Online Course Delivery

Monday, January 23, 2006

Learning Management System

Welcome! This web is a project created from an assignment in the Distance Education Professional Development Program at University of Wisconsin-Madison.

In this project, we are going to discuss about key issues of Learning Management Systems, including popular platforms in US; new teaching strategies; interaction among students, between students and the course materials, and between students and faculty/trainer; advancement and impacts of newly merged platforms; LMS selection; as well as terminology, important names in the field and resources for further study.

Common misconceptions
"Technology is all so expensive";
"With the technology, learners can learn effectively without self contribution";
"With the technology, there are not much left for educator do";
"Live video is the only way to deliver a real instructional experience"
Three years ago, many people might get ideas like these, but now, we all now that they are misconceptions. Open Source provides great opportunities for people who intend to improve the validity and effectiveness of learning and teaching. People can find Open Source contents and teaching materials in MIT and many other sources, Open Source VoIP, Open Source Podcast, Open Source blog/Vlog, Open Source LMS and many other resources, lots more than one can absorbs. Technology doesn't have to be expensive nowadays.

However, technology has not advanced enough to transmit the knowledge and store directly into the brain. Learning will still depends heavily on learners' self-direction, actively engaging and instructors' endeavor on teaching strategy, methodology, as well as philosophy. Learning technology itself cannot do anything to help people learn.

On the other hand, technology did provide diversity and convenience for teaching and learning approach. Live video, simulation, and situation-based approach of teaching are all good ways to give learners a "real" feeling of experience.

Learning management systems embrace innovative technology and aim to place the learner and educator in control of their own education. With the research of constructivism, multiple intelligence and so forth as supporting philosophies, the future LMS should be able to serve individual learning needs and foster personal potentials.


While the project initiating, I search and read articles, materials from websites. After gathering more and more information, gradually, I built up concept framework for LMS including topics related and what should be addressed in the report. In order to breed an interactive discussion, I look around and search for appropriate tools that are easy to use, convenient for noting the process and recording the conclusion. I tried every candidate tool, filter out ill-fitted ones and finally decided to choose Wiki as the collaborative thinking and writing tool. I create a Wiki space and recommended it to groups with brief tips to start. Two third of the groups successfully login and expressed their interesting in trying the tool that is new to them. Unfortunately, our members didn't take action as they intended to and the Wiki was left unused. Following description is my original expectation for the way we would carry out the project.

By that time, every group member was voluntarily surveying at least one LMS platform. We continue trying to experience the selected platforms and post daily findings to project Wiki. For those LMS that surveyors can't find a chance to experience it, we searching over WWW and reviewed evaluation reports published by authoritative organizations. Or, we interview experienced users to get their comments. In the meantime, groups brainstorm and come out with an outline for our final report with the consideration to target learners and course objectives.

After back and forth of writing, commenting and modifying, our project report was completed. We move it from Wiki to blog in order to get a better appearance and clear presentation. The final task is, "lead the one-week forum on LMS". Groups predict and list questions that might be raised during that week and share responsibility to every members. These questions and other questions that are brought up during the forum will be gathered in a knowledge base, "FAQ on LMS".

Product survey
What features should or are expected to provide in LMS? Edutools, a project of WCET, provides a list for LMS features, includes to categories of tools: learner tools and supporting tools.

  • Learner tools are,
  1. Communication tools, such as, discussion forums, file exchange, email, online journal/notes, real-time chat, video services, and whiteboard.
  2. Productivity tools, such as, bookmarks, calendar/progress review, orientation/help, searching within course, and work offline/synchronize.
  3. Student involvement tools, such as, groupwork, self-assessment, student community building, and student portfolios.
  • Support tools are
  1. Administration tools, such as, authentication, course authorization, and registration integration.
  2. Course delivery tools, such as, automated testing and scoring, course management, instructor helpdesk, online grading tools, and student tracking.
  3. Curriculum design, such as, accessibility compliance, content sharing/reuse, course templates, curriculum management, customized look and feel, instructional design tools, and instructional standards compliance.

There are plenty of products merging into the market. Some of them are proprietary while others are Open Source software. For the former category, there are Blackboard, WebCT, Desire2Learn; for the latter category, there are ATutor, ILIAS, Moodle, Sakai.

Fans of Open Source LMS claim that they are "head-to-head with Blackboard on feature and crushes the commercial competition of price." Are Open Source LMS platforms taking the lead? The article published on last Oct. in ASTD Learning Circuits provides some ideas.

Due to limitation of time, we could only survey 4 of the most popular LMS in
US academy. They are Blackboard, Desire2Learn, Moodle and Sakai. Two of them are proprietary systems and the other two are open source systems. Our focus for the survey includes strengths and limitations, advancement, impacts, actual cost for acquisition. We also provide teaching practices for each LMS to present the examples for new teaching strategies and interactions of that system.


Selecting the one fits your needs
The technology will determine how your organization will use its learning management system. Therefore, it's important to clearly define what you needs in advance. In this section, we list the considerations that you and your organization would like to ask yourselves before purchasing LMS.

For whom interested in knowing more about the subject or intend to study further, we provide,


Who's Who

If we look into future, what would a learning management system look like? It might not look like an LMS at all. From my study these weeks, I've found that some courses were demonstrated in an open environment, a course blog that links to all individual student blogs; an instructor blog for syllabus design; a course Wiki for collaborative writing the final report; a RSS aggregator for students to share their research resources. I found it very effective to inspire deeper level learning and critical thinking, judged by my learning experience in similar environment. Some educators and researchers believe that, in the future, it will be a virtual learning environment that gives the learner, and instructor the flexibility to move between various paths according to learning needs and styles. There is no one fits all LMS. Instructors should be encouraged to blend various tools to create an environment that fits the characteristics of a specific subject and target learners. Most of the merging tools are low-cost or free, and easy to use once you get started. When educators pay an insight look at the rich resources surround them, they will find that a social of learning is shaping admirably.



Susan Lulee

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