Friday, August 17

EduTools (Decision-making tools for e-learning)


"WCET’s EduTools provides independent reviews, side-by-side comparisons, and consulting services to assist decision-making in the e-learning community.

EduTools has been around for a few years already, but recently (Nov 2006) it has re-launched its project as a community-driven site, beginning with the Course Management System (CMS) site. It has a wonderful set of FREE tools that enable you evaluate CMS, online courses, e-learning policies, learning object repository software, etc (URLs above).

I especially like EduTools CMS tool, where you can get third-party reviews systematically customized to your preferences and needs (check-box whatever you want) on product information, side-by-side product comparisons, and making a decision (6 step process: Select Products, Custom Products, Choose Features, Custom Criteria, Apply Weights, and finally Assign Scores, and then 'Voila' the decision results are there for your evaluation team to further analyze (I wish it was that simple!).

Having said that you better use commercial e-learning decision-making tools from Brandon-Hall and Bersin & Associates, if you are planning to compare tools such as SumTotal and Saba (It might cost you a bit, but it could save you from wasting precious time and buckets of golden coins later). EduTools caters for now specifically to the higher education and K-12 community, and these particular two CMS are not currently on the product list (probably due to the fact that there are not many in these sectors using them.) Though, I do hope they will be added later, because it would be interesting to see how these two Lamborghinis would do compared to the rest of the bunch, especially against David Moodle (Open Source) and Goliath Blackboard (Commercial).

Interestingly, if you are stuck for example with choosing between Blackboard or Moodle, this CMS tool would be of great help to facilitate a better decision (in addition you could use the feature list to see whether other tools are also up to the mark).

Actually, I could go on talking about CMS, LMS, LCMS, VLE, Campus Management until the break of dawn as this was my area of specialty in the past (probably need some catching up now!). Though, whatever decision making tool you use to assist a better decision, you need people that know what they are talking about, and have the knowledge and experience to not get swayed when the pitching starts with feature fireworks from super product presentations getting the top management excited. If you do not have the expertise within the organization, I suppose you would need to outsource it to some qualified consultants, or some amazing people out there in the cyber galaxy willing to assist for free with their expertise (Wishful thinking, but surprisingly they might exist). However, EduTools provide excellent tools to keep the consultants on their toes, because they need to be more constructive and meaningful than what these tools can do with a few clicks :)

So, EduTools can play an important role to support you in making a better choice. In addition, here is my brief bulleted CMS evaluation criteria (to get you going):

  • Core Features Comparison - Make sure you create your own criteria list (based on feedback from all potential stake holders and reflecting your full administrative and teaching and learning process) differentiating the essential and nice to have features. Study the EduTools decision making tool to get a better idea, if you are not sure.
  • Ease-of-use - If the solution is not easy-to-use and learn (after a bit of testing) for students, academic staff, and administrators you should simply dump it out of the list. No point buying a Ferrari that can't get out of the garage.
  • Ease-of-Customization - If you cannot customize (say 90%) of the CMS interface design and configure the features according to your needs and preferences without the help from the vendor or hard-coding, the product is perhaps not flexible to survive in your real world.
  • Ease-to-Integrate with other existing systems in your organization (e.g. e-mail, CRM, ERP, etc).
  • e-Learning Standards Compliant - SCORM, IMS, etc.
  • Ease-of-Upgrading - Make sure you can afford it, and read all the details regarding this issue with hawk-eyes.
  • T&L Features & Ease-of-use - There is no compromise here, because this is the real juice that is going to enable the academic staff (or Professor) to captain the mother ship (courses) through the galaxy engaging and collaborating with the students in the most inspiring learning environment (Quizzes, blogs, wikis, journals, chat, virtual classroom, instant messaging, forum, social bookmarking, podcasting, etc).
  • Alright, the rest of the juice we can talk about over lunch :)

Actually, the real headache is not selecting an LMS, but the actual implementation of it. Though, if you can blend effectively the informal and formal learning part, and make learning fun during the journey, you have a great chance of disruptive success growth.

Finally, any CMS or more appropriately Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) needs at least one inspiring, passionate and easy-to-communicate with "Oracle" or "Captain" that plays a critical role in facilitating (guiding, supporting, training, having fun learning with, can count on, etc.) the rest of the inspired team (students, educators, administrators) to explore the knowledge galaxy with all the wonderful learning tools available.

Now, does your VLE have such a person or team?

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