Need-to-Know-News: What Will Next Generation Learning Environments Look Like? Two Reports Share Different Views & MOOC sans Lecture Videos

This ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series features noteworthy stories that speak of need-to-know developments within higher education and K-12 that have the potential to influence, challenge and/or transform traditional education as we know it.

Lego_Color_Bricks
New white paper suggests the Next Generation Digital Learning Environment requires a ‘Lego-approach’ to its development

1) EDUCAUSE releases paper “Next Generation Digital Learning Environment”

The LMS has been highly successful enabling the administration of learning but less so in enabling learning itself”

Hear, hear! The above quote from the white paper released by EDUCAUSE this week the ‘Next Generation Digital Learning Environment’ highlights the YAWNING gap between what the current learning management systems (LMS) can provide in terms of a learning experience and what is needed to address the needs of a more student-focused, social virtual learning space (Brown, Dehoney & Millichap, 2015). Though the report hits on the key aspects, to gain a broader perspective readers would benefit by reading another report released this month “Future Technology: Infrastructure for Learning” (Siemens, Gasevic & Dawson, 2015). The EDUCAUSE paper identifies the shortcomings of the LMS, highlights how most platforms focus on teaching not learning, operate in silos, and offer little interoperability. The solution, authors suggest, is a mash-up, a mix of applications that will allow individuals and institutions to construct learning environments tailored to their requirements and goals. Sounds good so far.

Yet the article gives the impression that next generation digital learning environments (NGDLE) be built around the needs of the institution, not the learner.  Statements like “assessment is foundational to learning and therefore of central importance to any learning” suggest an institution focus, as does “the analysis of all forms of learning data—is a vital component”. There’s also considerable emphasis on the need for learning analyticsfor all stakeholders learning analytics….must address three levels including institutional oversight” (page 6). Perhaps it’s the word choice (such as ‘must’) that suggests a directive approach to what ‘needs’ to be included in a NGDLE and gives the impression of an institution-focus. The report concludes with an analogy that compares the needs of the NGDLE to interlocking, building components, a ‘Lego approach’ (page 9).

Legos work because of a design specific that ensures the pieces will interlock, while enabling a wide variety of component parts. For NGDLE to succeed, a similar set of specifications and services will be to be defined that constitute the conformance needed to make the Lego approach workable”

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Image: Geemo toys as an alternative to Lego-approach used in the analogy of interlocking parts for a new generation digital learning environment. Geemo fits the bill – a flexible “awesome-strange-plaything-slash-art-object” that is adaptable and allows building of fluid, creative shapes and structures.

Insight: Using Lego blocks as an analogy is an unfortunate choice to represent the idea of interlocking components for a NGDLE. Lego blocks suggest rigidity, inflexibility, even resistance. And vintage, given Lego’s been around since 1932. I see the next generation technology platform needing to be innovative, fluid, adaptable and customizable by the learner and the instructor. A more fitting toy for the analogy might be Geemo, a stretchy, flexible, connectable set of pieces that can build a variety of shapes and structures by attaching the ‘arms’ to other pieces. It works on the Lego principle, but in terms of a learning platform, is more representative of a system that can adapt to meet the needs of the students and institution, and allow for creativity, fluidity and flexibility. The latter are characteristics needed for a NGDLE.

Further Reading

2) Another perspective in the Next Generation Learning Platforms in “Future Technologies Infrastructure for Learning” (Siemens, Gasevic & Dawson, 2015, pages 201 – 230).

A similar theme in this report—the next generation of digital learning spaces, but it takes a  different perspective providing balance to the article by EDUCAUSE.  It’s one paper of several in the report released this week “Preparing for the Digital University” written by three esteemed educators—George Siemens is one. This article also suggests a needed change in the type and functionality of education technology infrastructures (platforms) required to support new digital learning spaces. There are parallels between the two papers, both identify the gap in current systems, yet this paper takes an analytical and holistic approach. The authors examine learning platforms in distinct phases, or generations of development:

