Case Studies

JA Canada Partners With eThink Education to Support a New Business Model by Bringing In-Person Courses into a Digital Format

By September 8, 2020 No Comments
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About JA Canada

Junior Achievement (JA) Canada is the largest youth business education organization in Canada with a network of offices (charters) in every province serving educators and youth from coast to coast. JA Canada works in partnership with educators, volunteers, and businesses to educate students about financial literacy, work readiness, and entrepreneurship. 

Goals & Challenges

When JA Canada originally began looking for Learning Management System (LMS) solutions, their goal was to build a platform to house program resources and support volunteer facilitators in delivering the JA Canada curriculum to young people across Canada in classroom settings 

In 2019, their previous LMS vendor informed them that they would no longer be supporting their platform, which gave JA Canada the push they needed to look for a solution more tailored to their needs. Their previous platform was built to replace an original file drop box they had created several years ago, but it still left much to be desired in terms of true LMS capabilities.  

“It worked well for the short term,” said Andre Gallant, Director of Programs and Charter Services at JA Canada. “We created multimedia resources that volunteers could use in their programs and presentations. It was a great step in the right direction, but within about a year of having that platform online we started reaching the limits of the system in terms of the ability to do quizzes, add interactivity, etc.” 

Over time, the JA team also noticed a decrease in the support they had originally experienced with their platform provider. With the lifecycle of their learning platform coming to an end, the team began a multi-level digital transformation process with the help of a consulting agency. For their LMS specifically, JA had a wish list of features they wanted in their next platform that would better allow them to provide a best-in-class experience to volunteers through the site. JA Canada’s wish list included: 

  • Simple course building and maintenance processes 
  • Ease of adding and managing users 
  • Ability to incorporate interactive elements and quizzes 
  • Compatibility with H5P software to easily create content 

The JA team also leaned heavily towards an open-source LMS solution due to its ease of use. “Open-source software is often built by the people that use it,” said Andre. “As a result, itends to be very feature-rich, especially in the back end. Back end experience is important for us and that was challenging with our previous platform. It looked good to our external users, but it was very difficult to work on from the back end.”   

Overall, the JA team wanted a flexible platform that could meet a variety of needs, allowing them to expand beyond the boundaries of their current platform, and they wanted the help of an informed partner to assist them in building their new LMS. 

Moodle, the world’s most widely used LMS, checked all of the boxes on JA’s wish list and, as an open-source platform, offered a high level of flexibility when it came to choosing the ideal eLearning partner to build, host, and support their new LMS instance. JA Canada chose to partner with eThink Education, Certified Premium Moodle Partner and 2019 Moodle North America Partner of the Year, due to their service-first approach and high level of eLearning expertise. 

Soon after eThink and JA began working on the platform, the main goals of the project changed dramatically with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent restrictions and lockdowns. As in-person teaching was no longer an option for JA Canada volunteers, the organization needed to rapidly deploy self-directed online program offerings for students so learners could continue to access JA programs despite the inability for volunteers to enter physical classrooms.  

Solutions

Accelerated Launch 

Within two and a half weeks of shifting their focus to online programs, JA Canada and eThink were able to build and launch a beta version of the new platform that provided students with a self-directed learning experience. The site’s launch had been moved up a full three months and all the new self-paced programs for students were created by the JA team in just a few weeks.  

“When we started this project, our original intent was to take our resources for volunteers off the previous platform and move them to Moodle to provide a similar (but better) experience,” said Karen Gallant, Vice President of Programs and Charter Services at JA Canada. “However, with COVID-19 and the shutdown of schools we could no longer do in-person programs for our students, so we had to shift our business model a couple years ahead of schedule to rapidly develop online programs in conjunction with our charter offices. We made our four main programs into self-directed programs and created an online volunteer/teacher-led program all in two and a half weeks.”   

eThink worked closely with the JA team to quickly design the new platform to support students more directly as opposed to just volunteers, effectively allowing them to implement a new business model in order to adjust to the global pandemic. With the LMS now targeting a new, younger audience, eThink and JA Canada made sure the site design was easy to navigate and it provided transparent learning paths for both students and volunteers.  

An example of a student-focused activity in a JA Canada course. 

An example of a volunteer course. 

Self-Registration & Privacy 

The self-paced programs offered by JA Canada are completely free for students, and they can self-enroll directly through the Moodle site for a streamlined registration process that provides immediate access to course materials. eThink also developed unique privacy screens to meet JA’s standards that required students younger than 13 to include a guardian in the registration process. 

H5P Integration 

H5P, an open-source interactive content creation plugin, gave JA Canada an easy tool to help them create interactive content in their courses. Due to Moodle’s open framework, eThink was able to easily integrate the H5P plugin into the Moodle site so the JA team could quickly begin building out their self-directed courses. 

“Within a month, we had 14 programs up on the Moodle platform in some version and that was really made possible by the simplicity of building courses in Moodle,” said Andre. “I was able to put together a one-hour training seminar for our team on how to use H5P and then our staff was able to really quickly build courses on the site.” 

Local Charter Mapping 

JA Canada designed a unique, interactive map that eThink embedded in the Moodle site’s homepage that provides volunteers and students with a better understanding of their closest JA charter. The map thus provides an additional support for the sign-up process as users can easily identify their corresponding charter office based on their physical location.  

