Building an online learning environment that does not suck

February 13, 2017 by Topi Litmanen

When looking for engaging collaboration, enjoyable user experience and advanced analytics, few of us would head for an online learning environment. What does it take to change this?

#Teacher first

Let’s face it. Most online learning environments are built for teachers. This makes sense. Teachers provide the setting for learning together with the faculty administration. These Learning Management Systems (LMS) are the things you use while studying either in a school, university or workplace to access course materials and return assignments.

Unfortunately, there are many things that don’t work with online learning. The promises have been great, but results have varied to say the least. Attachments, tests, horrible user interfaces, confusing settings and individual work and mostly silent the discussion forums are the causing students to alienate and eventually to drop out.

#A disruptive approach

What would happen if we started with the learner. For a year now I have been working at Claned, where we strive to do just this. These are some of the key approaches I personally find our driving forces.

  • Learner first. At the moment, our customers are companies and educational institutions. And the people who make the decision whether to buy our product are either teachers or management. On first thought, you might want to narrow your focus on making them happy. But in the end, the learner effort and engagement will solve what is learnt. And therefore, we first build tools for the learner. This is done by combining learning research with modern web usability. And after this we think about what are the teacher tools to enable fruitful learning.

  • Learning analytics. We use a set of real time analytics to analyze the learning materials and track what students are engaged in. We don’t use this information to give you advertisement. Rather, we give the teacher and students a view into the learning process. What are the topics students have been focusing on? Are there students in need of support? What kind of collaboration is emerging?

  • Social learning. Web courses average in one discussion forum post per student per week. Doesn’t sound like much. And it isn’t. We have been able to increase that rate many times. We don’t have discussion forums. Rather we use commenting features borrowed from social media. This means users are already familiar with. We have found that making any learning material interactive and adding comments to specific points in text or videos leads to lively collaboration. 

I know that this is only a scratch at the surface. I will be diving into these in more detail later.

#Wide range of online learning 

Our customers represent a wide range of fields including dance education, interaction skills, ice skating, higher education and different settings of professional development. Before I joined Claned I had no idea about the variety of needs eLearning could be used to solve. What the customers have in common is that they want to offer their participants in an active learning and knowledge building experience.

In this blog I will be demonstrating how Claned customers have been successful in implementing eLearning. I want to go through concrete cases to demonstrate how our customers have been able to offer engaging online learning. Hopefully this will help others to implement these solutions into their own settings.


I work for Claned and have a personal interest in the company’s success. In my experience, this is a very delicate thing in education. Please read with caution and criticism in mind (as you should when reading any text anywhere).

Topi Litmanen

Dr Topi Litmanen works as a Chief Educational Scientist in Claned Group. He is responsible for ensuring, that the pedagogical aspects of the Claned are based on latest learning research. Topi makes sure that Claned customers get the needed support for meeting their digital learning needs.

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