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Online Learning 101: Part III
Tools for Web Conferencing and Learning-Management Systems

By Susan Landay / June 2010

REVIEW: SOFTWARE, TYPE: EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES
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My goal in this three-part series of articles has been to recommend the best software tools that are affordable, have minimal learning curves, and focus on lively and interactive tools, consistent with best practices in brain-based learning techniques.

I have divided the myriad e-learning solutions that are on the market into four categories:

(You can remember this categorization using the mnemonic device, "any goofball can learn.") In this third and final article, I will cover conferencing tools and LMSs.

Live Connectivity or Web Conferencing Tools
Connectivity tools, also known as web conferencing tools, describe the ways you would bring remote learners together for a specifically synchronous experience. If learners are attending a training asynchronously, that is, at different times, they might "meet" at an online URL, in which case a live connectivity tool is not required.

However, if you need to conduct a webinar or bring learners together in real time (synchronously), your system must enable people to communicate orally at the same time that they are all viewing a common computer screen.

Criteria for Evaluation
There are quite a few vendors offering this capability right now, such as WebEX, GoToMeeting, and ConnectPro. When deciding among the various vendors, consider these questions:

  • How much chat/interaction is possible?
  • How many people can it accommodate?
  • Does the system have a muting ability?
  • Do participants view your screen or a server screen?
  • Do you need to be on the phone and online for the meeting to continue?
  • Do you want participants to continue to interact with materials and each other when meeting is over?
  • Will a meeting room be required?

Recommended Vendors
WebEx by Cisco
This is a service that is billed monthly. It combines real-time desktop sharing with phone conferencing so everyone sees the same thing while you talk. It is among the post popular web conferencing tools out there. Cisco offers different packages with different features.

Choose among two packages, The Meeting Center product offers real-time presentation and application sharing, ability to pass control to other trainers or to learners, cross-platform support (Windows, Mac, Linux, Solaris), mixed-mode audio-standard phone plus VoIP-in the same session, and ability to record sessions for on-demand playback.

The Training Center product includes all of the above plus, break-out session and hands-on lab functionality, integrated testing, learner registration, tracking and reporting, LMS integration, and e-commerce function to support credit card, debit card, and PayPal transactions for training.

Claims to fame:

  • Conduct conversations and discussions in breakout rooms.
  • Option for simulcasting the audio over VoIP and telephone at the same time. (VoIP stands for voice over internet protocol. It's a way of using your computer to make free phone calls. Skype is the most popular VoIP provider.)
  • Audio recording enabled

Pricing:

  • Meeting Center: Base price for up to 25 participants - $49.00/month (can be expanded up to 500 participants at additional cost)
  • Training Center: Base price for up to 30 attendees and 2 facilitators - $250/month (can be expanded up to 1000 participants at additional cost)

Go To Meeting by Citrix
This is a conferencing service that is billed monthly. It offers great flexibility and many interactive features.

Go To Meeting is one of the more popular web meeting tools out there. The package offers a great deal of flexibility and a lot of useful interactive features, as well as tools for the instructor to gauge if the participants are "paying attention."

Features include: chat, specific application sharing, recording, phone and computer audio, share either whole screen or select applications, plus pen, highlighter, and spotlight tools. Users say it's ideal for 15 (personal version) or 25 (corporate version) people, and is among the easiest and least expensive.

Citrix also offers Go To Webinar, which is ideal for groups of around 1,000 attendees. It allows host polling, but is focused more on participant listening than on participating and chatting. You can choose to "mute all" or selectively "unmute."

Go To Training, recently launched, lets you send content to attendees prior to training, post downloadable documents that can be viewed and referenced during sessions, and welcome up to 200 attendees.

Claims to fame:

  • Instant meetings with a single click
  • Invite others on the fly and/or instantly change presenters
  • Transfer keyboard and mouse control
  • Integrated scheduling with Microsoft Outlook

Pricing:

  • Free 30-day trial
  • GoToMeeting: starts at $49 per month
  • GoToWebinar: starts at $99 per month
  • GoToTraining: starts at $149 per month

Acrobat Connect Pro by Adobe
This conferencing service can be purchased either through "specialist resellers" or online. Annual plans, monthly plans and pay-per-use plans available.

