Technology: Online Learning

Family Modules

Module 3 Part 6



Objective: The student will identify and explain 1 online learning platform and 3 online course tools that will be found at the postsecondary school he or she plans to attend.

This lesson is designed to expose you to online learning platforms. At the end of this lesson you will be able to identify different online learning platforms and course tools.

Estimated time 30-40 minutes

Materials needed:

Classroom curriculum Link:

This section corresponds with Module 3 Lesson 3 in the STEPP Classroom Transition resources.

Learn About It

Think about your experiences in school using online learning. Although there are still classes in college designated as either face-to-face or campus-based classes, the reality is that almost all courses now incorporate some type of technology tools.

You will quickly become familiar with 2 aspects of online learning in postsecondary settings:

  • Online Learning Platforms
  • Online Course Tools

Understanding the differences and similarities between these concepts, the way they work together, and the characteristics of each will help you to understand of how online learning works.

Online Learning Platforms

Online learning platforms are integrated sets of online services that provide teachers and learners with information, tools, and resources to support and enhance educational delivery and management. The tools work together so that you can go to one place and access all of your classes and the information related to them, including:

  • Email
  • Message boards
  • Discussion forums
  • Text and video conferencing
  • Shared diaries
  • Online social diaries
  • Assessment, grade management, and tracking tools

Most online classes use a specific, and fairly comprehensive, learning platform. Face-to-face classes also typically use certain aspects of the learning platform. Universities and colleges may have selected a specific platform, and may support and encourage instructors to use that common platform.

Commonly Used Learning Platforms

Blackboard: Widely used education system that includes course management, content authoring, collaborative discussions, virtual classrooms, and testing and grading.

Moodle: Web-based course system.

Watch the introductory videos to learn more about each of the three most commonly used course learning platforms by clicking on these links:

Parents Chime In

  • Watch the intro videos of the three most commonly used course learning platforms with your student. Discuss the key points of each platform and its uses.

Online Course Tools

These tools include any online method for delivering content or communication. All students and professors are required to use them; you should therefore learn how they work. Online course tools can be used in:

  • Face-to-face courses
  • Partially online courses
  • Fully online courses

They may be accessed through:

  • The learning platform
  • An independent website

Common Online Course Tools

Grade center: Teachers may use this tool to post feedback, points, or grades; to list assignments; for students to submit assignments; and to hold online tests in any format (multiple choice, essay, etc). You can use the grade center to keep up with how you’re doing in your coursework. The grade center is typically found in the learning platform.

Delivery of content: Professors may use the online environment to deliver course content either live through videoconferencing tools, in an interactive format, or by posting written material in learning units. Content may be delivered in the learning platform or through another approach.

Discussion boards, Wikis, Blogs: Students and faculty typically use these tools to engage in discussions about course topics, allowing for more of the student interaction in the online environment that is evident in face-to-face classes. These discussion tools may or may not be part of the learning platform.

Asynchronous and synchronous chats are both typically found in the learning platform:

  • Asynchronous communication and activities take place outside of real time. For example, a learner sends you an email message. You later read and respond to the message. There is a time lag between the time the learner sent the message and the time you replied, even if the lag time is short. Bulletin board messages can be added at any time and read at the recipient’s leisure; you do not read someone else’s message as it is being created, and you can take as much time as you need to respond to the post.

    • Asynchronous activities take place whenever learners have the time to complete them. For example, viewing videos linked to the course site, reading a textbook, and writing a paper are all asynchronous activities.
    • There are some key advantages to asynchronous collaboration tools. For one thing, they enable flexibility. You can receive the information when it’s most convenient for you. There’s less pressure to act on the information or immediately respond in some way. People have time to digest the information and put it in the proper context and perspective. Another advantage is that some forms of asynchronous collaboration, such as email, are ubiquitous. These days, it’s hard to find a co‐worker, customer, business partner, consultant, or other party who doesn’t have an email account.
    • The drawbacks of asynchronous collaboration are that asynchronous discussions can lack a sense of immediacy. There’s less immediate interaction. Sometimes people have to wait hours, days, and even weeks to get a response or to receive feedback on a shared document. The lack of immediacy means that information can be out of date by the time someone views it. This is especially true in light of the rapid pace of change in today’s business environment.
  • Synchronous (or real-time) communication, by contrast, takes place like a conversation. If your class uses only writing-based tools to communicate, the only synchronous communication possible is a chat session. Everyone gets online in the same chat room and types questions, comments, and responses in real time.

    • Synchronous activities may include chat sessions, whiteboard drawings, and other group interactive work. If your class involves multimedia tools, synchronous communication might involve audio or video feeds to the computer.
    • Some “online” courses require learners and teachers to get together at least once (or sometimes several times) in person, by conference call, or through closed-circuit television links. Some instructors offer online “office hours” for synchronous online one-on-one communication.
    • • One of the advantages of synchronous collaboration is its immediacy. You can send and receive information right away. This more closely resembles a face‐to‐face or telephone conversation between two or more people, so it can present a more natural way of communicating. The sense of immediacy is more likely to elicit a timely response from people. Synchronous collaboration, in general, is more interactive than asynchronous.
    • The downside of synchronous collaboration is that not everyone uses it. Although instant messaging, chat, and other such tools are becoming more common, they’re still not as ubiquitous as email and other asynchronous technology.
    • Another drawback is that synchronous collaboration is not as flexible as asynchronous. All the parties involved must be ready to collaborate at the same time or the session doesn’t work as well. Also, not everyone does well with synchronous collaboration, particularly people who like to think over what they want to communicate.

    More information can be found online:

Check Out Your School

  • Go to the website of the school that you plan to attend and find out what online learning platform it uses. Then go to the learning platform’s website to find out more about it, including what online course tools it contains.
  • List the online course tools that the platform contains in your transition notebook.
  • Give 1 example of an online course tool that may be used but is not included in the learning platform.
  • Record any other notable observations about the learning platform.

Parents Chime In

In a discussion with your student, consider this quote from The Web-Based Education Commission: “The question is no longer IF the Internet can transform learning in powerful ways.” Emphasize that your student will need to master basic technology skills and understand the different types of tools available to be successful in college. Discuss these points with your student:

  • Technology is changing education from pre-kindergarten through college.
  • It’s important to work on your technology skills and comfort level in order to be ready for what will be expected of you in college settings.
  • While campuses have supports in place for all course platforms and tools, the more comfortable you are with basic computer skills, the easier your transition to college will be in regard to whichever aspects of online learning your professors use.

Objective Check

Have you accomplished today's objective?

Objective: The student will identify and explain 1 online learning platform and 3 online course tools that will be found at the postsecondary school he or she plans to attend.

If so, congratulations!

If not, go back to your college’s website to locate the online learning platform that it uses and review the online learning platform’s website with your parent or an older sibling who has been to college.

Digging Deeper

  • Check to see if the website for your intended college’s online learning platform has a tutorial; if so, complete the tutorial to experience using the platform.
  • With your parent, locate an appropriate chat room that you can take part in and practice using it before starting college.