Ask the Connected Learning Advisory: online platforms

Issue: Volume 95, Number 6

Posted: 11 April 2016
Reference #: 1H9d18

The Ministry of Education’s Connected Learning Advisory is committed to supporting schools and clusters as they plan for, manage and use digital technologies for learning. This month we look at considerations to make when choosing an online platform for your school.

Online Platforms – the Why

The main online platforms used in New Zealand schools are Microsoft Office 365 and Google Apps for Education.

Schools often ask, “Which platform should we choose?”

However, the better question might be, “Why should we choose an online platform at all?”

“Our vision is for young people who will be confident, connected, actively involved, and lifelong learners.” The New Zealand Curriculum

There is growing evidence to suggest that learner-centred approaches promote the development of critical thinking, problem solving, and the ability to work collaboratively with others.

This is consistent with the key competencies of The New Zealand Curriculum/Te Marautanga o Aotearoa.

In Alive in the Swamp(external link) Michael Fullan and Katelyn Donnelly suggest that ‘technology acts as an enabler to make learning quicker, clearer and better,’ and online platforms which are well-designed, intuitive and based on the needs of students and their learning will provide digital tools that are ‘participatory, engaging, co-creative and collaborative.’

“Rather than using technology to do old things in new ways, it is about doing new things in new ways”Enabling e-Learning(external link)

The choice of platform should flow on from your vision for your learners.

Consider first what you are trying to achieve for your learners, and the platform then becomes an agent of change. It prompts teachers to examine how the technology can support learning and leads to a shift in thinking about their practice.

Read some of the stories on Enabling e-Learning(external link) to find out how learning has been transformed using online platforms.

Once you have clear ideas about how the platform can support learning in your school, consider these points to support you in making your decision about which platform to choose.


The platform should provide easy access and use of tools to aid learning and teaching for all. It needs to be engaging, adaptable, connective, and easy to access on any device at any time.

Technical support and costs

  • Initial technical configuration
  • How easy the platform is to initially set up
  • What ongoing maintenance is necessary
  • How well the platform operates alongside and integrates with other systems such as your SMS and other software you use
  • Security of data.

Platform capabilities

  • Range and suitability of software available
  • Ease of collaboration
  • Speed to log-in and use
  • Compatibility with touch interfaces on devices for writing, drawing and annotating
  • How does the platform support all learners? Eg, read/write functionality, text to speech.

Professional learning

Ongoing professional development for all staff to develop their capabilities cannot be underestimated or undervalued. How can you maximise the expertise you already have in school to provide ongoing support for teachers and develop sustainability?


Consider what other schools and communities of learning in your area use. How will students adapt as they move from primary to intermediate to secondary school? How easily can evidence of student learning be transferred between schools?

School administration

Online platforms work across the whole school and it is important to address the needs of administrative staff too. How will your choice of platform impact on the work and professional learning needs of the finance department, office staff, caretaking staff? All staff members need to be included in discussions and in ongoing training and support.

Is it possible to run two platforms?

Some schools run two systems, but it requires careful thought and management from both a technical and pedagogical point of view to run them successfully.

It is important to be clear what the benefits of running two platforms are. Consider how a dual system will benefit your learners and support their learning? What are the risks involved in running two platforms?

Adults who are comfortable with a product may find it challenging to move away from it and will need support to switch between platforms.

While students can be quite adept at selecting and using the right tool for the right purpose and easily switch between platforms, too much variety can lead to confusion. This could be a barrier to learning.

Do your research

  • Hands-on trialling with students and staff is essential
  • Talk to other schools, join the VLN discussions and read a range of reviews
  • Evaluate each platform against your chosen criteria
  • Contact the Advisory for support.

The Ministry of Education funds a range of software packages for schools which includes Microsoft Office 365 (Education website(external link)).

Contact the Connected Learning Advisory

The Advisory is supporting hundreds of schools as they make strategic decisions related to learning with digital technologies.

If you have a query about integrating technology with teaching and learning, or you want to suggest a topic for this column, contact the Connected Learning Advisory:

Phone: 0800 700 400
Connected Learning Advisory | Te Ara Whītiki - E-learning TKI(external link)

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 1:21 pm, 11 April 2016

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