Many people swear by Adobe's Connect Pro web conferencing service, saying it's easy to use and rich in features. Connect Pro lets users create unlimited meeting rooms, meet with up to 80,000 participants, share screens, teleconference, chat, use computer mic and speakers, manage live e-learning sessions, upload Flash, MP3 and simulation files, record and store classroom sessions and content, poll participants, and more. With this tool, "meeting rooms" are created on Adobe servers.

ConnectNow is a simpler subscription service intended for 3 to 20 participants, collaborating online. It allows for screen sharing, chat, notes, and whiteboard, but not teleconferencing. It does allow online word processing and creation of PDF documents, limited online storage, and unlimited document downloads. Claims to fame:

  • Great for multi-media presentations
  • Instant access; all users need is Adobe Flash player which most already have

Pricing:

  • Free 30-day trial
  • Connect Pro: about $55 per month ($0.32 per minute per user)
  • Acrobat.com's ConnectNow Premium Basic (up to 5 attendees): $14.99 per month
  • Acrobat.com's ConnectNow Premium Plus (up to 20 attendees): $39 per month

Office Live Meeting by Microsoft
This is an online conferencing system for which you pay a per user, per month fee, with a minimum of five users required. Service is billed monthly with no one-time fees.

Microsoft Office Live Meeting 2007 is an online meeting space that your organization subscribes to or hosts internally. It works when you install Microsoft Office Live Meeting on your computer. Meeting attendees can deliver a presentation, brainstorm ideas, edit files, and collaborate on whiteboards. Features include live and recorded video, chat, slide and application sharing, VoIP, and public switched telephone network (PSTN) audio, and audience feedback tools.

The Standard User license is for up to 250 participants. The Professional user lets you conduct sessions with up to 1,250 participants and store unlimited shared meeting recordings for 360 days.

Claims to fame:

  • Interactive and engaging for groups of all sizes
  • Integrates with MS Office and existing systems
  • Easy to use and familiar for organizers and meeting participants

Pricing:

  • Free 30-day trial
  • Professional User: $15.42 per user per month (five user minimum)
  • Standard User: $4.58 per user per month (five user minimum)

DimDim
A free service for up to 20 attendees, DimDim lets anyone host and attend live meetings, demos and webinars using just a web browser.

The free version of DimDim lets you share documents, web pages, whiteboards, audio, video—even record your events—with no software to install. You can use a short, permanent vanity URL and co-browse web pages.

An upgrade to DimDim Pro is recommended for up to 50 participants and comes with additional collaboration tools, including: secure meetings, customized logo and brand, free API sessions (you can start session from within Moodle, Facebook, or your web site), video conferencing and basic meeting reports.

Dim Dim Webinar is suited for up to 1,000 attendees. It has all the above features, plus event registration widgets, advanced event reports and analytics. With DimDim, some feel that you get what you pay for, others swear by it.

Claims to fame:

  • Open source, free service
  • Customize with your logo/brand with no upcharge
  • Create "mash ups" that let you bring web services like Flickr, PollDaddy, and YouTube right into your meeting

Pricing:

  • Free 30-day trial
  • DimDim Pro: $25.00 per month
  • DimDim Webinar: $75.00 per month

Learning Management Systems (LMSs)
The final component in the e-learning universe is referred to as a learning management system, or LMS. Most simply, an LMS is a software application for the administration, documentation, tracking, and reporting of training programs, classroom and online events, e-learning programs, and training content.

Wikipedia's definition is concise:

LMSs range from systems for managing training and educational records, to software for distributing courses over the Internet with features for online collaboration. Corporate training uses LMSs to automate record-keeping and employee registration. Student self-service (e.g., self-registration on instructor-led training), training workflow (e.g., user notification, manager approval, wait-list management), the provision of on-line learning (e.g., Computer-Based Training, read & understand), on-line assessment, management of continuous professional education (CPE), collaborative learning (e.g., application sharing, discussion threads), and training resource management (e.g., instructors, facilities, equipment), are dimensions to Learning Management Systems.

