now, all of this happens in the same ecosystem.
From the moment a student enrolls, to the time they’ve completed their first course, Learn provides for them every step of the way. They are constantly connected; held up by their peers and their educators, and free to plug away at the material on their own time.
We’ve all been working hard on this system. As I’ve described Learn to the people this year, I’ve heard them say things like “wow, this is the way e-learning should be.”
Now it is.
We’re still at an early stage and we have a long list of plans to make Learn even better. If you’ve taken one of our courses, please comment below to tell us how you found the structure and flow of the course and how we might make it easier for you to learn in there.