What is a Learning Platform?

While I have written (along with others) about the shift we are seeing in the LMS market, where it is moving from an enterprise LMS market to a learning platform market, there has not really been a good definition of what a learning platform is. As Jeff Bohrer asked via Twitter, “What are the hallmarks of LMS as a “learning platform” (beyond SaaS)? Any posts you can point to?” Mike Zackrison offer some very helpful thoughts in his response of “A few I’ve observed: cloud, multi-tenant; open API; social, analytics, mobile baked in; apps/content discovery too”.

Rather than reply within the limits of 140 characters, I’d like to offer a response here (I have trouble with being pithy).

Platform Definitions

First, let’s look at the metaphor. A platform is typically defined in the generic sense as a raised surface of some type that supports other interacting objects. Within computer and software terminology, a platform can be defined as “A platform is any base of technologies on which other technologies or processes are built”. The idea is that the platform is not intended to stand on its own, as its definition includes the support of other technologies or applications.

Given this context, there is a rather extensive Wikipedia entry on learning platforms with some useful definitions included. I have excerpted several below.

A learning platform is an integrated set of interactive online services that provide teachers, learners, parents and others involved in education with information, tools and resources to support and enhance educational delivery and management.

The term learning platform also includes the personal learning environment (PLE)

Description from Becta: A learning platform is a framework of tools that work seamlessly together to deliver a student centric learning experience by unifying educational theory & practice, technology and content. Learning platforms can be described as the next generation of Virtual Learning Environments or Learning Management Systems used by educational institutions. The major difference is that a VLE and LMS is an application, whereas the Learning Platform share characteristics with an Operating System (or CoursePark Platform) where different educational web based applications can be run on the platform.

Hallmarks of a Learning Platform

Based on these definitions and Mike’s initial reply, I’ll offer my list of hallmarks of learning platforms. For the purposes of commentary, I’ve numbered them.

  1. Learning Platforms are next-generation technology compared to legacy LMS solutions arising in the late 1990’s / early 2000’s. While many features are shared between legacy LMS and learning platforms, the core designs are not constrained by the course-centric, walled-garden approach pioneered by earlier generations.
  2. Learning Platforms tend to be SaaS (software as a service) offerings, based in a public or private cloud on multi-tenant designs. Rather than being viewed as an enterprise application to be set up as a customized instance for each institution, there is a shared platform that supports multiple customers, leveraging a shared technology stack, database, and application web services.
  3. Learning Platforms are intended to support and interoperate with multiple learning and social applications, and not just as extensions to the enterprise system, but as a core design consideration.
  4. Learning Platforms are designed around the learner, giving a sense of identify that is maintained throughout the learning lifecycle. Learners are not just pre-defined roles with access levels within each course, but central actors in the system design.
  5. Learning Platforms therefore are social in nature, supporting connections between learners and customization of content based on learner needs.
  6. Learning Platforms include built-in analytics based on the amalgamation of learner data across courses, across institutions, and even beyond institutions.
  7. Learning Platforms allow for the discovery of instructional content, user-generated content, and of other learners.

We should be careful not to view learning platforms as a panacea and that they have all of these characteristics. However, I hope this list of hallmarks can help describe learning platforms at least in terms of our known enterprise LMS markets.

What are your thoughts on the definition and hallmarks of learning platforms?

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About Phil Hill

Phil is a consultant and industry analyst covering the educational technology market primarily for higher education. He has written for e-Literate since Aug 2011. For a more complete biography, view his profile page.
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6 Responses to What is a Learning Platform?

  1. Whenever this question arises, I always refer back to Jonathan Mott’s Open Learning Network concept.


    I think the key is the personal publishing platform. Students should own their own space, and extend learning outside of the walled garden of the LMS.

    BTW, as an aside, has there ever been an LMS that actually succeeded in “managing learning”, because that looks like a paradox to me, as if an instructor could fill students with learning. Just sayin’!

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