A few video platforms have become the de facto interface of distanced learning. Millions of diverse users are jumping in, often without much choice. A broader look reveals a world of ingenuity and niche plays. Here, we hope you at least wonder: Could I be missing out on a groundbreaking and not-to-miss feature?
Below we sort the platforms that are shaping online learning today. But before, we discuss some of the salient features and what they mean. There is no one best platform for all cases, so check and rank the features you care about. Then you can find your ideal match.
To be sure, we are not advocating for video reliance in online learning. Highly effective, video-free elearning is demonstrably possible. But when it comes to video experience, there are some key factors to consider, and a lot of potential.
A cavalcade, or few things done right? What to look for in a video platform
Not two virtual classrooms are equal. From budgets, to demographics, the selection of a video platform demands a level of understanding of the current educational problems at the institutional and human level. And there is also a word to raise about moral imperatives, the people and causes behind the technology. What are you supporting —or should you— as user, consumer or advocate?
Playback and Accessibility
Having said that, there is a basic level of functionality that should be expected from any platform worth considering in 2020. One of them is the ability to reproduce and watch videos. As basic as it sounds, platforms that treat the window player, play/pause buttons and scrollbars like an afterthought are all too common.
For a considerable groups of users, the discussion on functionality is moot without considering accessibility issues. From basic compliance to existing guidelines such as WCAG, to hands-on approaches that go beyond ticking boxes, there is a wide variety of approaches among those platforms who assume the responsibility of leaving no one behind. Advocates of inclusive design would tell you it does not matter whether you have students with any form of impairment. Using a platform that cares about accessibility means the development team will have more resources to address the needs of those who have them.
Standing out in Accessibility: BigBlueButton, Echo360, uQualio, Warpwire
Hosting and offline access
Another core feature is hosting video files, whether existing files uploaded to the service, or video captured by the platform itself made available to users at a later time. Hosting on a basic technical requirement —having some place where to store video files that can be accessed at a later time— is an almost universal capability among platforms. But once again, the experience of storing and retrieving video files can vary among platforms, which may be more reflective of quality and user focus than a philosophical standpoint.
Hosts that come out on top: Kaltura, Panopto
Related, but on a different level of technical requirements and use case scenario, is the ability to provide offline access to video files to watch in situations of limited, null or expensive connectivity. Short of letting you download any videos to your device to watch using your favorite player —which would compromise the solution on the security and privacy rubric— providing offline access almost makes a companion app a necessity.
Offline rulers: Echo360, Warpwire
Live video and recording
A year ago, there appeared to be a clear division between video conference platforms and video “everything else.” Also, large institutions felt a more prescient need for the latter ones. Oh how the turntables have spun. The world flocked to Zoom, and soon enough the need for the full set of features started to become clear. Still, live videoconferencing features became one of the fastest commodities in the space, and despite the —worrying?— number of shortcomings, Zoom has proven that we can more or less rely on them.
Recording would represent a different feature, had it not been similarly commoditized and present in every platform in our survey.
Videoconferencing oligarchs: Zoom, Microsoft Teams, BigBlueButton
Live interactivity features
It became unanimously clear enough that, while video streaming needed to get done right, it does not make up for a face-to-face learning experience, let alone a better crafted interactive experience. But this was a well-known fact by veterans in the educational video business.
Uncontested example in engaging video sessions: BigBlueButton
Broadcasting (Public live streaming)
In parallel to the transition of classroom activities into the video interface, the world’s events and conferences experienced a similar fate. In the elearning world, conferences played a vital role of offering experience exchanges and networking opportunities. Some of the largest ones would offer live video for those around the world unable to attend. Now, this has been the only option for the vast majority of gatherings.
Interestingly enough, this has become a welcome challenge for the organizers, often elearning vendors or support and service providers, to dogfeeding themselves and prove to audiences many times the size of face-to-face attendees whether they knew what they were talking about. This has made integration with popular platforms like YouTube and Facebook Live a desirable feature, that would simplify the technical setup of conferences.
Facebook Live, YouTube et al ready platforms: Zoom, Jitsi, Opencast, OBS Project
Security, privacy and protection
A bit of mea culpa is in order, as this set of features might be better at the top of the list given the chasm between importance and awareness.
Representative of the IT world at large, some platforms had launched catering to what used to be a niche market. But while we may not need law enforcement agency-level protocols for secure communications and storage, longer times and higher volumes of video activity and data means more exposure to risks and malicious actors. Thus, better protocols are needed.
Analytics and reporting
Another set deserving of more attention than it does in real life, and likely an unfortunate reflection of the limited association between procurement of technology and addressing real needs or improving existing processes. While there have been improvements across the board, some platforms deserve a recognition for their interoperability. BigBlueButton, for example, arguably the best fit for Moodle, allows the Logs module of the open source LMS to register video events. This also means Analytics integrations can provide detailed reporting on BigBlueButton activity, a feature not found in any other LMS-Video mix researched by LMSPulse.
If having no worries about giving somebody your data for use or sell, which in this case can include recordings of yourself; no trackers or a completely encrypted communication, look no further.