Generation 1 — Basic technology use: Computer-based training (CBT) and websites
Generation 2 — Enterprise systems: learning management systems (LMS) and content management systems (CMS)
Generation 3 — Fragmentation and diversification: social media, e-portfolio software and MOOC providers, integrated vendor/publishers
Generation 4 — Distributed and digitally shared technologies: adaptive learning, distributed infrastructures, and competency models (page 204)

Insight: The holistic approach includes the perspective of the student. Authors also don’t use the term LMS, which is typically associated with commercial platforms (Blackboard, Canvas, Brightspace), but instead refers to learning platforms as ‘technology infrastructure’. The report examines a range of innovative and unique learning platforms that are either research projects that are being piloted in various higher education settings, or are institution-developed and implemented platforms. This report aims to provide guidance to institutions and educators who want to plan and prepare for future transitions, providing insight into how higher education can anticipate the next generation of education software (pg. 204).  The paper can also be viewed as instructive, since several technology infrastructures are examined—platforms that are unique, innovative and model (ironically) many of the needs outlined in the NGDLE paper. Authors examine the platforms via four dimensions, control, integration, ownership and structure. These factors are critical elements in the learning paradigm and are not addressed adequately in the NGDLE paper. The element of control for instance—who has control of the data that students generate during their learning experience, or the content that students (and instructors) generate?

The paper reviews eleven technology platforms with diagrams that illustrate each of the four dimensions on a continuum.

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Screenshot of figure showing how the platform KNOWN aligns with the four dimensions examined: control, ownership, integration and structure (Siemens et al., 2015, p. 229)

3) A MOOC Professor Bypasses Video Lectures

This professor cuts right to the point and shares her opinion on the value of lecture videos in massive open online courses (MOOCs):

Despite their popularity in MOOCs and flipped classrooms, “lecture videos” have the same pitfalls as regular lectures: they provide a false sense of clarity and are utterly forgettable (Barba 2015).

She goes on to describe the design approach of her own MOOC, #NumericalMOOC,

Quality learning is happening without them, because we combine learning pathways, instructional scaffolding, interactive computing with our IPython Notebooks, and independent student work.

Another perspective on MOOC development and one worth examining.

Image credits: 1) Lego Bricks, (2006), Alan Chia and 2) Geemo Building Toy, (2010) betterlivingthroughdesign.com

Three Trends That Will Influence Learning and Teaching in 2015

Vector 2015 Happy New Year background

There is no shortage of predictions for the upcoming year of 2015. Micro-credentials, digital wearables and mobile learning are just a few of the many. Yet predictions are notorious for misleading and even wildly inaccurate assurances. But analyzing trends across industries in conjunction with developments within a sector—the education sector in this instance, is far more constructive and strategic than considering stand-alone predictions. There are themes and patterns worthy of educators, administrators and stakeholders investment of time and consideration. This post examines and explores three trends that meet the worthy criteria. The three: 1) Skill-specific education also known as competency-based education (CBE) is expanding to institutions and generating new education technology products and platforms, 2) Social learning facilitated by technology and the acceptance of MOOCs is a new and viable instructional method, and 3) Learning-on-the-go supported not just by mobile devices and internet connectivity, but by the availability of sophisticated applications with few barriers will expand learning to students seeking flexible access to education.

Sources for Trends Affecting Education in 2015
There’ve been several articles and reports written and shared by organizations, education entities and news agencies that highlight trends, developments, and hot topics to watch for in 2015. Not all are specific to education, but reading between the lines there are subtle implications that suggest which potential developments will affect if not change how people learn. The sources chosen for this post are few but solid. A key source and excellent resource for the education community is the NMC Horizon Report: 2015 Higher Education Edition Wiki which provides insight into educational technology trends. Its content is used for the annual NMC Horizon Project which uses the Wiki for the panel of experts to exchange ideas and engage in discourse. Another report rich in data is the 2015 Digital Trends Report created by GSW a communications agency working within the health sector. Additional sources include Innovating Pedagogy 2014 published by Open University, EDUCAUSE Review November/December 2014, among others. Collectively these sources and events over the past year (2014) in education provide a window into new developments in teaching and learning to watch for in 2015 .

