Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Learning Management

Educause's recent survey  shows a tremendous increase in LMS usage among campuses.  Whittier is certainly part of that group, having "chosen" Moodle.  In 2007 we had no LMS (unless you count Luminis' paltry, resource-poor system).  By 2009 we were noting thousands of logins per week--quite a feat for a school of 1400 students.

You can read the quote below, but mostly what I want to underline is the increasing reliance on an LMS to teach.  Portfolios, federated logins, social networking and modular  are already or will soon be a feature of the LMS (particularly open-source varieties). 

I can't stress enough the usefulness--even in a small-class-size liberal arts environment--of the LMS.   Here's a quote from the survey:

The learning management system (LMS) has become a mission-critical enterprise system for higher education institutions. According to the EDUCAUSE Core Data Service: Fiscal Year 2007 Summary Report, 93 percent of all campuses responding to the survey supported at least one LMS. In fact, only 0.5 percent of respondents did not deploy and had no plans to deploy such a system.6 In Campus Computing 2008, Kenneth C. Green reports that the percentage of college/university courses that use an LMS has risen from 14.7 percent in 2000 to 53.5 percent in 2008.7 Accordingly, the LMS faces challenges and concerns similar to all other enterprise systems: acquisition strategy, local needs, rising costs, data migration, system integrity, integration/interoperability with other campus resources, and expansion to purposes for which it was not initially intended.
Although the commercial LMS providers (e.g., Blackboard/Angel Learning and Desire2Learn) dominate higher education, the percentage of campuses using open-source applications (e.g., Moodle and Sakai) has nearly doubled in the last two years.8 Given the rising cost of the commercial LMS, the current economic climate, and the pattern of consolidations in the commercial LMS market, the open-source LMS may be a viable alternative for some institutions. For those institutions with an already established LMS, however, the human and technical resources needed to migrate to a new system may be a concern.
Over the years, the LMS has evolved from a content (course) management system (CMS)9 to a more all-encompassing system that includes groupware and social networking tools, as well as assessment and e-portfolios to track learning across courses and semesters. Although the LMS needs to continue serving as an enterprise CMS, it also needs to be a student-centered application that gives students greater control over content and learning. Hence, there is continual pressure for the LMS to utilize and integrate with many of the Web 2.0 tools that students already use freely on the Internet and that they expect to find in this kind of system. Some educators even argue that the next requirement is a Personal Learning Environment (PLE) that interoperates with an LMS.10
At the same time, the question remains: is the LMS being used effectively at the institution, by both faculty and students? Institutions need to ensure that there are quality guidelines for the LMS, that both faculty and staff receive training,11 and that assessment is conducted regularly.
Critical questions for Learning Management Systems include the following:
  • What factors at the institution favor buying a commercial LMS or supporting an open-source application?
  • What systems need to be integrated with the LMS: portal? e-portfolio? ERP? library resources? Does the LMS support the integration of these systems?
  • Does the institution have the development and support expertise either to support an open-source LMS or to integrate open-source components into a commercial LMS?
  • Has the institution conducted, or is it planning to conduct, an assessment of how effectively the LMS is being used? What training/support resources are available to help faculty and students make better use of the LMS features?
  • If a change will be made to a new system, what plan is in place to ensure the smooth migration of existing materials to the new system?