How to choose an online system for your online orientation

A laptop sitting on a chair partially open, glowing, in the dark

One of the first decisions you’ll make when creating an online orientation program is choosing which platform you will use to host the program. For many people, this is a decision that they fall into, rather than consciously make after thinking through all the options. But even if you think you already know the platform you’ll be using, I would encourage you to take some time to think through all of the options. The platform can impact usability, access, assessment, the types of activities available, cost, and more, so it’s an important decision!

Generally, there are three categories that the platform used to host online orientation programs fall into: a website, the institution’s learning management system (LMS), or a software product.

 FeatureWebsiteLMSSoftware product
Content type: TextYesYesYes
Content type: ImagesYesYesYes
Content type: VideoYesYesYes
Content type: PollsNoYesYes
Content type: QuizzesNoYesYes
LoginNoYesYes
Track individual user behaviourNoYesYes
Tailored contentNoYesYes
Plays with other programsSomeMostUnlikely
CostLowLowHigh

Content type

Most websites, LMSs, and software platforms allow you to easily add content in the form of text, images, or embedded videos. An LMS of software platform will typically also allow you to create polls, quizzes, and other types of assessment. While polls and quizzes are possible in a website, it would require embedding or linking to something that has been created using a separate tool.

Login

To access an online orientation program created as a website, a learner would generally not need to login, as the site would be widely available to the public. For an online orientation program created in a learning management system or software product, a login would generally be required, and the program would not be available to the public. Depending on the LMS or software product used, it may be possible to create a guest login that can be used by folks who are not students; this is generally easier for a software product than an LMS.

Track individual user behaviour

A website generally does not allow you to track individual behaviour; analytics such as page views, time on page, etc. are only available in aggregate. This means that if an online orientation program is created as a website, it is impossible to determine how many students completed the program, or if an individual student viewed certain topics or activities. Both the LMS and most software products can track individual behaviour. Choosing these platforms for your online orientation program means you can determine how many students completed the program, which topics were most popular, the amount of time students spent in the system, and you can determine what an individual student completed, if needed.

Tailored content

Often, when creating an online orientation program, we may want certain content pieces to be available only to a subset of students. For example, only international students need to see the content related to study permits and Canadian banking, and online students probably don’t need to be taught how to navigate campus. While a website may allow you to label or section off content for specific groups, it doesn’t allow you to hide it altogether. Both the LMS and most software platforms do allow for this functionality.

Plays with other programs

In reality, all three platform options are quite limited when it comes to creating interactive content. Even relatively simple activities, such as scenario-based activities, matching games, and flashcards are often not possible using just the functionality of the platform. Luckily, other tools exist that can create these types of activities, such as Articulate 365, H5P, Kaltura, and more. While you would need to check for your particular circumstances, most websites and learning management systems allow you to embed Articulate, H5P and Kaltura content. These other tools are least likely to be able to be embedded within an online orientation platform created by an external company, as there is no real benefit to the company to do so. 

Cost

For most student affairs professionals, cost will be a critical factor when deciding what type of platform to choose. A website is generally a low-cost option, as most institutions already have the infrastructure required to create a website. One factor to keep in mind if you plan to create an online orientation program as a website is that this website should be visually different from the main institutional website in order to give it an identity as a distinct program; this branding may incur some additional costs. Building your program using your institution’s LMS will also generally be low cost, as the system and support already exist at your institution. If you plan to use any additional software tools to create interactive content types to embed in the LMS, you may occur some additional costs. Using an external software platform is undoubtedly the most expensive option, as you will have to pay an external vendor. Most companies have both a start-up fee and an annual fee, so you will continue to pay as long as your program continues to exist.

The system you choose to host your online orientation program depends on your needs and your vision for the program. But I highly encourage you to think through your options before you make a decision… because you definitely don’t want to have to create the program twice!


References

Chan, M. (2017). Have you been oriented? An analysis of New Student Orientation and E-Orientation programs. College and University, 92(2), 12–25.


Featured image by Michał Kubalczyk on Unsplash

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