Online University: Today’s Ten Most Important eLearning Platforms

Students today have unparalleled access to college, thanks in part to the rise of online education programs offered by public and private not-for-profit universities and colleges.

What most students don’t see is the behinds-the-scenes work that goes into developing functional virtual classrooms. Colleges and professors could not manage online courses without eLearning platforms. By ensuring seamless communication and providing the tools for educators to create engaging, web-driven content, these platforms have helped set the pace for higher education in the 21st century.

By using the latest technology, including high-quality video streaming, smart phones, collaboration tools, and interactive websites, many of today’s online classrooms rival the best that brick-and-mortar schools have to offer. To make this web-based programming work seamlessly, online classrooms run on eLearning platforms. The following are the largest, most innovative, and most popular platforms available today and are used across the globe to bring higher education to millions of students.


The eLearning platform Aplia was built on the premise that student engagement and performance will improve if assignments, grading, and feedback occur regularly. This is borne out by the fact that nearly 90% of instructors who have used Aplia report that it has positively impacted their students’ performance. Instructors choose Aplia because it offers automatic grading of assignments and allows students to access practice questions and tutorials. Nearly five million students have submitted over one billion answer pages since Aplia was introduced in 2002.

Aplia continues to grow in popularity, with streamlined grading available in more than 20 disciplines, using over 200 different textbooks. As with other college expenses, students pay for Aplia, not teachers or schools, and many teachers now assign Aplia in place of textbooks.


Offering four learning management tools in one, Atutor is a free, open source platform designed to help educators manage courses, content, networking, and accessibility. Released in 2002, Atutor allows instructors to create and deliver courses, and content is easily packaged and distributed. Students highly rate its accessible, social online classrooms.

The content authoring tool of Atutor, Acontent, is available as a stand-alone platform that works with other IMS content systems. Similarly, its networking module, AtutorSocial, is also available as a stand-alone social networking system to support profiles and groups. A separate module, Achecker, helps site administrators ensure that content is accurate and accessible.


Founded in 1997, Blackboard boasts 20 million daily users on its seven platforms. Designed to make everyday tasks more efficient, Blackboard Learn helps students collaborate, study on the go, and easily access grades, assignments, events, and deadlines. Teachers use the platform to communicate, create and post class content, grade assignments, and offer feedback.

Administrators and professors can also produce performance data with Blackboard Learn’s Outcomes Assessment tool. Blackboard Collaborate creates virtual classrooms with features like web conferencing and mobile collaboration, and Blackboard is now compatible with the majority of devices in the mobile market, meaning students and teachers are able to access their materials from anywhere. Blackboard platform costs are determined according to the number of full-time enrollments at a given institution, but personal licenses are available for as low as $5.99 for the mobile version.


Since its introduction in 2001, the open source platform Claroline has been used by over 2,000 organizations in over 100 countries and is functional in a variety of languages. It can be downloaded and used for free, and is scalable and can be broken into its component modules. Claroline’s platform drives learning by providing a variety of ways for students to participate and comes equipped with forums and student-to-student messaging.

Instructors can use Claroline to support everything from creation of course descriptions to assignment and attendance management. It has won praise for its intuitive design and ease of navigation, as well as a robust support team.


A leader in cloud-based learning, Desire2Learn has taught over eight million students through its 700 clients using its collaborative platform. With its Learning Suite, Desire2Learn produces personalized and intuitive content and students with mobile capability are able to access course materials at any place or time.

Instructors can set up a course quickly, since Desire2Learn platforms are ready-made and easy to use. Resources are easily shared using its full-text search capability and drag-and-drop options.


Aimed at administrators as well as teachers, HotChalk offers a one-stop-shop for establishing an online degree program. HotChalk is a fee-based platform that works with a program’s existing brand to manage online marketing and recruitment campaigns and foster high enrollment. Student achievement is tracked and monitored to ensure positive student outcomes and meet accreditation requirements. HotChalk also provides professional development for teachers and administrators so all users are fully trained in the system. Faculty can take advantage of the platform’s ability to transform existing classes into online content while preserving academic integrity, or create entirely new classes to be delivered online.


Free and openly sourced under a GNU license, this modular object-oriented dynamic learning environment is the product of hundreds of coders, testers, and document writers led by Moodle HQ. Moodle boasts nearly 70 million users from over 200 countries, and over one million instructors have taught more than seven million courses using the platform.

Some instructors employ Moodle only for class communication, using it to build wikis or house class forums. Others use the platform to support an entire online course. With Moodle, many highly rated schools are reporting increased online course enrollment and decreased costs.


Both a collaborative learning tool and a management system, RCampus offers comprehensive eLearning services. While some of the premium organizational tools for RCampus must be paid for, individual instructors can use basic tools for free. The easy-to-use system requires no downloading, and instructors can set up and manage online classrooms immediately after establishing an account.

RCampus facilitates collaborative learning through websites, communities, and online courses. Multiple teachers can build an intercampus group, and a single instructor can manage multiple classes with one login. RCampus’ platform is secure, and teachers’ and students’ personal data is not sold, shared, or published.


Two eLearning platforms are offered by Sakai: OAE and CLE. Released in October 2012, Sakai OAE spans institutions and other learning platforms, encouraging shared resources and open teaching across schools and borders. Content is open to remixing and sharing by all participants.

Sakai CLE helps instructors manage learning through content creation, classroom management, and centralized communication. Assignments can be created, posted, graded, and distributed online and discussion forums, blogs, e-mails, and news are all supported. Over four million people have tried Sakai CLE and interested users can try it online for free through its affiliates.


Developed in 2012 by the Agile Knowledge Engineering and Semantic Web (AKSW) research group, SlideWiki is a crowdsourcing platform that fosters collaborative creation and presentation sharing. SlideWiki provides users with the opportunity to discuss ongoing presentations while merging and forking them. This is similar to the collaboration that takes place in any number of other teaching tools, but on SlideWiki this process is focused on specific classroom presentations and projects. One of the difficulties with online programs to date has been the coordination of group work, but SlideWiki addresses that problem free of charge and although this platform is not as commonly used as others listed here, this tool is agile and will likely continue to be adopted by online institutions.