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example of how competency education works

1) Skill-Specific Education
The most significant innovations in education programs of this past year are those that focus on a specific skill set or knowledge area. These programs fall under the banner of micro-credentialing or competency-based education (CBE) and will be more disruptive to traditional education than anything we’ve seen to date. Traditional education in this context is defined as for-credit education measured by instruction time and grading of students work by teacher/instructor/faculty. Outcomes of traditional education typically are credentials in the form of a degree, diploma or certificate and are recognized by employers and institutions. On the other hand, skills education facilitates student’s learning technical skills or knowledge in a specific topic area that is measured by criteria-specific performance. Typically assessment is an observable outcome(s) that demonstrates mastery in the form of an e-portfolio or interactive transcript. Examples are competency-based degree programs such as the one offered at Purdue, or nano-degrees offered by Udacity, mirco-credential programs offered by edX or Coursera, certificates by Alison, and Mozilla’s Open Badges program. 

We can expect more institutions offering competency education programs and employer involvement in skill-specific education this year, as in the example of AT&T giving funds to Udacity and Georgia Tech for development of online programs. We’ll also see companies serving as advisors for curriculum and program development for courses of study at institutions.

Drivers of Skill-Specific Education

  • Pressure on education institutions from Department of Education and/or other government entities to offer more accessible and shorter education pathways (to a credential) to accommodate non-traditional learners. The non-traditional segment is a new and growing market of adult learners with prior skills and experience
  • Expanding non-traditional student population who seek open, flexible learning
  • Skills gap identified by employers
  • High cost associated with higher education

Developments in Skill-Specific Education

  • MOOCs on institution-affiliated platforms focusing on skill specific training in partnership with companies (edX offering Teacher PD)
  • Courses focusing on skills with input from employers who have a hand in developing curriculum, e.g. Nano-degrees (Udacity), and professional courses for a fee — targeting professionals (edX and Coursera)
  • LMS platform providers creating specific platforms that accommodate competency specific learning e.g. Helix LMS (Phil Hill on Helix LMS)
  • Digital badges, e.g. Mozilla Open Badge Project
  • Brandman University’s competency degree program incorporates digital badges for students to demonstrate skills to potential employers
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Gaming is just one area of social learning that is being used as pedagogical method. Screen shot of slide 42 from “2015 Digital Trend Report”

2)  Social Learning as a Pedagogical Method
Social learning is not a new concept, but social learning as a method of instruction is. We are beginning to see social learning adopted by education institutions as a method for learning through peer collaboration for instance, and in Human Resources departments as a method for employee training. Also technological advancement in the form of applications—mobile apps that support learners not just through collaboration but by learning core concepts through innovative software design. Gaming too has become more social, as well as learning management platforms (LMSs) which are incorporating features that support and promote interactivity and social connections among students.

The aim [of social learning] is to engage thousands of people in productive discussions and the creation of shared projects, so together they share experience and build on their previous knowledge  — Innovating Pedagogy 2014, The Open University

Drivers of Social Learning

  • Advancements in technology have lowered barriers to learner connectivity
  • MOOCs uncovered a new demographic of learners—non-traditional students with a thirst for knowledge and learning
  • Dissemination of knowledge—learners can now access knowledge through networks rather than institutions
  • Companies seeking alternatives to traditional employee training and development leveraging social platforms and tools
  • Bring your own Device (BYOD) policies in education institutions

Developments in Social Learning

  • Features within Learning Management Platforms that facilitate social interactivity
  • Smart phone applications (apps) that support learning with and from peers and/or tutors, e.g. P2P Chat
  • Businesses using social media platforms for employee learning and development, e.g. Cisco introduces Project Squared a service delivered via an app or the Web that offers an online gathering place for getting work done.

3) Learning-on-the-Go
Mobile devices along with low barriers to connectivity and the choice of hundreds of new apps specific to education puts access to education in the hands of learners making learning-on-the-go a reality. Learning-on-the-go, also known as mobile learning or m-learning is also not new, yet recent advancements in network capabilities and applications makes learning exclusively from a mobile device a reality.

