2020 has shown that distance learning is becoming a new normal. Statistics show that during the coronavirus, the demand for virtual classrooms and interactive whiteboards has doubled. Of course, the process of distance learning has technical bottlenecks and a lack of live interaction. Not everyone loves it, but the future is happening now, and we’ll get used to it. New trends set new challenges:
- educational institutions must capture and correspond to them
- web studios must formulate a clear and profitable proposal for the development of products for distance learning
We specialize in Drupal development, and this CMS meets the needs of many specific areas and businesses. In this article, we will talk about the technical side of this hot topic. We're going to list the basic set of eLearning site features and ways to implement them on Drupal.
What is distance learning based on?
At least in general terms, we need to present three concepts: LMS (Learning Management System), e-learning standard, and LRS (Learning Record Store).
LMS is a substitute for the classroom, curriculum, textbooks, class book, record book, and everything else in the offline learning world. The system stores training aids and information about what students have already studied, and what results in education they showed. For instance, the popular platform Moodle is an example of LMS. However, people still have to create training documents for uploading to the LMS. There are different e-learning standards appropriate for different use cases, and your educational content had better be created according to one of the standards.
In 2001, SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Model) became the first and the most popular standard, according to statistics. SCORM is created by the ADL organization that is based at the US Department of Defense. Then, in 2013, the Tin Can API (aka xAPI) appeared, and in 2016, the CMI5 standard was launched by the joint efforts of ADL and the AICC association. We're not moving on to the specifics of each standard. It’s sufficient to say that each additional standard was created, taking into account the shortcomings of the previous one.
Creating your eLearning standard is like inventing a new language and expecting everyone to understand it. It will take a lot of time and other resources before other people learn this language. Likewise incorrect translation, some of the information can be lost or misunderstood. When there are standards, there are no such problems, and the development of training documents and LMS becomes simpler and cheaper.
After training documents have been collected and organized according to the standards, they can be uploaded to the LMS. Most of them (LMSs) are compatible with SCORM. So you can put all the content you need in SCORM packages, whether it is individual tasks or entire courses, and transfer them to another LMS if you decide to change it.
Although SCORM is the standard de facto, the progress is not at a standstill. xAPI has not replaced SCORM completely. It's just a new and well-developed standard that provides more opportunities for creating the educational process. It takes into account such deficiencies of its predecessor as the usage of outdated Flash, dependence on a browser, poor security, binding to the same domain in which the LMS is located, last but not least - it was difficult to save progress during the course completion. In addition to that, xAPI allows you to save the learning results achieved not only on the website but also in a mobile application, smartwatches, interactive simulators, and any other environment.
xAPI is an interim element between the learning environment and the LRS (Learning Record Store), which is a repository of learning activities from which the LMS can take the data. The learning process becomes deeper and more interesting in such technologies. If you don’t want to be limited to a website only but want to build a whole ecosystem for training (applications, smartwatches, etc), we suggest you have a look at the xAPI standard.
Don’t confuse LMS and LRS: LRS provides only data storage and does not have business logic thus it doesn’t provide the necessary environment for the educational process. But LMS can include LRS.
Everyone who is involved in e-learning product development - from eLearning instructional designer/methodist to PHP development specialist - should have the skills to use these technologies.
Why Drupal is a suitable CMS for developing a distance learning website
For many general reasons, the Drupal content management system is perfect for educational sites:
- Drupal is an open-source system. This is reflected in the cost of services (affordable prices), development (flexible), and security (high).
- The Drupal developer community is large. It will not leave unanswered questions.
- Often, one educational institution has many websites for different needs. If each of them has the same modules and features, then with the multisite functionality, you can get one codebase for all the websites and update them simultaneously.
- You can easily build an extensive site structure with the help of taxonomy.
- You don’t need additional programming knowledge for customization of basic functionality and appearance.
- Drupal is written in the PHP language. It has a rather low entry barrier.
- Websites for educational institutions are used by teachers, students, parents, friends, and guests. Each of these groups must have different access rights, and Drupal takes this into account.
- Drupal websites are mobile-friendly by default.
- Drupal's interface has been localized for over 100 languages, which allows you to develop websites for educational institutions around the world.
- Website users receive tools for collaboration work.
Enthusiasts from the Drupal community are working on a lot of useful modules and distributions that will make online learning as good as face-to-face learning, and some way more rational - it is the most important.
What the eLearning website should do
Such websites should have specific functionality for the organizers of the educational process and the students themselves. The compulsory set includes:
- content management feature,
- division of user roles,
- tasks and tests,
- tools to display the student progress,
- badges and certificates of graduation,
- video conference,
- registration through social networks.
Now, let's deal with technologies that allow you to turn a Drupal website into a school or university for which you do not need to leave your home.
Distributions and modules for an eLearning website on Drupal
In our list, you will find only those profiles (a website draft with dummy content) and modules that do not have a lock-status or “outdated” status, they are still supported by the community.
Opigno is a Drupal-based distro allowing to turn a CMS into an LMS.
The Opigno instructor-led Trainings module is needed to simulate the presence of a teacher and to monitor attendance and rate students.
The system has its application store where apps can be downloaded and installed without having to update LMS.
Since 2007, the BigBlueButton open-source system has been used in distance learning for video conferences. Teachers and students can share pictures, videos, PDFs, Word documents, show presentations, communicate in chat rooms, and even "raise a hand" if one wants to speak up. BigBlueButton API was released in 2010. It can be integrated with many systems, including LMS Moodle, the project management system Redmine, CMS Drupal, WordPress, and Joomla.
Opigno Webex App
WebEx is another conference service belonging to the Cisco organization. Developers give organizers of the instructional process the ability to create classes schedule and send invites to students by including Webex as an add-on tool in Opigno using the Opigno Webex App module.
Course allows you to build a course with any number of steps and consisting of any content entities, that is an item of data that includes text, images, attachments, etc.
Course credit is used to give students the record book.
One of the ways that teachers and students can monitor the progress and effectiveness of the curriculum - is to take tests and surveys. Quiz allows you to create multiple choice questions and save the results in a database. Progress and results can be displayed both during and after them.
The presentation of a diploma or certificate confirms the completion of the course, so this is a mandatory functionality for distance learning websites. The Certificate module Interface helps to format such documents as a PDF file, which is facilitated by HTML templates and integration with WYSIWYG.
Open Digital Badging
The digital badges on the student's profiles are proof of their success during the learning phase. The Mozilla Open Badges program is responsible for creating badges, and the Open Digital Badging module is a provider for Drupal websites. If the website works on Opigno, then the Opigno Mozilla Open Badges App will help to befriend one and Mozilla Open Badges.
Social Login и Social Share
Registering through Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, other social media networks, and sharing content and learning achievements through them is already the default option for most websites. Social Login and Social Share are solving these problems on a Drupal website.
Create distance learning websites on Drupal
The Drupal’s global popularity has four allies: flexibility to create anything on this CMS, scalability, a responsive and large community, and a low entry threshold that makes the system accessible to people even without programming skills. As you can see from the article, Drupal itself resembles a new apartment, which is still waiting to finish the ceiling and the walls, hanging the wallpaper, and other "nice things”. So web development is as specific (if not more) as renovation and design interior. Therefore, a distance education site will require several professionals with knowledge of HTML, CSS, PHP, React, and other languages and frameworks to integrate and configure modules and distributions correctly. If you know all this, we’re proud of you, and if you don’t - we’re ready to take over your website. Tell us about your project in your email to firstname.lastname@example.org.