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Originally, Ning is a platform for creating custom social websites (Ning, 2012). Though it is not designed as an LMS, it has been effectively used as a tool to establish highly social, discursive, and collaborative virtual learning environment. Not very surprisingly, education seems to be Ning biggest sector (Lee, 2011). Co-founded in October 2004 by Marc Andreessen (Chairman) and Gina Bianchini, Ningwas later acquired by Glam Media in December 2011. A full timeline of Ning development history is available on its website.

     Screenshot of Ning official website


Initially, Ning was a free-form platform for the developing and hosting of open-source social aplications (LaMonica, 2005). As it developed, Ning offered both free and paid options and then switched to three levels of paid service with different degrees of features, tools, customization as well as customer support in 15 April 2010 (Buskirk, 2010; McDonald, 2010). This is, according to Clark (2010), “not only to make more money, but also to battle misuse of its services for spam and pornography” (para. 1). In response to this phasing out, a number of alternatives to Ning have been emerged and being considered (Downes, 2010). However, education-focused Ning networks, as sponsored by Pearson, remain free (Morantes, 2010).


Top five key features of Ning include Inbox/Forum, Photos, Member profiles, Blogs, and videos (Lee, 2011). Besides, rich sources of templates (design studio), plugins, and other widgets enable Ning users to customize their sites easily with a wide range of choices. There are various Ning networks that users can visit for references. Below are two examples of Ning as LMSs:

     Screenshot of AVLM Ning site, KU Lueven, Belgium

     Screenshot of eTeacher Ning site, University of Oregon, US


Strong community support is offered by Ning Help center and its Creators network in various means of tutorial videos, articles, and discussion forums. This is a major account for a dynamic and diverse community of more than 90,000 customers (July 2011) in 233 countries and territories worldwide and nearly 1 in 2 Ning sites integrating with external social applications such as Facebook, Twitter and Google+ (Ning, 2012). 


Effectiveness of Ning as an LMS


There are both merits and demerits of Ning in its use of an LMS.


First, it has been efficiently employed as an LMS creating a robust learning environment for a number of courses in forms of not only online courses such as e-teacher program but blended-learning courses like AVLM. In both cases, continuous learning and even more active contribution have been observed after the courses ended as learners expand their networks for further collaboration and as they gain more experience, expertise, and more importantly, more interest and motivation throughout the courses.


Nings offers optimal social networking for community of learning with its outstanding features of such as photos, videos, forums, chat rooms, and blogs, built-in integration with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Vimeo, and extensions to live video streaming (Ustream), photo stickers and effects (Aviary) and email marketing (Constant Contact), as well as the possibility to incorporate with other richly social and academic platforms such as Google and Yahoo! (Rao, 2010; Ha, 2011; Ning, 2012). This has not only supported networking learning but also contributed to learners’ significantly increased motivation since they tend to engage more with their group activities and interact more with their social networks in such exciting responsive environment. 


Another feature that sets Ning apart from other LMSs is that it allows participants to create their own communities and social networks around specific interests with their own choice of designs and tools. In this way, the platform empowers its members both teachers, learners, of the course, those of the previous and upcoming ones, even other support staff, and anyone who wish to be connected to develop their own social networks. Also, since Ning networkers have their own profile pages within the community, they have more control over and active engagement in their learning activities, which in turns, helps them to keep track of their own learning. In other words, Ning enhances participants’ identity, personalized self-direct learning, and at the same time, fosters participatory learning (Pacansky-Brock, 2010).


In addition, Ning offers ease of set up, customization, and use (Hart, 2010) together with its multiple choices of attractive visual designs, which makes it much easier for its users in learning process and inspires their creativity as well as motivation (Epps, 2008). Moreover, it contributes to bridging the gap between formal education and students’ real life as they can employ their social network skills in their learning and improve these in a more critical level of academic activities such as research, reflection, critique, and cooperatation (Epps, 2008). This is a great enhancement to LMSs as it creates a great sense of community inside the class (Pacansky-Brock, 2010).


Beside these benefits, Ning, which was clearly was not built as an LMS, has caused some inconveniences to learning management. For example, though Ning works really well with higher and further education as an e-platform for discussion and collaboration in supplement with face-to-face classes supported by another LMS, it might run the risk of being too public, and hence, distracting students working in a private area reserved for their learning only (Craig, 2008; Smith, 2008). Additionally, despite being a great platform for peer-learning, peer-assessment, formative feedback, and e-portfolio, Ning seems to be rather limited in other forms of traditional assessments when grades are needed (Epps, 2008) and in managing other content, for instance lectures (Palmer, 2008).


Nevertheless, for its advantages, many still “hope Ning will find a way to provide social networking sites for teachers, students, and schools at affordable prices” (Fryer, 2010, para. 21).  As Hart (2010, para. 3) espouses that many educators are still “focusing entirely on creating and managing e-courses rather than thinking about how they could support learning in all forms that take place in the organisation” which a social collaborative platform like Ning could do an excellent job. And yet, above all the caveats, Ning has proved the potential of social networking technologies in support learning (Hargadon, 2008) and contributed to the leverage of learning to the next level of highly social, interactive, cooperative learning of a much wider community.


N.B.: Please refer to:


Pacansky-Brock (2010) for more research-based evident on the effectiveness of Ning as an LMS/VLE

McAllan (2008) for more discussion on Ning as an LMS

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