Mobile Learning
Ideas from Mobile Learning

Brandman University for example recently launched a competency based degree on a mobile platform where students have access to 30,000 pages of course material from a tablet or smart phone.  Other education institutions are following suit by making education accessible to students from their mobile device for un-tethered learning— students aren’t bound by a physical institution or even a desktop computer.  Numerous apps for mobile devices also support access to knowledge sources via video tutorials, lessons on topic-specific modules, or to access tutoring support, study resources etc.

Drivers of Learning-on-the-Go

  • Non-traditional students looking for flexible learning that fits their busy schedule
  • Low barriers to owning mobile devices
  • Higher quality applications and infrastructure systems that deliver user-friendly learning options

Developments in Learning-on-the-Go

  • Education institutions offering degree programs fully online with mobile friendly resources
  • Sophisticated applications available for mobile devices that provide quality education options
  • Apps that satisfy a variety of education needs including degree programs, developmental education programs, one-on-one tutoring, academic advising

Conclusion
Though we can’t predict exactly what will happen in 2015, we can make informed decisions and be strategic for the upcoming year. Nothing is certain in the future except change as the saying goes, yet being proactive rather than reactive will put educators in the best position for a successful and effective 2015.

Update: See my 2016 post: Three Trends that Will Influence Learning and Teaching in 2016

References

Need-to-Know-News: edX goes Corporate, Wired Magazine/USC Partner to Create Degree & More on Competency Education

This ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series features noteworthy stories that speak of need-to-know developments within higher education and K-12 that have the potential to influence, challenge and/or transform traditional education as we know it.

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1) edX Goes Corporate
Udacity the for-profit MOOC provider did an about-face a few months ago, shifting its focus from the higher education market to vocational education, partnering with big tech companies. Coursera too is reaching out to companies looking for ways to generate a revenue stream. Now edX is going the corporate route. Most disappointing given its not-for-profit premise, which differed significantly from the others—”(edX is) committed to research that will allow us to understand how students learn, how technology can transform learning, and the ways teachers teach on campus and beyond“.  This past Wednesday, October 1, edX announced the launch of professional education classes on topics including energy, entrepreneurship and cybersecurity, priced at up to $1,249 a person, with volume discounts available for some employers (Korn).

Why? According to CEO of edX, Anant Agarwal, “This goes to our sustainability story. Though edX is a nonprofit enterprise, it still needs cash to develop the free courses taken by nearly three million participants world-wide”. 

When considering the statement above in conjunction with one that Agarwal made in another interview, one with Wired magazine last month, “…effective uses of the MOOC model are only beginning to take shape. Enrollment in edX courses has doubled over last year, and he (Agarwal) believes we’re on the verge of an era he calls MOOC 2.0. “We’ve been growing as others are throwing in the towel” (Lapowsky), one wonders if he meant MOOC 2.0 as the corporate-MOOC—the not-for-free version of MOOCs.

Insight: MOOC providers do not (and never did) have a sustainable financial model to offer free courses indefinitely. It sounds noble—offering free education to learners worldwide. But somebody has to pay eventually. Development costs run into the thousands (paid for by the university-partners), operating costs considerable. MOOCs are not ‘free’. We all pay for free education in different ways; now it’s running dry and the only way to go it appears is to go corporate.

post_wired_logo_150x602)  Wired Magazine and USC Team-Up to offer “Real World Degree”
Another twist this week on an education partnership—University of Southern California (USC) announced its partnership with Condé Nast and Wired Magazine (Condé Nast is the parent company) to offer a degree program. And, as a journalist at Wired puts it “it’s a real credential, not just a certificate with the WIRED logo stamped” (Wohlsen). This is perhaps the most odd combination for an education partnership I’ve read about to date. There’s other businesses involved too, Qubed Education, which is joint venture between higher-ed investment firm University Ventures and Condé Nast, and an online degree consultancy company Synergis Education.

Taking the best from USC and WIRED, we can teach discipline and disruption, business fundamentals and the very latest innovation models from Silicon Valley. This is going to be thrilling

Insight: Businesses and now education institutions are capitalizing on an underserved market in the education sector, which is the adult learner that works full-time with some or little higher education. Yet the implications for traditional higher education are many— higher education institutions (and students) become a testing ground for business experiments and models, it draws funds away from higher education institutions, and the practice could be viewed by some, as undermining the integrity of higher education.

