Online teaching platforms are education portals that enable teachers to deliver live or on-demand course content, supported by digital collaboration and learning tools. The COVID-19 lockdown restrictions have showcased the value of online teaching platforms in ensuring continuity in education. But for teachers like yourself, the benefits of online teaching far exceed the pandemic situation. Time to invest in the best e-learning solution to meet your needs and the needs of your students. In this article, we discuss must-have features and the best online teaching platforms currently on the market.
- The rise of online teaching platforms
- Online teaching platform features you should consider
- Top 4 online teaching platforms
The Rise of Online Teaching Platforms
Learning as an exchange of information between teacher and student has always been time and location-dependent. Both had to be together in the same room for teaching and learning to be possible. In times where people are increasingly (expected to be) mobile and flexible, this limitation becomes problematic. Since the creation of the very first remote education program through computer conferencing in 1982, we’ve come a long way in harnessing technology to overcome the hurdle of location and time in education.
The democratization of the internet accelerated the development of online education as both commercial and educational organizations sought to improve delivery and content quality and create tools for student engagement and digital collaboration. All these features and best practices have evolved into complete online teaching platforms that support educational programs A to Z, be it in a hybrid format or 100% virtual.
Are these platforms any good? Last year’s COVID-19 pandemic served as proof for the maturity of online teaching platforms, as many educators and institutions were forced to move their courses online to bridge social distancing and preserve the continuity of education. Almost overnight, online teaching platforms became a cornerstone of education.
The benefits of online learning have shown to be far greater than being merely a temporary solution until the pandemic has passed and we all can go back to the classroom. For instance, online learning increases information retention and requires up to 60% less time to learn new information, according to the World Economic Forum. Schools and universities are investing in online teaching platforms as an integral part of their offering for the long term. Already in 2020, a Kaltura survey showed 68% of education professionals want to blend in-person traditional learning with virtual innovations.
So, the question is not so much if you should invest in an online teaching platform, but rather which platform you should invest in. Your choice depends on budget considerations and your specific needs. In the next section, we list the key features you should consider and why.
Online Teaching Platform Features You Should Consider
Your online teaching platform should enable you to do all the activities you are used to doing in the physical classroom, and then some. All features should be readily available and easy to activate, without interruption in the flow of the session. Learning is all about communication and collaboration, so make sure your platform doesn’t form an obstacle to either of them.
With that in mind, here are online teaching platform features you should consider:
According to the 2019 OCS Report, 56% of online college students completed at least part of their online education activities on a mobile device. Of the full-time employed students, 81% used or would have like to use their mobile device for online learning.
Point is, especially if your students are from the generations that grew up with technology, you can bet your bottom dollar most of them will tune in via their mobile. Make sure your online teaching platform is geared towards mobile access, with features such as ABR (Adaptive Bitrate Streaming) or html5 design.
Security and reliability
Students are depending on teachers (and tech) for their online education. It’s important to provide robust security and reliable service. There’s nothing like technical interruptions and security breaches to lose students in a heartbeat.
Features like encryption, Single Sign-On (SSO), user permission management, and waiting rooms add extra layers of security for you and your students. Sub-second latency that comes with webRTC technology and proper use of CDNs will help you and your students ‘not notice the technology’.
As said before, collaboration is an essential aspect of learning. Students learn by putting the knowledge to practice and work together on projects. This is where video conferencing platforms often fall short (though some educators still use them). They are often limited to just video-based communication.
To truly foster collaboration, students need the ability to work together in smaller groups, lean over documents together, and avail of visual aides to brainstorm. The better online teaching platforms offer features such as breakout rooms, shared notetaking, and collaborative whiteboards to help students progress together.
One of the biggest challenges of sitting in front of a screen in geographically separated locations is to keep your students engaged. The collaboration features we mentioned before are a first step in keeping students active during sessions. But some online teaching platforms go the extra mile with games, polls and quizzes, interactive tools, and media playlists. All these tools require regular action from your students during the session and bring variation, beyond merely seeing and hearing the instructor.
Multiple chat and moderator functions
Teaching and learning are about communication between teachers and students. Communication is also what sends your session into chaos when everyone is talking, no one’s listening and background noises clutter the airwaves.
Look for an online teaching platform that offers various modes of communication and moderation: a door lock feature, 1:1 chat, classroom chat, Q&A chat, moderator chat, and multiple mute options.
Teaching doesn’t start and end with a class session. You need to know how students engage with your course and how your sessions perform so you can constantly improve on your course formula and the performance of your students. Look for features such as session analytics, attendance information, attention indicators, and engagement analytics.
Top 4 online teaching platforms
Let’s have a look at how the current market leaders stack up. All four teaching platforms reviewed below made our list because they offer the features we mentioned in the previous section (albeit to a varying degree). So, for the sake of brevity, we won’t list all their features. Rather, we kept it short and just describe what makes one better than the other. Is it a surprise we listed Kaltura as number 1? Of course not. But you can try the full version of our Virtual Classroom solution for free, so you can see for yourself why Kaltura deserves first place.
Kaltura Virtual Classroom is the most complete, customizable, and reliable online teaching solution for teachers. The mobile-friendly platform offers the full range of communication, collaboration, and engagement features to design effective courses. The unique persistent rooms allow you to prepare your classroom ahead of time or continue a session where you left off. Kaltura Virtual Classroom also lets you analyze the performance of students and your program, through granular analytics that include heatmaps, engagement scores, and more. Interactive learning paths, video hot spots, and access to a wide variety of resources such as videos, presentations, and reading assignments will provide your students with a powerful and effective learning experience.
Find out what Kaltura Virtual Classroom can do for you and your students and give all of its features a go without committing with a free trial!
Blackboard Collaborate is a great second choice. It has a nice selection of interactive tools such as whiteboards, chats, polls and quizzes, screen sharing, etc. Just like with Kaltura, you can record, monitor, and manage sessions. Blackboard Collaborate seems to be less mobile-friendly and less stable than Kaltura, so it gets second place.
Adobe’s virtual classroom solution offers plenty of interactive features to make students and teachers feel as if they were together in a classroom: whiteboards, chat, polls, screen sharing, etc. Like Kaltura, Adobe Connect is section 508-compliant, making the virtual classroom more accessible. Many customers report the platform to be difficult to use at times.
WizIQ is a well-known webinar platform that offers great features, including interactive whiteboards, analytics, digital hand-raising. WizIQ is easy to use and offers basic security and moderation features. Popular review websites reported regular reliability issues, such as server downtime and features not properly working. That’s why the otherwise decent platform only made 4th position on our list.