Interesting question: the requirements for a learning platform

I offer this as a component of an evaluation framework: what are the user requirements for different kinds of users of a VLE.

A professional acquaintance from another university is advising his department on the procurement of a learning platform. He asked me a simple question last night: “…is there a web site or paper that articulates the User Need [for a VLE] in ‘plain speak’?”

Simple, I thought. I’ll just search the JISC site for “vle user requirements”. After an hour trawling around on JISC, Becta and Ferl sites and going as far as searching research databases (Academic Search Premier and Web of Scence), I came up with the following. But, I was surprised at how the obvious question was not so easily answered. Surely we have all thought about this?

The list, below, is a little out of date (2003), but interestingly represents one of the few comprehensive, semi-public documents listing requirements for an e-learning platform.
Oxford University’s requirements are here:

JISC Briefing Paper 5 is here.
Pedagogy and Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) evaluation and selection

see also sound guidance from IMS:

Interesting how much is vendor driven rather than user driven.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
This list was produced through consultation with the participants in the MLE diagramming workshop…from here.
Such a list may prove useful for an institution in the process of exploring whether they are ready to move in this direction, and which aspects they wish to implement. It may therefore provide a useful basis for discussion and negotiation.

Recruitment/application
The system should enable prospective students to make enquiries, receive an online prospectus, apply online and track their application through the institution’s website.
Single sign-on
The system should enable students to access all learning and administrative resources directly using a single user name and password (by providing a single point of authentication)
Course information
The system should be able to provide course descriptions etc. from a single entry point
Course enrolment
The system should enable students to enrol for courses on line (complying with rules), and to track the processing of their application on-line
Course selection
The system should enable students to choose courses and/or elective modules on-line
Personalised access to learning and support resources
The system should be able to provide a single point of access for students to a personalised view of their courses, modules, learning resources, and administrative data from a single sign-on
Access to resources for off-campus students
The system should enable remote students to access all learning, administrative and support resources remotely through a single log on
Accessibility of resources
The system should have the ability to be customized to provide access to all online systems to support students and staff with a wide range of access needs

Fee payment
The system should enable students to pay fees on-line or access bursary/grant information, and see the status of their account, this payment should automatically create access to the services and facilities they have just paid for.
Access to administrative data (students)
The system should enable students to read on-line personal administrative data and update appropriate selected fields (e.g. change address)
Access to other support services
The system should be able to provide students with direct transactional access on-line to non-academic support services such as careers, welfare, accommodation, catering etc
Personal development planning
The system should enable students to obtain transcripts and plan their future learning.
This item needs a great deal of expansion.

Teaching and Learning online
General comment –

Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) provide an integrated set of tools for online teaching and learning. There are many platforms available – commercial, open source, developed in-house etc.
The following are general requirements for online learning which VLEs should support, or which may be supported by a suite of tools – a particular example is assessment where a VLE and a specialist CAA system are increasingly used together.
Approaches to teaching and learning
The system should enable a variety of approaches to teaching and learning to be supported
Access to information and resources for teaching and admin staff
The system should be able to provide automatic access for teaching and admin support staff to course and module related materials including electronic learning resources, and information (class lists, attendance etc) for administering courses
Online tutoring
The system should enable students to receive online tutoring which should include peer support and collaborative working.There should be facilities for team working by tutors
Peer support and collaborative working
The system should be able to provide access to online tools for group work and peer support for students and staff.
Self organisation
The system should enable students and staff to organize and manage themselves, their resources and their work.
Students should be able to gather their own resources and publish these to the system
Students and staff should be able to create their own groups
Electronic library resources
The system should be able to provide access to a common environment which enables students to access the library catalogue, reserve books etc on-line and access full text electronic resources
Integrated access to learning resources
The system should be able to integrate all online library resources and services (see above) into a virtual learning environment
Online assessment
The system should be able to provide access to a range of online assessment tools, and it should be able to automatically update the student record system with the results of online assessments, provided appropriate quality control mechanisms are in place.
Online course development
The system should be able to provide access to a range of tools for the development, adaptation and publishing of online learning materials
Sharing of resources
The system should enable the importing, reuse and sharing and exporting of resources. This should apply to resources created within the system as well.
Standards
The system should incorporate a standards approach to provide for interoperability between platforms. Compliance with standards to enable interoperability means that institutions can avoid ‘lock in’ to products, and institutions (or departments) which use different platforms can work together.
Learning resources support
The system should enable information professionals to provide online support to students
Tracking of students’ use of online resources and their attendance
The system should be able to provide information on students’ use of online resources, and it should be able to provide fully integrated on- and offline attendance systems
Support staff and use of online resources
The system should enable all appropriate support staff (e.g. IT, learning technologists, study support, staff developers) to have access to information about student use of online resources, and their progress to enable them to provide support (including technical support) and monitor use
– there may be ethical and DP issues to be considered here
Data Protection
The system should enable the institution to comply with the Data Protection Act