Open Source platforms in this list: BigBlueButton, Jitsy, Apache OpenMeetings, Apereo OpenCast, Kaltura, Signal, OBS Project
Top Video Plaftorms by site traffic
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This project from the Apereo Foundation has enjoyed a fast rate of evolution in recent years, especially in regards to usability and interface. True to its open source nature, it has powerful customization options. And true to the spirit of the Apereo projects, the customizations made by its most active users largely define its roadmap. You don’t use OpenCast: You adopt it.
Recording, Hosting, Broadcasting, Library, Editor, Offline playback, Analytics,
A straightforward video-based platform that’s a perfect illustration of the “Nordic EdTech” space: Focused, minimal and worry-free. For users with simple video-based learning track dreading of the complexities of an LMS integration, uQualio could prevent you from it.
Recording, Hosting, Broadcasting, No Log-In needed, Channels, Mobile-ready, Analytics, Basic LMS features.
An up-and-coming video startup that brings modernity and ease of integration to the top LMS players, Warpwire is unafraid of challenging our expectations of what video platforms should be like.
Recording, Hosting, Broadcasting, Content library, Integrations, Accessible, Offline access, Mobile access, Analytics
Don’t let the vintage interface fool you. Open Source OpenMeetings continues to pack solid features and fine-grained customization options, robust recording and video exporting capabilities, and a very handy file explorer right in the video interface. You’ll be missing it in other platforms.
Recording, Hosting, Broadcasting, File Explorer, Polls and Votes, Calendar,
A certified Moodle Premium Integrator focused on video assessment with automatic grading capabilities for video submissions. Formerly YouSeeIt.
Recording, Hosting, Library, Assessment, Accessibility, Basic LMS Features
There are many reasons why Muvi’s innovative features, many of them unavailable elsewhere, make the platform worth keeping tabs on, perhaps test-driving. Although LMS integration is an afterthought, the fact is that Muvi provides comprehensive Video Management System (VMS) capabilities, even promising the ability to support your YouTube or Hulu-like video startup. Particularly notable is its “dynamic watermarking” feature: If a user distributes videos taken from Muvi, a “digital fingerprint” would allow to single them out.
Recording, Hosting, Broadcasting, Dynamic watermarking and other enhanced security features, API
Echo360 claims to be the “video platform designed to foster active, engaged, and personalized video-based learning.”
Recording, Hosting, Broadcasting, Accessibility, Offline Access, Analytics, Branding, Annotations, Mobile
The darling of Open EdTech, among other things due to its deep integration with the Moodle LMS, the technology and the community. This ensures a polished educational experienced, particularly on social and constructionist pedagogies.
Recording, Hosting, Broadcasting, API, File sharing, Breakout rooms, Accessibility (WCAG 2.0), Mobile access, Analytics,
A solid, enterprise-ready video platform and library.
Recording, Hosting, Broadcasting, Video library, Analytics, API
Another VMS boasting its Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) capabilities, built on an Open Source ground.
Recording, Hosting, Broadcasting, Content library, Analytics, Editor,
№10. Macmillan’s iClicker (65.7K)
Self-appointed “most researched student response system on the market,” showing among other things that engagement on iClicker from females has no statistically significant difference.
Recording, Hosting, Broadcasting, Library, Mobile access, Analytics, GPS attendance
№9. Verizon’s BlueJeans (144K)
A portfolio of video products.
Recording, Hosting, Mobile access
№8. Jitsi (134K)
Arguably the most promising open source videoconferencing tool of the year, missing some of the polished features of say, BigBlueButton, but quickly catching up with bold user experience choices and lightness of bandwidth.
Hosting, Broadcasting, API, Routing, Encryption and advanced privacy features, Accessible, Mobile app, Analytics,
№7. Signal (211K)
Admittedly an odd entry in this list, but whose popularity makes it worth mentioning. Its privacy features not only have become better, but justifiably more mainstream. The one app guaranteed not to use or sell your data for advertising purposes.
Recording, One-on-one and group live chat, State-of-the-art open source encryption, No ads nor trackers,
№6. Google Meets (570K)
Recording, Hosting, Broadcasting
№5. GoToMeeting (1.3M)
Recording, Hosting, Broadcasting, Mobile access, HIPAA compliance
№4. Cisco Webex (2.2M)
Recording, Hosting, Broadcasting, HIPAA Compliance, Analytics, File sharing
№3. OBS Project (6M)
A professional-grade platform for broadcasting, especially streaming on social media platforms —including many at once— with powerful, real-time scene and audio mixing with unlimited channels, filters and a highly flexible modular interface with plenty of keyboard shortcuts to seamlessly stream your learning —or twitching— to the masses.
Recording, Broadcasting, API, Library
Recording, Hosting, Broadcasting
№1. Microsoft Teams (132M)
It’s no mystery how the EdTech giant tops the chart, as its size and resources gives them an enviable way to replicate competitors’ features quickly. If anything, it’s more mysterious that the rest of Big Tech isn’t represented in this list, at least for now.