3) (Another) Course Management Platform geared to Competency-Based Education 
A couple of weeks ago I shared a story about a new course management provider, Helix Education. The system is different from your traditional LMS, it’s created to deliver a single platform to serve competency-based education programs (CBE), on-campus, online, or continuing education formats (Helix).  This week, another LMS launch by Motvis Learning. It’s also a  platform focused on CBE, though it’s referred to as a ‘relationship management system‘ rather than a LMS.

For students, the system looks more like a social network than a learning management system. When they log in, students are greeted by an activity feed, showing them a tabbed view of their current projects, goals and feedback. A column on the right side of the screen lists connections and to-dos, and a bar along the top tracks progress toward mastering competencies. (Straumsheim)

Insight: Competency based education has more potential for disruption to the higher education model than MOOCs ever will.

4) Multi-Language MOOC on Ed-Tech starts October

The 27th of October we will launch the third edition of the Learning Design Studio for ICT-based Learning Activities MOOC. The course will last 5 weeks and a group of facilitators will support you in the task of designing your own learning activities and lessons. The course will be offered in six languages: English, Spanish, Catalan, Greek, Slovenian and French.”

For more information: http://handsonict.eu/join-the-mooc/

 

Learning Analytics for Instructors Need to be Loud and Clear

Learning Analytics…less data more insight. Analytics primary task is not to report the past, but to help find the optimal path to the desired future. (Shum, 2012)

Learning analytics, [analyzing students’ online behaviour patterns to support learning improvement] is not about data collection, but helping learners and instructors make connections with the data. I attended a webinar this past week with Campus Technology, Grand Canyon University: How we are improving student outcomes using LoudAnalytics on the LoudCloud Ecosystem. Grand Canyon University of Arizona shared results from their learning analytics pilot project using LoudAnalytics from LoudCloud, a company which presents themselves as a learning ecosystem, the next-generation of learning management systems. In this post I identify what kind of analytic reports are essential and the most useful to course instructors, which are not, and why this is so. The findings in this post I gathered from the webinar and content from week four of the course Current/Future State of Higher Education.

Meaningful’ Data for the Instructor
I wrote a post last week that addressed how student data gathered from online behaviours from a school’s platform, can put the learner in the ‘driver’s seat’, essentially in control of his or her own learning. A dashboard which gives real-time info on a student’s ‘stats’, can be a visual tool to help learners reach their goals, identify problems and contribute to  motivation. However, what about the course instructor? What analytic tools are available through the LMS platform that can provide meaningful data, data that is consumable – in a usable form that encourages instructors to take action in real-time?

Grand Canyon University Webinar,  Slide #14

To the left is an example of a report from LoudAnalytics that displays data about students’ progress in a visual format. Students are represented by circles; the size of the circle representative of the hours spent on the course home page (interacting with course content, etc.) and the colour of each circle representing a letter grade. I see this as a ‘snapshot’ view of  students progress holistically, but don’t see this report on its own as providing ‘actionable’ data. Time spent within the LMS does not translate always to grades and engagement level, but is just one metric.

Grand Canyon University Webinar, Slide #47

The report to the right however, does appear to provide constructive data for the course instructor. When instructors consider the previous report and the one here, the instructor is able to do something with it. For example upon review, the instructor might want to reach out to student #2 (and potentially one or two others) with an email to the student that might read like this:

Dear [name of student], it appears that you have an assignment outstanding, and have not participated in a forum recently. I am concerned about your progress in the class. There are several resources available for support, …..”

There are limitations to this scenario I’ve described here, it is one-dimensional given we don’t have complete information, but the idea is that the indicators provided in this report are specific about student actions, or non-actions that give the instructor something to work with.

