7 features of a next-gen online learning platform

Customized online learning platform removes many differences between face-to-face and online learning

platform-online-learningAs massive online learning platforms like Coursera and edX move past their infant years, one university is taking the next step by partnering with innovative companies to produce a custom-built platform, incorporating next-generation features poised to eradicate many of the differences between face-to-face and online learning.

One of the main critiques of online learning, and MOOCs specifically, is that the courses aren’t equal to face-to-face learning due to a lack of personal interaction and low retention rates.

Yet, the University of Oklahoma (OU), after partnering with social learning technology experts, NextThought, have developed what could be considered the next-generation online learning platform: A platform that delivers social interaction technology, direct lines to professors, customized courses, new video technology for MOOCs, and much more.

And this next-generation platform, called Janux, is destined to serve as a scalable model for higher education institutions across the country, effectively customizing a solution so as to make the courses as face-to-face as possible.

“At [OU] we considered what the most optimal online learning environment would look like and set out to build it,” said Dr. Kyle Harper, associate professor and senior vice provost at the OU. “Like all OpenCourseWare platforms, online engagement differs from the face-to-face experience. OU wanted to tighten the gap between the two learning experiences by establishing its own learning platform. Janux connects students more than any other OpenCourseWare platform we’ve seen.”

(Next page: 7 ways Janux is revolutionizing online learning platforms)

Janux is revolutionizing online learning platforms in 7 distinct ways:

1. Social interaction.

With the help of NextThought, OU took online social interaction and engagement beyond basic forums and discussion boards by incorporating features similar to social media sites, like Facebook and Twitter.

Features include live chatting, sharing notes, taking time-stamped notes during videos, and interactive whiteboards.

Students can engage in material and with each other at any time, explained Harper. There is also a search function within the discussion boards in order to search for specific conversations or keywords. This makes finding answers and support for learning more accessible.

“Part of the reason Janux is so different than other MOOCs is because it’s built on social learning. We integrated social media features into the platform to make learning more comfortable for students. Students get a similar interaction in real time that they would get in a traditional face-to-face course,” he said.

2. New video techniques.

As opposed to students watching a video recording of a class, professors take the time to break down complicated subject matter and make short, high-quality videos to carefully explain the concepts, said Harper. The videos feature the professors and graphics to help illustrate complicated information for visual learners.

“These dynamic videos give students the sense of face-to-face interaction,” said Harper. “User interface and high-quality production were key in creating an engaging platform.”

3. A direct line to professors.

Because OU is the only institution involved in the platform, Janux is able to be more responsive to student input and needs, said Harper. Students have a direct line to professors and are able to make requests and recommendations without going through any red tape.

4. Annotation.

Janux allows students to highlight content within reading materials and add notes to reference at a later date—“just like a physical textbook, except it’s highly interactive,” emphasized Harper.

Additionally, interactive whiteboards are also incorporated, so students are better able to draw ideas and concepts for other students to see in real time to better explain thoughts.

“These are especially useful in courses like Intro to Chemistry and Chemistry of Beer when students want to draw molecules and formulas,” Harper noted.

(Next page: 5-7; Is it working?)

5. Archives.

Janux allows access to all previously generated learning materials, allowing students to revisit the material at a later date and take the time to digest complicated material.

“They don’t just get one chance to hear a lecture,” said Harper.

6. Uniform course structure.

Each course on Janux is structured in a uniform way on the platform, and includes the same tools for students to use.

“This way, students can focus on the content and material rather than learning how to navigate their way through each course,” explained Harper.

7. On-demand courses.

Janux features a unique array of courses—strategically selected by OU—on the platform that are not available across the board and that are relevant to student demand.

Is it working?

Janux, which launched in August 2013, and is fully funded by OU, has received extremely positive feedback from students, many saying that Janux has exceeded their expectations.

“Collaboration with classmates is easy,” said Connor McBride, a Janux student. “Study time is especially productive and everything feels polished and natural. A favorite aspect is that the online content frees up extra class time for conversations, debate and synthesis—it’s not just a lecture. The platform is really making a difference.”

OU believes that online platforms for higher-ed are a must, and a customized platform like Janux is right for most students, especially since the platform “is mindful of future development streams such as enhanced functionality brought to attention by students and faculty,” said Harper.

OU currently gives course credit for the classes offered on Janux. To receive credit for the courses, students must enroll at OU and pay for the course itself. But, enrolling at OU is not a requirement to gain access to the course and the material.

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