Criteria for Choosing an LMS
Many large companies have their own LMS system and many small training providers don't need one at all. I should say here that because an LMS is not "needed" in order to begin offering e-learning and because they are generally quite costly, they are somewhat outside the scope of my goals, as stated at the outset of this article. However, in the interest of understanding the full scope e-learning, I'll share these few brief notes.

If you're looking to differentiate among the many LMS providers, you'll probably want to consider price, service, ease of use, number of users and/or learners it accommodates, whether you host on your own server or the provider's, inclusion of course authoring software, inclusion of conferencing software, ability to work with other software you have, and general sophistication of the system.

Vendor Options
As I said, many LMS systems are quite costly. Of the few I list here, some look like a pretty good value for trainers who can't afford a large, robust system; others are providers whose names came up most frequently over the course of my research. Because this was outside of my scope, the notes are a bit more scant.

Moodle
Moodle is a free and open source LMS. Some say Moodle is quite cumbersome—but it's free! Some LMS vendors work off the Moodle platform and enhance it, giving users a low-cost solution but with better service, such as the two listed below:

Pricing:

  • Free
  • Vendor-enhanced option: EasyCampus by Educadium
    $29 per month
    Based on Moodle, EasyCampus includes course templates and wizards; enrollment and reporting tools; social networking tools; payment services; etc. The Professional version features unlimited courses, 500 user accounts, and 2 GB storage.
  • Vendor-enhanced option: Remote-Learner
    Remote Learner advances the capabilities of Moodle and offers support.
    $795 per year for the entry-level package, called Sandbox.

Odijoo
Odijoo lets you develop and post online courses for free, and takes as its fee 10 percent of your revenue income.

Odijoo's service includes a tool to create courses online or import Articulate courses, which you can conduct as facilitated or self-paced courses.

Pricing:

  • 10 percent of the revenue you take in from charging for courses (paid monthly)

Atlantic Link
Atlantic Link offers the whole package: an LMS plus rapid e-learning software. Based in the U.K., Atlantic Link has been in the U.S. since 2007. Its platform enables concurrent developing (two users can give feedback at once). It also lets you record and edit audio, and it works with Captivate and Camtasia. A host of fun interactive activities are built into the software.

Pricing:

  • $2,700 + $6,000 + 18 percent update fee for the Perpetual package
  • $3,300 per year for the hosted LMS version

Course-Mill by Trivantis
Course-Mill is an affordable, lower end LMS for unlimited users.

Pricing:

  • $14,995 (software)
  • $7,500 setup + monthly fee for the hosted solution

Others LMSs Many more great LMS providers are available and recommended. Their prices are not quoted online (or here) because packages vary depending on the number of trainers, students, frequency of learning events, etc. Their pricing also varies depending on organization type (e.g., for-profit business, education, government, etc.). You should expect to pay a set up fee as well as a per student cost. Some of the vendors whose names come up frequently are Blackboard, Learn.com, Saba, WebCT, and NetSpeedLearning.

Closing Thoughts
A great deal is involved in eLearning, and there are a plethora of solution and service providers, but once you understand the four categories—authoring, games, conferencing and LMSs—and remember the mnemonic device ("any goofball can learn"), it will get a lot easier!

Is it really necessary? Yes!

Research and intuition tell us that if we give learners time to work with material on their own and at their own pace, and if learners have fun during the learning process, and if learners have frequent repetition and reinforcement of that new material, their retention rate increases.

Today, with the proliferation of these cost-effective tools for eLearning, trainers doing traditional face-to-face training can, with just a bit of effort, add online learning to their repertoire to enhance classroom experiences.

