social_networkingB Online Learning Institute, a Registered Training Organisation, delivers the nationally accredited Master eLearning Course (MEC). This is a four-month fully online course allowing students to design, develop and deliver eLearning. The course is equivalent to competencies from the Diploma of Training and Assessment.

According to B Online Learning's eLearning Manager, Ruth McElhone Operitel Corporation's LearnFlex Connect developed a very real community of practice in eLearning.

"Last year we delivered the course through our LMS LearnFlex with the students accessing discussion forums and chat rooms in the e-classroorn, and it was very well received" explains McElhone, "To keep up-to-date with new technologies and to demonstrate best practice eLearning, we believed our students needed to experience and access the power of Web 2.0. We implemented LearnFlex Connect, a social network and collaboration tool and made it available to our students this year."

LearnFlex Connect won the Brandon Hall Silver Award for Excellence in Technology in 2010. Some of the LearnFlex Connect features and functionalities used in the course includes: a "wall" to post thoughts/messages (similar to the "Facebook" wall); blogs, wikis and discussion forums, which have facilitated real-time content, comments and discussion threads; videos; People and content articles. 

McElhone says B Online Learning Institute added LearnFlex Connect to their Master eLearning Course to build a community made of with students coming from a variety of backgrounds, all with varied experience and skill in order to efficiently and effectively transfer their knowledge and skills to other students through informal means.

LearnFlex Connect allowed B Online Learning to create an area where students could share ideas, experiences and resources related to eLearning while also keep up to date with current trends. The 3 x eLearning modules cover the formal learning aspects and the social learning as the informal side of the course, accommodated through Learnflex Connect.

Brandon Hall award"Before we implemented LearnFlex Connect some of our students said that they felt alienated completing the course by themselves via webinar tutorials," says McElhone. "Students would meet each other at the beginning of those tutorials, but there was nowhere to follow up on these introductions after the sessions. Our Master eLearning Course students comprise a variety of learners on different ends of the eLearning spectrum. Some of the students had lots of experience in training and instructional design while others have more experience in the eLearning technology side of things ... our objective was to tap into this experience and get learners learning from each other and not just from the course material and their Learning Coach. The overall end result is a powerful, authentic learning experience."

Another strategic objective for a social media tool was to maintain currency in the course. "There is no need to wait for the development of new formal courses with LearnFlex Connect," says Rebecca Hall, Managing Director of B Online Learning. "Currency can be maintained by posting articles and blogs instantly to keep up with current trends."

Hall explains in order to measure the effectiveness of the LearnFlex Connect tool and encourage motivation and participation; B Online Learning integrated it with its Assessment Strategy. In LearnFlex Connect, users receive points for contributions. For example, Hall says if a user replies to a Discussion Forum they receive 50 points. One of the requirements to pass the course is to reach Contributor status, which is 500 points. Point collection acts as springboard to motivate some students who may be passive users.

"When using social media as a learning tool, it is necessary to guide the learner and make it as easy and user friendly as possible," says McElhone. "B Online Learning's students attend a webinar demonstration showing them how to use Learnflex Connect most efficiently. In addition, the students receive weekly emails with information about the course, prompts about what's new in the platform and ideas on means of contribution."

When implementing any form of social media, B Online Learning considers it vital for the users to feel comfortable with using the tool or else risk user frustration. To minimise that risk, B Online Learning provides an introductory phone call at the start of the course to walk users through how they will locate and use LearnFlex Connect. LearnFlex Connect is a very secure social learning tool and is 'locked' down. Users must request to join the space, which is approved by the site administrator ("Learning Coach").

Due to the nature of the course, it was important the tool could be highly moderated by a Learning Coach so content is authentic and relevant and in the right place for students to access it. B Online Learning currently has hundreds of active users in LeanFlex Connect. Students have begun to network and make friends with each other sharing best practice eLearning development and training delivery ideas and experiences.

Hall says LearnFlex Connect's strong and diverse functionality fit with B Online Learning's learning strategy more so than any others on the market. "While it didn't meet every requirement we had, the product exceeded expectations regarding moderation, feature options and security functionality. It made choosing Learnflex Connect over other tools an easy choice."

In addition, because B Online Learning was already a client of LearnFlex , Hall says the additional cost to increase our license was minimal and led to a stronger return on investment. "The tool is hosted externally so no additional hardware or software was required to use the tool," she adds.

For the fourth year in a row B Online Learning has won awards from the prestigious LEARNX Foundation, Asia Pacific Awards for eLearning and training. This year the company was recognised and won the Gold Award for the Best Use of Social Media for their use of Learnflex" Connect in their Master eLearning Course. In February 2012, B Online Learning implemented and launched LearnFLex Connect into their Certificate III Education Support and Certificate IV Education Support qualifications. It's only early days but is proving to be another hit for B Online Learning!

Written by Operitel Corporation