JA Canada’s mapping feature. 

Custom Reporting Capabilities 

eThink built out a series of standard reports based on JA Canada’s needs so that data can easily be pulled from the new LMS and student progress can be effectively tracked. This includes national level reporting and charter level reporting for the individual offices. The reporting allows JA’s Charter offices to track student numbers and progress locallyand JA Canada’s office to do the same country wide. 

Fully-Managed, High-Touch LMS Hosting & Support 

The accelerated implementation timeline made eThink’s high-touch LMS support model an important benefit to the JA team. With their fully-managed model, eThink took care of all heavy lifting on the back end including hosting, integrations, and more, while ensuring that JA’s team was aware of the progress during every step of their new site’s implementation. 

“During implementation, the communication was great,” said Andre. “We opened 50 tickets in a month and all of our questions were answered quickly or engaged with while the eThink team looked for answers.” 

As an Amazon Web Services (AWS) Advanced Technology Partner, eThink hosts JA Canada’s site on AWS, the leading cloud platform. eThink’s AWS hosting provides a secure cloud services environment that offers computing power, database storage, content delivery, and other functionality, and offers JA Canada a strong foundation for future innovation. 

eThink not only helped build the physical site, but they acted as a resource for the JA team as they embarked on their journey to create fully online programs for the first time. Without the pressure of grades or attendance to ensure students stayed engaged in the courses, JA consulted with eThink to brainstorm how they could make their platform more engaging for a young audience.  

“We wanted to make Moodle kid-friendly,” said Andre. “eThink helped us envision how we could engage young people on the platform and how the programs could be bright, lively, and have lots of visual flair.” 

An engaging program activity in JA Canada’s site. 

eThink worked with JA to design a visually engaging and kid-friendly platform to ensure it would provide the best learning experience possible for their students. 

Results 

Ability to serve a wider community 

JA Canada’s new Moodle platform by eThink has allowed them to continue to provide programs to their learners through the pandemic and allows them to serve a far wider community of students than they were previously reaching. “Without being able to launch the LMS, we wouldn’t have been able to deliver any programs between March and June, which would have resulted in thousands of students missing out on learning about financial literacy and work readiness,” said Karen.  

With their in-person volunteer-led initiatives, JA Canada was reaching about 7% of Canadian students, but the new platform brings them one step closer to providing their programs to the remaining 93% of students. It had always been a long-term goal for JA Canada to offer programs online, but the COVID-19 pandemic greatly accelerated their timeline. Now that the programs are up and running, students who were not in areas with volunteer facilitators will be able to continue to access programs, even when volunteers can enter schools again. 

“For quite a while our traditional model has provided some constraints,” said Karen. “It was more and more difficult to find volunteers that can take the day off to get into a classroom and, with COVID, volunteers were not even able to get into the classroom. What we are looking at for the coming year is a whole range of possibilities, but with the investment in our LMS and the support of the eThink team we have something that will work with all the possible scenarios. We are trying to leverage Moodle to expand our reach and adapt to every possible scenario that we might face.” 

Moving forward, online programs will make it easier to incorporate JA Canada’s program into school curriculums as well. Teachers can now assign programs as homework and the repository of volunteer information and training courses on the site means that more community members and teachers can train as volunteers to bring the programs to new groups of students in person 

Security against future unknowns 

With their new highly adaptable Moodle platform by eThink, JA Canada can continue to improve and expand their platform as they see fit. With the help of eThink and Moodle’s flexible open-source platform, JA Canada can adapt their site to whatever the future brings in terms of the programs they offer, audience reach, site organization, and much more.  

“We like to say we are currently on version 1.0,” said Karen. “We will continue to look at ways to make the experience better. I see eThink helping us further refine these programs and continue to enhance the platform.” 

Not only is their platform future-proofed against unknowns, but with their new online programs, JA Canada’s business model is now more adaptable to change. With uncertainty around when volunteers may be able to get back into classrooms, JA Canada is still able to offer their programs and attract new funding.  With the ability to access new markets in the form of online, self-paced courses, they have also seen an increase in organic traction from new communities resulting in 5,000 new user accounts being created in the first two and a half months of their LMS being live. 

Conclusion & Future Plans 

JA Canada’s new Moodle site has provided them with the ability to continue to serve students despite disruptions to volunteer-led classroom sessions and their transition online has allowed them to expand their reach to more communities. The JA team has also been able to identify some future goals now that their new site is up and running.  

With the trackable learning available in Moodle, they are hoping to find ways to enhance the learning experience for students by incorporating elements like badging or micro-credentialing.  

“Now that we have self-directed programs and we can monitor students on an individual basis, we are looking at badging and micro-credentialing,” said Karen. “We are also looking at the possibility of some gamification, rewards, and other elements. Our new LMS and partnership with eThink allows us to have new ways to approach our programs and rethink how we do things.”   

JA Canada has also seen an increased number of organizations that are interested in sharing content so that different groups and more learners can access their informative material. Additionally, JA is hoping to continue to fine tune their platform’s integrations with their other digital systems as a part of their larger digital transformation.  

With eThink, JA Canada can continue to adapt and improve their platform to best serve their students and volunteers, while furthering their mission to help youth succeed in the global economy. 

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