The developmental process of the new Learnzone

The team recently created an animation to highlight the research, planning and development undertaken in order to revolutionise the way students and staff use the College Virtual Learning Environment (LearnZone).

As staff within the college may already know, LearnZone is based on the open source Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) Moodle software, and over the past year the team developed a specific theme (design) to improve;

  • accessibility
  • usability
  • overall student learning experience

The team also had to collaborate and work closely with the web team to ensure that Moodle was upgraded to the latest possible version of the software (Moodle 2.5).

Importantly, the new theme developed as a direct result of requests from the current cohort of students. A survey was circulated to all students asking them about their use of technology, how they use it, what they use it for and what they wanted to do in the future. The survey got 863 replies, which was one of the largest ever student response rates to date, and produced two important facts:

97% of students had mobile phones

73% wanted a new Learn Zone they could access more conveniently from their mobile devices.

The latter was then confirmed by qualitative feedback from the College’s annual Student Voice conference (Feb, 2013). Although mobile LearnZone access was possible, the students thought it was both complicated, impractical and didn’t provide an experience conducive to engaging learning.

The development team, which comprised of both the eLearning and web teams, led by Senior Learning Technologist Paul Tebbatt, was tasked with making LearnZone more accessible for all students from mobile devices to ensure content was visible from any device and also accessible for students with learning difficulties and sight issues. The team worked on the principle of providing a one channel and seamless solution, ensuring that a student should be able to access LearnZone irrespective of which device they were using, where they were and whatever they wanted to do. This design supports accepted pedagogical approaches, such as flipped learning, where a student can access content before even reaching the classroom. Research undertaken by Learning Technologist Andrew Ironmonger led to the additional project aim of reducing the complexity and ‘clutter’ of the system to ensure that staff could use it to its full potential, again extending the learner experience.

The eLearning team recognise that this task is not complete but will remain ongoing. A plug-in (Apto), an idea initially conceived by Richard Clay, is currently being further developed to enable students to change fonts and colours within the new theme to best meet their needs – an aid that will help dyslexic users among others and the team continues to seek feedback from both students and staff both on the new changes and future improvements.

The College now believes it has a LearnZone theme that is both cutting edge and responsive that reflects its commitment to follow Ofsted guidelines in effectively using technology for teaching and learning.

  • Make learning more inclusive
  • Widen participation in learning
  • Make learning more engaging
  • Deliver learning in a different way

The results since the newly themed LearnZone went live have been remarkable. Mobile usage increased by 892 per cent comparing September-October 2012 to the same period in 2013. Over the same period, tablet access rose by 178 per cent. The theme also fully supports the JAWS screen reader software which also increases accessibility. This means that more students can access the resources central to their learning, in a way that suits their personal needs and requirements.

Due to the clean design (in terms of look and available functions), LearnZone now has the potential to be more engaging as staff can utilize the learning design and assessment processes in LearnZone in a more intuitive way; for example the quiz question types have been made more simple, which has removed barriers to quizzes being created.

Timing was of the essence to get new-look LearnZone up and running, so staff could receive training and pass on their knowledge to learners as soon as they returned to College for the autumn term (September, 2013).

With commitment, enthusiasm, determination and insight, Paul and the development team have successfully encompassed the needs of staff, learners and the Institution, and delivered a learning platform of the future.

 

 

To see the bid animation and full Staffzone information page visit the following link:

http://staffzone.loucoll.ac.uk/course/view.php?id=178