About the Author
Susan Landay is president of Trainers Warehouse, a women-owned business that offers hundreds of effective, innovative, and fun products for trainers and educators across all industries. Prior to joining Trainers Warehouse in 1997, she was a consultant and trainer in the field of negotiation and conflict resolution. She is a graduate of Yale University and The Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University. Her early work experience included being a professional clown for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.



Comments

  • Fri, 18 Nov 2016
    Post by Prasanta Shee

    You may add R-HUB web conferencing servers in the above list. It is an on premise solution which provides 6 real time collaboration applications in one box.

  • Mon, 03 Nov 2014
    Post by Henry Roger

    In addition to above mentioned tools, you may even consider using a RHUB web conferencing server for all your online meeting needs.

  • Tue, 22 Jun 2010
    Post by Richard

    I posted this in the Part I comments, but it actually fits this section better. Sorry!

    Another option that was not in scope for this series of articles is one where the enterprise "rents" an LMS provider who also can provide development tools. In my former company we were charged a nominal fee--I think $25.00 per user--per year, and given access to all the storage and LMS features we needed. In addition, we were given access to various development tools--sorry, I forget which ones--that we could use to develop courseware whenever we wanted. There were no limitations on anything--time, storage, etc.--and after an initial set-up payment of a few thousand dollars, we had our own managed environment and complete 24/7/385 access for our people, who traveled constantly and were all over.

    For that enterprise, this was a much better investment than an LMS system, the HW and in-house support it required, plus the purchase of authoring tools. The vendor worked with us to set-up our site as our own, which was totally secure, and to set up the LMS and the course library. Since we dealt with 30+ technical vendors at any given time, courseware from their companies was also listed on the site, although students typically had to go to the vendor site and register, take the course, etc. It finally gave us one place where employees could find everything they needed rather than visiting vendor sites, coming into town for specific classes (although sometimes necessary for labs) and keeping up with their IEPs (individual education plans) themselves. Everything was in one place, and the cost was minimal.

    For a strictly academic setting this may not be the right choice, but it certainly worked for us.

    Cheers!

    Richard

  • Wed, 25 Nov 2009
    Post by Aris Louvris

    http://www.petitiononline.com/e1103/petition.html

    At the Lisbon European Council held on March 2000, the Heads and State and Government acknowledged that "the European Union is confronted with a quantum leap stemming from globalisation and the new knowledge-driven economy" and set the Union a major strategic goal: "to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-driven economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion".

    The eLearning initiative seeked to mobilise the educational and cultural communities, as well as the economic and social players in Europe, in order to speed up changes in the education and training systems for Europe's move to a knowledge-based society.

    Almost 10 years after, in the context of evaluating the COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE COUNCIL AND THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT - The eLearning Action Plan - "Designing tomorrow's education", and the final (2009) REPORT FROM THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION TO THE COUNCIL, THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, THE EUROPEAN ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMITTEE AND THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS: ¿verall, the eLearning programme contributed very positively to the objectives of Education and Training 2010. It performed especially well on developing skills for the knowledge economy and ensuring access to ICTs.

    In the context of the above, and based on the fact that the eLearning activities have now been mainstreamed into the Lifelong Learning Programme, let's celebrate tomorrow which is already today, and let's make 11th of March International Day of elearning!

  • Tue, 24 Nov 2009
    Post by Anne Pauker Kreitzberg

    We are still learning how to create the best e-learning experience from a student-centric perspective. Often e-courses are just instructor-led course repackaged into a virtual format. Instead, we should use principals and techniques we use in user experience/user-centered web application design. There is a lot of room for improving the experience, particularly the interactions which are often very simplistic. They might work well in the elementary school but are not engaging or sophisticated enough for adults. As we get better at incorporating video so that learners can interact in a more "real-life" fashion, this will also help.

  • Tue, 24 Nov 2009
    Post by Prathap

    Users of our system also share the same sentiment - the people factor. They are still hesitant to embrace technology enabled learning as they miss the personal touch of a trainer. That too in a country like India where a trainee is largely dependent on trainer's knowledge, it becomes much more difficult for us to pursue them into e-learning.