Access to service departments
The system should be able to provide access for staff to services online such as Information Services, Helpdesk, Estates, Catering etc
Personalised access to data for staff
The system should be able to provide personalised access for all staff to their own information such as personnel records, (career and pay history etc) and update personal information through a single log on
Graduation
The system should be able to provide information on dates and procedures, and possibly the option to book gowns, photos etc online

Curriculum and course formal development process
The system should enable staff to have access to official materials for the development of courses, including documentation, validation and quality procedures etc
Coordination
The system should enable teachers to coordinate their work and collaborate with each other
Departmental planning
The system should enable departments to provide course/module frameworks, develop new courses, and coordinate with other departments, and participate in institutional planning.
Finance
The system should be able to provide financial management information
Timetabling/Scheduling/calendar
The system should provide facilities for timetabling, scheduling, analysing resource usage, and sharing calendars
Institutional level documents and communications
The system should enable staff to have access to all relevant institutional papers (committee papers, minutes, feedback forms etc), to update and share information with colleagues, and to participate in online consultation and discussion with colleagues
Institutional management
The system should be able to provide information to enable the Senior Management to
– provide the overall framework and infrastructure for teaching,
– develop strategy,
– deal with Funding Councils and other institutions
– make appropriate returns to Funding Councils
Management information
The system should be able to provide management information such as
– Departmental level information
– Institutional/strategic level information
– Data analysis on strategic issues (eg possible relationship between widening participation and use of support services etc)
– Data on operational issues
– Cost benefit analysis
– data analysis – eg tracking enrolments, transfers, completion, withdrawals, use of ISR, diagnostics
– financial reports

etc
Monitoring and evaluation
The system should be able to provide information and tools to ensure all developments and activities are monitored and evaluated against defined criteria (at course, dept. and instit. Levels) to enable reflection and development

Working with partner institutions
Comments –

NB The following are requirements in addition to those above as it is assumed that all partner members would have addressed these within their own institution. They have been developed from the NIIMLE outline specification document and various SHELL documents and others
The following model is that of a separate MLE system, not one that is closely coupled with the partner institutional MLEs
Single registration
The system should provide the facility for a single sign-on across the partnership

Transfer of data – general
The system should enable the rapid and efficient transfer of student data between partnership members, including student results

Transfer of data between systems
The system should enable data to be transferred between the various student record systems and online learning environments in use across the partnership

Personalised student portal
The system should provide a personalisable home page for the individual user which serves as a ‘launch pad’ for a range of services across the partnership

Online communication
The system should provide communication tools to facilitate collaboration and communication between students and staff across the partnership

Library
The system should enable students to access library facilities across the partner institutions eg online library catalogue, online databases and subscription based resources

Advice and support
The system should enable students to access advice and support eg through communicating with mentors
Dual nationality
The system should enable students to access learning materials from institutions across the partnership, both FE and HE
‘Portable’ courses
The system should be able to host courses common to all partners
Progression routes/subject pathways
The system should enable students to access progression routes and pathways across the partnership
Next course details
The system should enable students to access information on next possible courses, including timetables, mode of attendance, reading lists etc
Next institution
The system should be able to provide information on the next institution in the partnership that the student will be attending, including information on a range of support services, opening hours of libraries, catering, accommodation etc
Application information
The system should be able to provide information on application procedures for the ‘next course’ choice
Transcript and PDP
The system should be able to provide a facility for the student to record personal information during their academic life, and to access their student transcipt, including their marks (PDP/PDR)
Careers information
The system should enable institutions in the partnership to provide information on employability, links to professional bodies etc
Student services
The system should enable students to access a range of services across the partnership, including accommodation, counselling etc
Access issues
The system should enable all students, including those with a wide range of access needs, to access all online systems and services
Regional prospectus
The system should enable institutions to publish all course information across the partnership
Regional information
The system should be able to provide general information on the region including funding, travel, social aspects etc

Further items –

There are many areas which have not yet been covered as this is work in progress, including in no particular order –

PDP/PDR

Remote and overseas study
Authentication
Authorisation
Interface design
And more….

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