LMS. Education’s swiss army knife

I find it interesting the way that Universities think about their learning management systems (LMS) which are often the primary channel of interaction with their students who coincidentally are the primary source of income for said universities. Take my opinions with a grain of salt as I am probably tainted by my prior experience which was 17 years in the IT service delivery industry where we delivered a tangible product or service that was relatively easy to quantify and therefore easier to rate our effectiveness. Not so with teaching and learning which is a process that is difficult to measure and has a great deal more variables and complexity than IT service delivery.

Learing Styles
Learning Styles

People have different learning styles, different motivations, varying preferred learning environments and vastly different backgrounds and experiences. Then Universities attempt to provide a cookie cutter approach by providing an online learning environment in which the student must learn what they are there to learn within the confines of a single tool. Add to this that every course is different in the way that it can/is/should be delivered online will vary greatly depending on the course’s context. By this I mean Physics 101 will apply a different approach to the pedagogical construction of the course than will Rail Signaling 101. I’m not saying what Universities are doing is wrong by selecting single LMS products, there are valid reasons for it, but I do believe they are probably over simplifying what is an incredibly complex process by restricting the environment in which occurs to a single product with a single underlying paradigm that is one of knowledge dissemination. The problem is further complicated by the fact that that university courses have much more of a commercialized nature than has historically been the case and I suspect that this will only get worse as universities will be pushed further by financial restrictions.

Its the paradigm of dissemination that has links to the Indicators project that forms part of my masters. The indicators takes the three categories of interaction (learner-learner, learner-content, learner-instructor) and looks at (online only) user behavior within the LMS against the seven principles of effective under graduate education. Through the Indicators project we hope to provide contextual evidence that the LMS does provide effective content interaction but doesn’t necessarily facilitate well the higher levels of learning such as can be found in the Blooms taxonomy.

Blooms Taxonomy

The learner-content is the one interaction where the LMS appears to perform very well however the knowledge gained by content interaction can be quite low level and arguably forgotten the soonest. Perhaps this is due to the limitations whereby the content or theoretical knowledge can’t be applied to a particular context or situation as it is learned and therefore can’t be internalized as efficiency as a real situation may allow. Nona has done some work in the area of situated congnition that is worth revisiting and perhaps looking more closely to Snowden’s work, particularly pattern matching, could be worthwhile.

Incorrect quote removed. (Sorry. It was getting late)

There is some research that indicates it may even be more effective than traditional methods like face to face (Ladyshewsky 2004)

So assuming that the LMS is good at the learner-content interaction but is not as good at the learner-learner and learner-instructor interactions, how can we improve the balance? I suspect the answers are in the nature of the social set of interactions and what is learned from other people. My current thinking is that it relates to experience. Working with someone with vast experience on a particular task is, for me, my favorite way of learning which begs the question how can we embed this sort of rich exposure to experience within the confines of the LMS? I’ve no idea at this stage but we are hoping our investigations in to the LMS usage will provide insights into how the students are using the existing resources and then inform a direction we can take to assist with the social aspects that appear to be lacking in the LMS.

Siemens, G. (2004). “Learning Management Systems: The wrong place to start learning.” retrieved 20 February from http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/lms.htm.

Ladyshewsky, R. K. (2004). “Online learning versus face to face learning: What is the difference?” Teaching and Learning Forum 2004. Curtin University of Technology. Retrieved 20 February from http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2004/ladyshewsky.html


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