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What it takes to shift an entire learning ecosystem online

In light of the Covid-19 pandemic and responding to the urgent needs of students in lockdown, change is being expedited. Earlier this year, Aula partnered with Coventry University to do something that no other university of its size has done before.

Mobile-first remote learning that fosters a student community is key, says Krohn. Photo: Andrea Piacquadio/ Pexels

A process that would ordinarily take at least months, if not years, will be delivered within five weeks

The university is moving away from their virtual learning environment (VLE) and shifting their students to Aula’s Learning Experience Platform.

From September 2020, 40,000 students from courses across the Coventry University Group will be using our platform to support their studies.

“Rethinking digital learning to position conversation at the core of online experiences is important”

Our network of Learning Designers are currently transforming modules into online learning experiences that put the learner community at the core of every learning experience, ready for the May intake.

A process that would ordinarily take at least months, if not years, will be delivered within five weeks. Without the option to study online in this way, Coventry’s May cohort, many of whom are international students, would have otherwise been forced to cancel or defer their studies.

Ensuring access to online learning communities, meeting the expectations of learners and replicating technologies that are intuitive and familiar to them is more urgent than ever.

Moving courses online is a shift that predates Covid-19. Universities have invested time and money into their digital learning experience for the past decades, with varying degrees of success.

One of the most common misconceptions is the idea that moving a course online is a matter of uploading lecture slides to the VLE in a way that imitates moving materials from a physical filing cabinet to a virtual one.

The reality is that it is not enough to “just put courses online” as this is unlikely to enable the engaging learning experiences students are expecting from a university degree.

In this light, the “new normal” for Coventry is an acceleration of the arrival of the learner expectations of the future, demanding a rethink of the digital learning landscape. 

Creating compelling learning experiences for students online requires learning (re)design for the digital age. An essential aspect of in-person learning is conversation.

This includes both the formal aspects (public educator Q&As; guided discussions; project work) and informal aspects (peer conversations over coffee; special interest groups).

Rethinking digital learning to position conversation at the core of online experiences is important for two reasons: firstly, it fosters a community for learners, in which they can explore and discuss ideas with their peers and educators; secondly, it supports students in developing a sense of belonging, which is intrinsically connected to student satisfaction, success and retention. 

“A sense of belonging is intrinsically connected to student satisfaction, success and retention”

Traditional VLEs can present pedagogical barriers to active learning approaches and community building.

As Andrew Turner, pro-vice chancellor for Teaching and Learning at Coventry University, says: “Aula is mobile-first making it easily accessible for students, especially those who may not have access to laptops at home. It is also simple for our academic staff to use and will help us recreate the feel of face-to-face teaching, to strengthen students’ learning communities.”

Learn more about Aula replacing the VLE at Coventry here.

Anders Krohn is CEO and co-founder of Aula, as well as a member of the board of governors at London Metropolitan University. Previously, he was co-founder of Project Access, a global widening participation charity.


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