Addressing LMS limitations with online learning networks

Following is a description and rationale behind a research project we are hoping to undertake with one or two degree programs over the coming terms. It is based on a conference paper. To summarize we are hoping to address some of the inherit limitations of Learning Management Systems by supplementing the course based LMS with a program wide online learning community. The intention is to enhance the student experience by facilitating social engagement at the program level with a minimum of extra staff effort.

What are online learning networks?
Learning networks are self organized online communities designed to facilitate lifelong learning” (Berlanga et al. 2007)

What are some of the advantages of participating in an online learning network?

· Tacit knowledge. Members of an online learning network can draw upon the contextual experience of other members. Industry analyst firm Gartner estimate that situations for individuals in organizations that require tacit knowledge will double between 2006 and 2010.

· Informal Learning. Informal learning is the unofficial, unscheduled, impromptu way most of us learn to do our jobs. Informal learning is like riding a bicycle: the rider chooses the destination and the route. The cyclist can take a detour at a moment’s notice to admire the scenery or help a fellow rider. Formal learning is like riding a bus: the driver decides where the bus is going; the passengers are along for the ride. People new to the territory often ride the bus before hopping on the bike.

· Informal forums for Q&A. People are often more comfortable asking what they perceive to be ‘dumb’ questions in an informal forum of their peers.

· Professional Networking. Members of online communities can gain affiliations with other folk in their discipline.
· Sense of community. Research has shown that a strong sense of community amongst groups of individuals leads to greater individual commitment and satisfaction within the field of endeavor. Astin’s theory of student involvement contends that students learn by being involved and the quality of student involvement can be measured by their interactions.

What are the limitations of Learning Management Systems that drive this project?

· Content focus. Most LMS are content focused and this they tend to do well. There is even some research such as ladyshewsky’s that suggests that the learner/content interactions provided by an LMS are often better than face-to-face teaching. However other research stemming from Rhode as well as Anderson and Dron suggests that LMS are found lacking on other interactions such as learner-learner and learner-instructor. This could be due to the nature of the tools provided to facilitate these interactions as indicated by George Siemens. Siemens goes on to say the tools provided are implemented in a locked down, do it our way structure.

· Organizational and instructor focus. LMS give value to organizations by providing a means to sequence content and create a manageable structure for instructors and administrators (Siemens 2004). The use of ICT in tertiary education has impacted more on administrative services than on fundamentals of learning and teaching (OECD 2005).

· IT Culture. IT departments make decisions based on centralizing and controlling services with a view to reducing costs (Mossberg 2007). The applications and tools available to individuals has been far outstripping the usability and functionality of the technologies provided by organizations.

· Informal Learning. Informal learning accounts for over 75% of learning in organizations (Siemens 2004). LMS don’t tend to allow informal learning.

· Course Based Designs. Learning is limited to individuals enrolled in a course for a term which excludes other folk like industry practitioners and alumni.

Requirements of an online learning network

· Homepage and shared workspace

· Conversation places

· Repository

· Search facility

· Definition of member ship

· Management tools

The Plan is to take a degree program whose component courses are hosted on the learning management system and create an online learning network that provides information and conversation for the whole of the program. By creating a web presence and utilizing the various publicly available tools such as RSS, and Yahoo pipes we hope to create a learning network that is relevant, organic and requires a minimum investment of instructor time.