When I first spoke with representatives from Harrison College (HC), they emphasized a "sense of place" with their KnowU  learning platform. The platform went live last month with 164 online students who were slated to use KnowU. According to Mark Apple, Director of PR at HC, "focus groups were used to determine WHICH [virtual] space was the most visually appealing." HC created more than "100 different environments" during testing and selected visuals that "resonated the most with focus groups."
With an emphasis on "Learning, Community, and Support," KnowU is a unique take on the online learning experience. HC representatives commented on how they wanted to position KnowU as a platform that creates and sustains community as a way of stimulating engagement and learning. The community aspect is largely driven by social media integration.
Student Affairs is located within the "Support" section of KnowU. Featuring a "recommendation engine," the platform strives to assist at-risk students via automated processes. If the "engine" isn't able to provide the needed amount of support, students can contact student services representatives via chat, email, or phone. KnowU also features a comprehensive knowledgebase of support information. When a student initiates a chat session with a "student affairs specialist," additional information (CRM / SIS) about the student is presented to assist the specialist in properly supporting the student.
Positioning KnowU as a virtual campus that feels like a brick-and-mortar space is an interesting twist for online learning. In 2012, the aesthetics of the LMS is becoming a core concern. Thankfully, we may be arriving at a place where functionality gets combined with look and feel. It's "high tech" meets "high touch."
Do you tweet? Let's connect. Follow me on Twitter.