What Data is NOT Helpful
It is information about student actions, i.e. missing assignments, non-participation in discussion forums, low test grades, that is valuable for instructors, what I call ‘actionable’ data. Other data, such as number of times logged on to the course  home page, or the number of minutes spent within the platform, is not meaningful or of much practical use. I suggest that platform providers (i.e. Moodle LoudCloud etc.) consider generating reports that are focused and specific to the users needs (users defined within three groups: student, instructor and administrator). However, making too many reports available will detract from the value of the analytics. For example, the report below shows the time in minutes a student spent within the LoudCloud system, which gives a snapshot of student behaviour, but, I don’t see how this information is useful for the instructor. Perhaps it might be, if considered in conjunction with other reports, but then we get into data overload.

Grand Canyon University Webinar, Slide #48

Furthermore, just because we can measure something, doesn’t mean it is valuable or even useful. Another example is the program that Course Smart, the e-textbook provider is launching to give course instructors reports on student engagement. I wrote about this last week, yet I use this again as an example to show how reports are created from data that end up being inconsequential.

It [Course Smarts’ program] will track students’ behavior: how much time they spend reading, how many pages they view, and how many notes and highlights they make. That data will get crunched into an engagement score for each student. The idea is that faculty members can reach out to students showing low engagement (Parry, 2012).

I have a hard time imaging how instructors will use this information. The problem from the get-go is that Course Smart assumes that student engagement is defined by the number of electronic ‘notes’ made in the e-book and how long the student spends ‘reading’ the textbook. Not only is this logic flawed, but as one of my readers pointed out, it has a ‘big brother’ feel about it. I do agree, and I will be writing about the ethics of learning analytics next week.

Closing Thoughts
Learning analytics can be a powerful tool for instructors, yet only when meaningful data is compiled in such a way that it is user-friendly, relevant and actionable, in other words reports must be loud and clear.  LoudCloud is onto something here, I very much like their visual presentation. Yet LoudCloud and other LMS providers need to narrow down the number of analytic reports made available, customizing what they offer to the users needs. Make it clear, specific and meaningful.

Next post: Dream or Nightmare: The Ethics of Learning Analytics, Online Learning Insights

Resources:
Grand Canyon University: How we are improving student outcomes using Loud Analytics on the Loud Cloud Ecosystem. (November 13, 2012) Campus Technology Webinar (now on demand)

LT-C2012 Learning Analytics Symposium, (2012),  Simon Buckingham Shum, Slideshare
Introduction to Learning and Knowledge Analytics Syllabus, (2011), An Open Course
Putting Learners in the Driver’s Seat, Online Learning Insights

Why Tech Training for Faculty is a Waste of Time

Providing faculty training for ed tech tools is a waste of time, unless accompanied by instruction that shows instructors how to incorporate the tools to enhance teaching. In this post I share reasons why tech training for course instructors must include pedagogical instructional methods and how instructors and institutions can incorporate such strategies into faculty ed tech training.

Note: In the following post when  I use the term ‘LMS’, I’m referring to learning platforms such as Moodle, Blackboard, Canvas, Desire2Learn, etc.

Deutsch: Logo der freien Software Moodle moddl...

This past week I facilitated a session on how to use Moodle effectively with twenty-five faculty members who teach face-to-face classes for the degree completion program. In the institution that I work with, more than two-thirds faculty use the LMS platform for administrative purposes only, such as posting syllabi, PDF files, and links for students to upload assignments.

My goal for the session was to prompt faculty to want to use the LMS; to view it as a tool to teach more effectively, use it pedagogically rather than administratively. I believe we achieved what we set out to do, if we use the level of involvement [which was high] and the questions from the instructors as indicators. Many appeared motivated, if not enthused by what they could do with the tools within Moodle. This prompted me to research further and write this article.

The Research
With the research I’ve done on our institution’s and others LMS usage, and in speaking with several friends that work as adjunct faculty with public universities, it seems that only a fraction of the instructors are using the LMS as a teaching tool and the rest as a static web page. Furthermore, training in how to use the LMS, if available at all, traditionally focuses on the technical aspects of the platform.

