E-learning platforms have become increasingly popular in recent years as a way to deliver educational content and courses online. With an e-learning platform, instructors can create and host digital courses and make them available to students through the internet. This allows for more flexibility and accessibility in education, as students can access courses remotely at their own pace and on their own schedule. However, in order for an e-learning platform to be effective, the hosting infrastructure and delivery of the courses needs to be robust and reliable. In this article, we will explore e-learning platform hosting and the key considerations for delivering online courses smoothly to students.
Choosing an E-Learning Platform
The foundation of any e-learning program is the e-learning platform itself. There are many options on the market, both open source and proprietary. When evaluating platforms, some key factors to consider include:
- Features and capabilities – Assess what functionality is needed for your courses, such as communication tools, multimedia integration, assessment creation, etc. The platform should support all required course elements.
- Scalability – Consider current and projected enrollment and traffic volumes. The platform should be able to scale up as needed without performance issues.
- Customization – Look for custom themes, branding options, integration capabilities, and configurability to match institutional needs.
- Analytics and reporting – Robust analytics help track student engagement and progress. Reporting also aids inevaluating course and program effectiveness.
- Security – Rigorous security protections, settings, and protocols are critical, especially for exams and graded assignments.
- Support and training – Ongoing technical support and training resources help ensure smooth adoption and optimization.
- Cost – Pricing models, including open source options, on-premise vs SaaS considerations, and total cost of ownership.
Some top platforms to evaluate include Moodle, Blackboard, Canvas, Brightspace, Schoology, and EdX. Consulting with IT teams and fully piloting multiple platforms is recommended to determine the best fit.
Hosting Options and Configurations
Once an e-learning platform is selected, next comes choosing how and where to host it. Institutions have several options to determine the optimal hosting configuration for performance, security, reliability, and cost effectiveness.
With self-hosted solutions, an organization hosts the e-learning platform on their own servers and infrastructure. This allows for full control and customization of the hosting environment. However, it also requires more staff resources for hardware, software, maintenance, and upgrades. Scaling can also be a challenge.
Some key considerations for self-hosted solutions include:
- Server capacity – Assess current and future compute, storage and memory needs. Factor in redundancy.
- Network architecture – Design the LAN/WAN architecture and bandwidth for optimal delivery. Implement load balancing, caching, and CDNs as needed.
- Data center infrastructure – Evaluate power, cooling, and space requirements for servers. Determine backup power sources.
- IT staff – In-house IT teams will need sufficient resources to manage infrastructure, perform upgrades, ensure security, and provide support.
- Maintenance and upgrades – Plan and budget for ongoing patches, troubleshooting, and new version upgrades.
- Security – Establish rigorous physical and digital security protocols to protect servers and data integrity.
- Costs – Weigh capital and operating costs of owned infrastructure vs. capabilities and control.
With managed hosting, a third-party vendor hosts the e-learning platform off-site using their own infrastructure and team to manage it. Institutions lease server space, with the vendor handling hardware, software, security, backups, and product upgrades. This simplifies operations for the institution.
Factors to evaluate when considering managed hosting include:
- Service Level Agreement (SLA) – The SLA should guarantee uptime, response times, support response, and other performance metrics.
- Security – Review security provisions including encryption, data privacy policies, access controls, and security certifications.
- Scalability – Look for auto-scaling capabilities and bursting options to handle spikes in traffic and usage.
- Reliability and redundancy – Ensure the hosting provider has backup power, redundancy, and disaster recovery systems in place.
- Customization – Assess available options for configuration settings, integrations, branding, or modifications.
- Support – 24/7 multi-channel technical support should be provided.
- Cost – Compare monthly/annual leasing costs to expected performance and capabilities.
SaaS E-Learning Platforms
SaaS (software-as-a-service) e-learning platforms provide hosting as an integrated service with the platform software. Leading vendors such as Canvas, Blackboard, Moodle, and others offer SaaS options. This can streamline adoption, maintenance, and updates.
