Learning Management Systems
“Learning Management Systems have been around since many of us began our careers, gaining steam in the 90s and slowing to a more controlled speed in the 21st century. Quickly establishing industry authority and managing to saturate the higher education market, major players have included Blackboard, WebCT, Moodle, Canvas, and–most recently–MOOC platforms.
LMSs have enabled integration of data, security, and recorded interaction which go far beyond anything available in the traditional environment – so much so that in many traditional settings, LMSs are also being employed as supporting environments for face-to-face learning. LMSs have grown in functionality to now include features related to academic administration, learning analytics, student and faculty monitoring, and various reporting functions.
But many academic technologists regard Learning Management Systems with disdain, anticipating what they see as an inevitable decline. They feel the systems are outmoded and unfit to accommodate emerging trends in teaching and learning, especially the prevalent pedagogical focus on active learning and student-centered teaching strategies.
“The Learning Management System is like cafeteria food,” said one administrator in the IT department at the University of Chicago. “No one likes the taste, but everyone’s gotta eat.”
A recent survey conducted by Southern Cross University into the various LMSs in use at 44 Australian universities and other higher degree granting institutions found that the majority of administrators planned to change to a different LMS in the near future, reflecting the dissatisfaction with the current market.
But these educators are not simply turning their noses up at the concept. Institutions face an enormous burden when changing providers, establishing standards for course development, maintaining course relevancy, ensuring data security, and providing user training and support around the clock, without becoming tied to vendors’ software update schedule and pricing.
And it’s difficult to shake things up.
Due to market saturation (read: Blackboard and Moodle), there are only two ways for LMS providers to gain leverage in the higher education sector: to take market share from competitors, or to make existing customers pay more. In addition, the array of uses served by the LMS, the sheer volume of usage, and the number of stakeholders involved makes a switch to a different system a complex project in terms of communications, not to mention content.
As a result, innovation and mobility in the LMS market have been driven by add-ons rather than new innovative capabilities that improve teaching and learning.
Still, like it or not, the LMS isn’t going anywhere.
According to a report by the market research and consulting company MarketsandMarkets, the industry is anticipated to post a year-over-year growth rate of about 25 percent for the next five years, expanding from $2.55 billion today to $7.83 billion in 2018. North America will continue to be the largest and most profitable market for LMS providers, but Asia and Latin America are expected to experience increased market traction.
A recent survey of approximately 4,600 faculty members at 50 U.S. colleges and universities found that the LMS is by far the most commonly used and most familiar platform to faculty — second only, perhaps, to the traditional chalkboard and PowerPoint. The study also found that 93% of the 500 campuses surveyed reported having a single, campus-wide standard LMS, and that 58% of their courses use it – an increase of 17% in the last decade.
Whether those faculty members actually approve of their system is a different survey, but one thing is clear: Learning Management Systems are here to stay, and we’d better learn to work better with what we’ve got.
The Importance of Assessment
In today’s educational climate, one area in particular that could benefit from close attention in LMS design and implementation is student assessment.
“For most students, assessment requirements literally define the curriculum,” says education researcher James, McInnis & Devlin, 2002. “Assessment [should be] treated by staff and students as an integral and prominent component of the entire teaching and learning process rather than a final adjunct to it … Assessment is often considered once other curriculum decisions have been made.”
In the age of Learning Management Systems, there is now far greater potential to integrate assessment with coursework. The limitations of executing traditional assessments, such as the need to co-ordinate an entire group of students to participate at the same time in the same location, or to organize an appropriate location, are gone. This opens up opportunities to provide assessment choices that simply aren’t feasible using the traditional assessment metaphor.
The requirements of assessment are also changing. Assessment processes are now in focus, with increasing emphasis placed not on testing discrete skills or on measuring what people know, but on fostering learning and transfer of knowledge. Traditional assessment approaches may suffice for testing a students’ ability to reproduce learned facts, but it is now generally agreed that they fail to assess these new knowledge requirements.
In order to provide sufficient support for these new and different requirements–and for a successful curriculum in general–an LMS must possess advanced assessment functionality. And, conveniently, in order for students to benefit most from assessment, more advanced features will need to be worked into familiar systems.
Based on the literature on traditional and Web-based assessment, as well as on current practice, the following benchmarks may be used to rate Learning Management Systems as we continue searching for appropriate measures. As your institution’s individual requirements will determine which benchmarks are more important, you may choose to rate some benchmarks more highly than others.
1. Can tests be scheduled to be taken at any time, or at specific times?
2. Can test schedules can be changed on a student-by-student basis?
3. Can test duration be specified as unlimited, or given a specific time limit?
4. Is there support for biometric authentication?
5. Are plagiarism detection facilities present?
6. Can these facilities not only perform statistical checks on results, but also check for instances of natural language plagiarism in submissions themselves?
7. Does your LMS have the facility to provide extensive feedback on all assessment tasks, both question-by-question and at the end of the task, including varied feedback for individual questions based on the students’ responses?
8. Can your LMS seamlessly integrate automatically generated marks with those marks requiring human intervention in the marking process?
9. Can it provide the ability to mark tests one candidate at a time or to mark all responses to a particular question before moving on to the next question?
10. Does it provide a marking scheme for each question that is displayed when the question is marked?
11. Does your LMS provide support for a wide variety of question types?
12. Can multiple-choice questions be configured to support multiple responses?
13. Can multiple-choice responses be assigned different weightings, including negative weightings?
14. Does your LMS offer extended support for marking of short answer items?
14. Can objects (such as images, Java applets, Flash scripts, etc.) be used in questions and responses?
15. Is there support for randomization of question banks?
16. Is there support for adaptive testing, meaning questions are chosen based on their inherent difficulty level in response to how well the student is performing?
17. Can questions be manually assigned a difficulty level?
18. Can the difficulty level be calculated automatically based on past students’ performance on the question?
19. Can question item validity analysis be performed to determine poorly developed questions or distractors?
20. Can quizzes be set-up to be taken a variable number of times, from once to infinitely?
21. If used summatively, can final scores be determined in a number of ways, such as final attempt, best attempt, average, etc?
22. Can all answers be changed before final submission of a test?
23. Can the LMS be easily extended to support third-party authentic assessments such as simulations, while allowing results to be seamlessly integrated with those of built-in assessments?
24. Does your LMS offer support for restarting a test from the point of interruption should be provided in the event of a PC or browser crash?
25. Is the speed of individual computers and network connections taken into account when timed tests are undertaken?
26. Is user interface simple and easy to use, even by novice computer users?
27. Is there support for common standards, such as IMS QTI and SCORM, for exchanging assessment data between different systems?
28. Is there access to online question banks?
29. Do you have the ability to exchange pools of questions between colleagues?
30. Can you integrate social media features into your LMS?
On the near horizon are several trends shaping educators’ perspective on LMSs: expansion to mobile platforms; connection with existing social networks and information streams; tools for course development; diagnostics and adaptive learning systems based on learning analytics; personalized interfaces and instruction; and direct association between providers and instructors, bringing attention to a narrow form of online education and free access.
Assessment is just one area that can benefit from LMSs–keep your eyes peeled and your hopes up for more as the year progresses.