My findings are consistent with survey results conducted recently by an instructional designer for his institution last year in the school’s quest for an alternate LMS platform. Eighty-four faculty responded to the survey, and the results, of which I’ve posted a summary below, support the theory that LMS’ are used primarily for posting syllabi and as a drop box for assignments. A partial list of faculty responses: (Curran, 2012):

  • Posting Documents, PowerPoint’s, and PDFs: 90.3%
  • Posting Course Announcements: 84.7%
  • Emailing Students and Colleagues: 76.4%
  • Web 2.0 Tools (Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, Private Journals): 25%
  • Chat: 12.5%
  • Creating TurnItIn Assignments: 11.1%
  • Virtual Classroom 1.4%

Pedagogical versus Administrative
Faculty need to see that the LMS  can be a valuable teaching tool, not just an administrative one. This means that someone needs to show them how to use it as a tool that can enhance and support classroom instruction. Too often LMS training for faculty and staff is taught as a how-to-use-this-technical-platform for uploading a document, posting a message, emailing etc. The technical aspects are important, but are only one aspect of the training. It is only after the basics are mastered, that we can go further;  demonstrate how a discussion forum can create deep and meaningful conversations that continue after the face-to-face class. Or, how pages created within the LMS for each week can outline focus questions, objectives that can prepare students for classroom learning. And, how the LMS can be a vehicle for interaction, for example with students conducting peer reviews of draft documents of assignments through virtual, small discussion groups, etc.

4 Faces of Personal Learning Network (w Tools)
4 Faces of Personal Learning Network (w Tools) (Photo credit: catspyjamasnz)

I realize that there are far more complex and robust platforms, or non-platforms that create a virtual learning environment, many of which are described in-depth in an excellent piece featured in EDUCAUSE Review by Jon Mott. Mott examines the limitations of LMS platforms and presents two alternatives for learning environments. The first is PLN’s, Personal Learning Networks, which are personally customized networks of blogs, wikis and web 2.0 tools, and the second, open learning networks, which leverage the open architecture of the web, and suggest that the LMS is too limiting and confining. However, these options, appear far beyond the scope of most faculty who are still acquiring skills in mastering the basics of  the LMS.

Why LMS is Necessary for now at least…
Though I find the idea of PLN and open learning network attractive, I also believe that institutions that offer education programs or open, online courses need to provide a virtual meeting place, which is what the learning management platform provides. Though I do suggest that faculty and students also develop their own personal learning networks, where perhaps content and resources they access or create through the LMS could be added to their own PLN, or conversely could be shared and brought into the LMS.

‘Teaching’ Centers for the Teachers
Faculty that teach in all modalities not just online, need support in learning how to adapt their teaching methods and pedagogy to the digitally connected student and the virtual meeting place. Some institutions have dedicated centers for such education, like Texas Christian University, which has the Koehler Center for Teaching Excellence that offers workshops, open ‘labs’ for support in LMS development, and technical support. Training programs are not all one and the same, technical support and training is differentiated from pedagogical support.

Purdue University has the Center for Instructional Excellence, which offers a robust selection of training support for instructors. Many resources are open and accessible online to anyone, making it a tremendous resource for course instructors at any institution.

Suggestions for Institutions

  • When it comes to providing training for instructors, consider emphasizing the desired results and outcomes of using the LMS effectively.
  • Though a trainer might be technically adept in the technical aspects of the LMS, he or she may not be able to provide pedagogical training. Offer both, technical training [foundational training] and training in educational methods and theories that emphasize the use of technology as a tool.

Suggestions for Course Instructors

  • Determine what training is available within your own institution.
  • Request training in pedagogical methods that incorporate technological applications and tools.
  • Visit other institutions web sites that offer resources, such as the ones listed above.
  • Review training videos that might be available on YouTube on your own LMS system. Many educators post training videos on LMS features they are experts in.
  • Develop a personal learning network (PLN) to aggregate resources and web content, and build a network.

Conclusion
Faculty training and professional development involves resources of time and money, as do investments in LMS platforms and other ed tech tools. Money is wasted however, if training is not conducted effectively to reach faculty, to help them to teach and incorporate technological tools, such as LMS platforms, that support learning outcomes and learner development. Too often training is ineffective, is one-dimensional focusing on only one aspect, either technical or pedagogical skills. Both are needed to support and develop faculty in becoming an instructor that is relevant and skilled in knowing when and how to use ed tech tools appropriately and effectively.