Considerations when evaluating SaaS platforms include:
- Features – Ensure the platform offers all required functionality, even if hosted off-site.
- Performance – Review uptime history, service guarantees, and performance metrics carefully.
- Scalability – Auto-scaling and load balancing should be handled by the SaaS provider transparently.
- Security – Evaluate the vendor’s security provisions, certifications, recovery systems, and controls.
- Customization – Determine if branding, configuration changes, code access, and add-ons are possible.
- Support – SaaS vendors should provide 24/7 multi-lingual support and regular platform updates.
- Cost – SaaS can have a lower upfront cost but monthly/annual fees are ongoing operating expenses.
- Transition – Assess options to migrate data and content from an existing system to the SaaS platform.
Hybrid Hosting Models
Some organizations utilize a hybrid hosting model by combining on-premise infrastructure with managed or SaaS hosting. For example, core platform software may be hosted in-house while large media files are hosted in the cloud. Or, a managed hosting provider may be used for disaster recovery and overflow capacity.
Advantages of hybrid hosting include:
- Cost optimization – Organizations only pay for additional managed hosting as needed.
- Flexibility – Institutions can keep sensitive data on-premise while leveraging cloud benefits.
- Scalability – Bursting into the cloud handles spikes beyond on-premise capacity.
- Performance – Core functions can be localized while cloud handles distribution.
- Security – Critical data remains in-house while non-sensitive data lives in the cloud.
- Reliability – Blending approaches provides redundancy and failover options.
The downside is the added complexity of integrating and managing the multiple hosting technologies and providers.
Careful planning is needed to determine the right hybrid model based on an organization’s specific infrastructure, costs, performance needs, and risk tolerance. Ongoing governance ensures optimal utilization and cost management across providers.
Network Design Considerations
The network connecting students to the hosted e-learning platform is equally important. A high-quality network experience is critical for smooth course delivery and to prevent student frustration.
Key elements to optimize the network delivery include:
- Sufficient bandwidth – Upgrade internet pipelines to accommodate all expected concurrent users and traffic. Perform testing under peak loads.
- Low latency – Minimize delays by peering with ISPs, optimizing routes, and using geographically proximate servers or caches.
- High availability – Implement redundant internet links from multiple providers to reduce downtime risks.
- Caching and CDNs – Use caching servers and Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) to cache content closer to end users.
- Load balancing – Distribute requests and traffic across multiple servers. Avoid overloading any single server.
- Media optimization – Compress and optimize video, audio, and multimedia content for streaming.
- Access management – Use VPNs or proctored browsers to control campus WiFi and computer lab access for exams.
- Monitoring – Continuously monitor performance metrics like response time, lag, jitter, and packet loss.
- Security – Implement firewalls, intrusion detection/prevention, and WAFs to protect against DDoS attacks, data breaches, and other threats.
- Traffic segmentation – Placing e-learning traffic on separate VLANs or queues can isolate it from other network loads.
- Backhaul capacity – Ensure connections between local campuses and main data centers have sufficient capacity, redundancy, and QoS.
Ongoing network testing, monitoring, and tuning is imperative to providing students with a reliable high-quality e-learning experience.
Delivering Effective Courses Online
Once the e-learning platform infrastructure is in place, attention turns to developing and delivering the courses themselves online. Well-designed courses with engaging learning activities are critical to student achievement and satisfaction.
Some best practices for creating effective online courses include:
- Clear learning objectives – Align modules, assessments, and materials to concrete learning goals.
- Organized structure – Use consistent navigational menus, labels, icons, and page layouts across all course content.
- Readability – Adhere to digital accessibility standards. Use sans serif fonts and ample white space. Avoid overcrowded pages.
- Conversational tone – Write in a friendly conversational style to increase understanding and approachability.
- Bite-sized chunks – Break concepts into manageable 5-15 minute segments versus lengthy lectures.
- Active learning – Incorporate frequent knowledge checks, polls, discussions, reflective prompts, and other activities that engage students.
