05 December, 2012

Using Liferay Portal as an e-Learning Platform

How to use Liferay Portal 6.x to help deliver digital training to your organization affordably and effectively.

Our goal is to show you how Liferay Portal can be used to build a facility where trainees or students are able to undertake
structured, sequenced coursework
under the supervision and assessment of managers and mentors.

Why Liferay?

Liferay Portal does not ship as an e-Learning product, but it does provide
a solid foundation for one:
·          Strong CMS (content management) functionality: its user, role and community
facilities are already well suited to this task.
·          Attractive set of collaboration portlets (wikis, discussion boards, blogs etc) that ship
with the portal.
·          Easily extensible thanks to JSR-168/286 compliance.

Liferay Portal is capable of delivering many of the facilities offered by existing e-Learning products such as Blackboard or Moodle without the associated costs or troubles.
Filling in the Gaps

Liferay Portal is clearly missing some functionality when it comes to achieving our initial goal:
“... a facility where trainees or students are able to undertake structured, sequenced coursework under the supervision and assessment of managers or mentors”
Our priority in conceiving this e-Learning platform is to maximally take advantage of whatever functionality is offered to us by Liferay Portal (or third-party extensions).
Functionalities that are lacking in Liferay Portal:
·          A facility for students/trainees to undertake exercises or ‘lessons’.
·          Facilities for course administrators and supervisors to monitor progress and undertake assessment of completed exercises.
·          A way to implement a community-module-exercise hierarchical structure (Liferay Portal communities cannot really do this natively).

The Exercise Facility
Most exercises you can think of can be thought of as forms, sometimes extended with different types of content content (audio, video, images etc).
To deliver all form-based coursework, we use the MyOffice24x7 SmartForms, which features:
Form generation from XML documents based on a powerful and flexible 
schema - use only what you need.
Dynamic field, dependency and complex validation capabilities.
Secure data persistence options.
Comprehensive configuration in both behavioural and visual aspects.
PDF generation capability (just answers, reports, whatever you can think of).
Workflow capability ... and much more.

Reporting and Assessment Facility
Supervisors and Managers should be able to:
·          View the progress of a cohort on both module and exercise levels.
·          View responses submitted by trainees/students.
·          Be able to grade exercises and submit assessment comments.
To achieve this functionality we developed the Training Progress Summary Portlet, which fetches completion
data from active exercises, granting supervisor-type users those functionalities.

Extending Liferay with Hierarchies
Ideally, we want to be able to have a portal structure that resembles something like:

We can use the MyOffice24x7 MyPlaces Portlet to allow the portal administrator to define relationships between communities.

This also provides users with a navigation tool that allows them to easily move between communities of which they are a member.

In such a structure users can belong to multiple department-level communities, which is not possible with native communities.

This part  just involves creating the skeleton for the training material before sticking in the material itself:

·          Create relevant communities within your departmental community (training, supervision).

·          Configure hierarchy using the MyPlaces Portlet.

·          Create pages for distinct modules within that community.
·          Create pages for distinct exercises within that module.
·          Configure permissions for all the relevant users and groups – supervisors, trainees, mentors etc.

The development of the training content itself is done principally using the Survey Portlet.
Once an exercise is deployed, the Training Progress Summary Portlet needs to be configured to include
the newly created coursework.
By this stage, the training area should be fully operational, having met all of our
goals that we set out to meet initially.
Improvements (aka Coming Soon)

Some improvements that are in the works for this inception of e-Learning include:

·          Auto-population of communities, pages and portlets based on a course structure-and-sequence XML package (similar to to SCORM packaging).
·          Closer and hopefully more powerful integration of Liferay content types (web content, blogs etc) with the Survey model.
·          Custom schema for the Survey Portlet to optimise development of training materials.
amongst other things, but we look forward to your suggestions especially.
If Interested...
If you wish to find out more about using Liferay Portal as an e-Learning platform, or would like a demo/test deployment, please contact us:  via web at http://www.myoffice24x7.com/contact-us or via email at info@myoffice24x7.com
You can find our range of ready-to-go Liferay Portal applications (including many of those used here) at
www.myoffice24x7.com  in a variety of licensing schemes to suit businesses of any size.

                                                                           By :
Philippa Thomson

Genral Manager

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