Education and learning, just like time, wait for no one. And education is entering a new epoch. One that finds itself tied inextricably with the technologies that will continue to revolutionise it in the coming years.
What does this mean for elearning and for those that facilitate it?
It means that humans and technologies will co-exist in the world of education-working together to produce creatives who possess a range of critical thinking skills that prepare them for a lifetime of learning.
In recent decades, there has been a growing need for the construction of centralised platforms to streamline the learning process. This is where the Learning Management System was created and continues to grow. Able to transform the online educational experience, the Learning Management System acts as the gateway to this new era in teaching and learning.
Here, we explore just how this management system influences education and elearning today and how continues to influence some of thinking going forward.
A Learning Management System (LMS) is a software tool and a specific type of elearning platform. It allows you to create content, deliver courses and report on assessment tasks. An LMS will also support the running of administration, enrollment, documentation and payment systems.
It is the virtual storage space for training materials and resources; an LMS is the place where videos, courses, texts, lecture notes, presentations and supplementary resources are housed. Because resources are located within the LMS, both learners and course facilitators can access everything required to learn from one central place, streamlining the learning experience and fostering an organised approach.
The LMS is the central hub where learners and users come together to access learning, collaborate and interact online. It’s akin to a digital classroom where remote learners meet-these learners can be accessing corporate training programs, compliance training, onboarding, online courses, GCSE’s and degrees or blended learning courses-and the LMS can facilitate the running of multiple courses at any given moment in time.
A Learning Management System allows both the host and the learner the opportunity to save time and money-courses can be accessed from home, at any time of day or night, through their online device. Because the LMS uses software that allows facilitators to design and run multiple courses that can be accessed by different groups of people simultaneously, it can also reduce the financial costs for those running training programs.
It’s no secret that best teachers are often the greatest communicators, understanding the way each learner thinks, knowing when to challenge and push, and recognising where barriers to learning are going to become problematic. Thankfully, research into online learning shows that collaboration and communication does not decrease when learning takes place digitally. This is because software within an LMS allows for communication to take place.
Deep learning, learning that embeds and is consolidated, thrives where open collaboration is facilitated. Online learning in no way diminishes access to open collaboration-thanks in part to the LMS. Using an LMS can allow for seamless communication between learners and instructors or peer to peer. This is because LMS software allows for discussion forums, messaging systems and video conferencing tools.
Learning, be it online or in the physical world can be a lonely and isolating experience. Worrying about your own level of understanding, concerns that others have progressed further, even just finding the motivation to start are all very real and ever present problems for those in the process of learning something new. But, peer to peer learning and collaboration can ease these concerns and allow the participants to share their knowledge, ask questions and work together and get help with difficulties-solving problems with self-doubt and motivation.
Studies also show that when learners participate in collaborative projects online, learning is not reduced, if anything the potential to learn is greater. In many ways, the conversations and ‘talk’ between learners are pretty much the same as those that take place in a traditional classroom.
Studies also point out that online learners tend to develop stronger critical thinking skills, even in remote or asynchronous settings. There are several reasons behind this, there is wider access to a range of learning materials that meet differing learner styles. As a result learning is more enjoyable and consequently, richer and deeper.
Secondly, learners can work at their own pace and in a time that suits them, so learning is more motivated and less rushed.
And finally, online learning is based on the invention of new ideas and fosters this same mindset with learners. With positive incentives and the buoyancy effect of working with others, online projects can be completed successfully and with real motivation.
What these studies do tend to point out, and is indeed worth mentioning, is that whilst online learning does not reduce participants ability to learn collaboratively, intervention from and interaction with instructors is pretty critical to success of collaborative projects. It’s perhaps a bit like the old phrase, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. Whilst the interactive tools available through the LMS can offer learners engagement, if it’s not encouraged by instructors and course leaders, the tools may not be used to their fullest potential.
In the physical world, a teacher will mark a piece of work and comment on learner success, provide areas for development and determine whether the individual is ready for the next step in the learning process. In the virtual world, this is carried out through the LMS. It acts as a virtual teacher.
Without an LMS, simply collecting the relevant data would be an insurmountable task, especially if you’re running multiple courses for more than one group of people at any given time. Knowing what to do with it once you’ve harvested it all, perhaps like finding a needle in a haystack.
The LMS understands how to use the data to support your learners and fulfil their learning needs. It also allows you to segment the data based on criteria such as learning styles, roles or preferences. Analysing data allows the LMS to tailor the learning sequence to meet the precise needs of the learner. Adaptive technologies suggest additional material or recommend new ways to meet a challenging learning objective-a kind of virtual one-to-one tutor for each participant.
Data analytics software within the LMS is beneficial for you and the learners. Recognising aspects of the course materials that are engaging and stimulating enable hosts to leave high-performing elements unchanged. Understanding areas of the course that have been consistently challenging for some, most or all learners will allow you to make changes quickly. In the same way, predictive analytics within the software allows you to determine how future learners will respond to learning resources and materials. These two areas of the LMS alone aim to save you time, money and ensure that learners respond to and engage with the materials you have invested in.
Online learning works, there’s a mass of studies and research that validate this. But for it to be at its most impactful and for it to produce a stellar level of content, it needs to be managed efficiently. An LMS enables you to do this, whether you’re simply serving content to a small audience or designing and running multiple courses accessed by large numbers or participants.
An LMS enhances your efficiency as a facilitator, allowing you to create and design content. It will analyse learner engagement and progress and act as a one-to-one tutor to individual participants who require additional support. It will house all of the course materials and allow you to create quizzes and gamification to maximise learner interest. It will also enable you to run multiple courses that can be accessed by many different groups or organisations, simultaneously. And, it contains software to facilitate administration and enrollment.
An LMS could be described as the lifeblood of any digital learning service. And, as we sit on the cusp of a new educational era, its strengths as a management system will only continue to reach further.