- Multimedia – Use videos, simulations, animations and other interactive elements to enhance engagement and reinforce learning.
- Mobile readiness – Ensure courses render properly on mobile devices. Use responsive designs.
- Assessment variety – Evaluate learning with frequent low-stakes quizzes plus larger exams, papers, projects, peer reviews, and other assignments.
- Collaborative options – Utilize forums, wikis, group assignments, peer feedback, and other collaborative elements when appropriate.
- Instructor presence – Have consistent facilitator participation via announcements, feedback, discussion boards, live sessions, and other touchpoints.
Online courses require planning, preparation, and continual refinement based on student engagement data, feedback, and outcomes. When thoughtfully executed, they can deliver meaningful personalized learning experiences at scale.
Providing Ongoing Technical Support
Even with robust infrastructure and well-designed courses, students will still encounter technical issues that require support. Prompt technical assistance is essential to resolving problems and preventing frustration.
Key best practices for technical support include:
- Self-help resources – Create FAQs, knowledge bases, troubleshooting guides, and “How-To” articles students can reference.
- Responsive helpdesk – Maintain a ticketing system, online chat, and phone support with extended hours year-round.
- Triage system – Categorize tickets into priority levels based on severity and nature of issue. Resolve critical issues immediately.
- LMS familiarity – Support staff should have in-depth expertise in the LMS to diagnose and resolve platform-specific issues.
- Network visibility – Monitor overall network performance and pinpoint campus/regional specific issues.
- Proactive communication – Notify students of any planned maintenance or known incidents that may impact system availability.
- Ticket tracking – Closely monitor helpdesk metrics like time-to-resolution, escalations and satisfaction ratings to improve support operations.
- Staff training – Conduct ongoing training on new platform features and recent support case learnings to improve first-call resolution rates.
- Student tutorials – Provide video tutorials on navigating the LMS, accessing course content, checking grades, using communication tools and other platform basics.
Delivering prompt, knowledgeable technical support is the key to keeping students connected and engaged in their online courses when inevitable technology issues arise.
Driving Student Engagement and Success
In the end, the effectiveness of an e-learning program comes down to student engagement and outcomes. Simply making courses available online is not enough. Institutions must utilize data and best practices to actively promote student achievement.
Some key strategies include:
- Gamification – Use points, badges, leaderboards, rewards, and friendly competition to motivate participation.
- Peer mentoring – Facilitate student-to-student and alumni mentoring around career goals, relevant skills, time management, and perseverance.
- Analytics – Track individual and aggregate system usage, dropout rates, assignment scores, and other data to identify issues and opportunities.
- Nudging – Send reminders, highlight upcoming deadlines, celebrate milestones, and “nudge” students to progress.
- Mobile access – Enable course completion on smartphones to promote learning during small pockets of downtime.
- Online communities – Create online hubs, forums, social media groups and other resources to foster connections, knowledge sharing, and support.
- Flexible pacing – Allow self-paced learning with fluid deadlines, multiple assessment attempts, and extended terms if needed.
- Inclusive design – Follow accessibility guidelines and ensure content is consumable by students with diverse abilities and learning styles.
- Career integration – Align courses to real-world skills. Offer work-based learning opportunities. Connect students to alumni.
With the proper infrastructure, support services, and engagement strategies, e-learning platforms can deliver significant value – allowing institutions to increase access, improve outcomes, and transform the student experience at scale.
E-learning platforms offer institutions tremendous opportunities to broaden access to education through technology. However, the technology infrastructure underpinning e-learning initiatives must be carefully planned and managed to ensure reliable, seamless course delivery at scale. Server hosting configurations, network design, platform selection, technical support and student engagement strategies all play key roles in determining program success. By following best practices around hosting, delivery, support and user experience, institutions can unlock the full potential of online learning to propel student achievement. Although implementing a robust e-learning technology ecosystem requires investment and coordination across teams, the payoff is immense – the ability to provide high quality, flexible and accessible learning that meets the evolving needs of diverse student populations.