Resources:

Providing relevant learning online…outside the [LMS] Bubble

Let’s face it – the learning management platforms (i.e. Moodle, Blackboard) as they exist today, are restrictive, limiting for both the learner and online educator. The flexibility, value and learning potential available with Web 2.0 tools far exceed the teaching limitations that exist within the LMS platform. CT’s s recent article, Rebuilding the LMS for the 21st Century reaffirmed what I’ve written about before – working within an LMS platform feels as if I’m trying to communicate (from the student perspective) and teach (educators’ perspective) through a brick wall – I said A BRICK WALL – can you hear me? Sorry for the big caps, but that is how it one feels inside an LMS – the need to shout.

Now more than ever as LMS platforms merge into one (Blackboard recently acquired Moodlerooms)* educators need to be independent for lack of a better word, move beyond the walls of the LMS, explore and embrace the multiplicity of tools available to teach, instruct and foster learning online. The agility of  innovative software developers to provide new tools and  applications for collaboration far outpaces what traditional LMS providers can offer, in fact this says it better than I could,

 “Web 2.0 enables and accelerates the transition to a more connected world in which open, user-centered and self-organising networks create value, including public [educational] value. That’s the Web 2.0 proposition with which…people …around the world are experimenting to see ….eGovernment Resource Centre

Why use Web 2.0 tools in Online Teaching?
Just as in the classroom, utilizing a multiplicity of tools and methods is part of instruction though with online there are additional reasons, relevancy, and learning through collaboration with peers. A blog reader, a professor of communications class, shared her approach, “I believe they [students] should be using web applications and not be inside the LMS silos … learning how to make use of the possibilities offered on the web.joanvinallcox.ca. Exactly – an illustration of relevant learning.

This clever illustration below uses Bloom’s Taxonomy with its levels of cognitive learning domains presented in the familiar pyramid image, but inserts applicable web 2.0 applications into each, which illustrates Web 2.0 tools that support instruction. I would like to reiterate here, that it is only through a sound instructional design strategy that instruction is effective, with appropriate tools chosen to support learning objectives (my model of choice: Dick, Carey and Carey).

Bloom's Taxonomy and Web 2.0 Applications, by Samantha Penney

The other reason, emerging research suggests students learn better when there is a visual representation of course content to work with, [beyond the text] either through knowledge maps, or graphs with text within boxes [used in context of the visual mapping] (Suthers et. al., 2006). Though the research focuses on collaborative learning and interactions with knowledge maps, this is an interesting concept to consider.  What it does suggest is that online learning needs to move beyond the threaded discussions in the LMS platform.

Where to start…
There are a plethora of tools available and I will admit it will take some legwork to find relevant and applicable tools to meet the needs of the course objectives – I will provide just a few examples below to get you started. Also consider revisiting the instructional strategy, reviewing the learning objectives, the course content, and select learning activities that will support student learning. Next, I like to identify the appropriate level within Bloom’s Taxonomy, which helps with my choice of appropriate tool. Using the verbs associated with the learning level are also helpful – for example, analyze, synthesize will require different learning activities than verbs such as identifying or describing.

  • A collaborative mapping tool, MindMesister
  • Mindamo, Online Mind Mapping Software, available in Google Apps
  • Collaborative Data spreadsheet tool (think Excel), EditGrid
  • 35 Best Web 2.0 tools for Teachers, Edudemic

Keep Learning 🙂

Related Post: The LMS Divide
* Correction to my original post which incorrectly stated that Blackboard had acquired Moodle, it should have read Moodlerooms.  Moodlerooms is a support provider to Moodle, an open source platform.

Reference
Suthers, D.D., Vatrapu , R., Medina, R., Joseph, S., & Nathan Dwyer. (2008, May). Beyond threaded discussion: Representational guidance in asynchronous collaborative learning environments. Computers & Education. Volume 50, Issue 4, pp 1103-1127