Some of the barriers to entry into the arena of online learning have been greatly diminished in recent years, namely both the cost and scalability of the learning management system. An LMS is where most of online teaching happens — the virtual bridge between teacher and student. It is the environment where a professor structures their course, posts materials (links, PDFs, videos, etc.), creates assignments, conducts online discussions and assesses a student’s work, along with many other features. Fundamentally, it is the center for online learning created from the toolkit provided by the LMS vendor.
Blackboard, the largest LMS in the higher education market, has its critics and promoters. Over time, Bb has become more sophisticated, costly, and feature-rich. While many of these features are quite useful for teaching (i.e., wikis, whiteboards, eportfolios, webinars, etc.), costs for this and other LMS’s tend to be prohibitive, and faculty training with all the bells and whistles, daunting. Free LMS’s like Sakai and Moodle, could provide an affordable option to small entities only if you overlook the back-end technical know-how to successfully implement these systems. In either case, smaller institutions were challenged to pursue this path.
Now, however, there are viable options for smaller entities wishing to conduct cost-effective online learning using a simple LMS. Companies like SchoolKeep, provide a customizable, affordable, easy-to-use LMS-lite for newbies in the online domain. The company offers an array of options/services from piloting several courses at no charge, to creating a fully online program and school. Moreover, SchoolKeep offers cost-added services like marketing, branding, registration, and student support depending on client requirements.
This company is a harbinger of what I would characterize as just-in-time LMS services, which may allow an institution, small company, or not-for-profit the flexibility of gradually building an online learning program without incurring significant start-up costs for the technology infrastructure. Often LMS contracts locked in an institution to a specific vendor for a long period of time, or the vendor might require a significant percentage of the online revenues from the new venture. This scenario is not the case for these new vendors who are increasingly more friendly to novices in the online learning segment.
In summary, SchoolKeep and similar new options allow a smaller entity to pilot or prototype their online courses and programs without major financial risks. A “build up and out strategy” can then be employed if these initial efforts prove fruitful. Thus, SchoolKeep might provide a good fit for those smaller learning enterprises making their initial foray into the arena of online learning.
Burns, Janet (2014), The Changing Framework of Online Learning, PSFK blog, retrieved at: http://www.psfk.com/2014/12/changing-framework-online-learning.html