The LMS is Dead - Long Live the LMS!

By Jack Suess, VP of IT & CIO, University of Maryland Baltimore County

Jack Suess, VP of IT & CIO, University of Maryland Baltimore County

I recently gave a talk to AXIES, Japan’s higher education association, on the Next Generation Digital Learning Environments (NGDLE) and that caused me to reflect on how far we have come, and how far we have yet to go, to secure the promise of the LMS. This article will summarize that talk and hopefully spur reflection by others.

If your campus is like mine, the Learning Management System (LMS) is one of the most important services on campus. For the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), 95 percent of students have at least one course using the LMS and almost 90% of the instructors have at least one course in the LMS.

In 1997, my first encounter with an LMS was downloading and installing Murray Goldberg’s WebCT package developed at the University of British Columbia. WebCT provided an easy way for faculty to put their syllabi and notes online. Prior to WebCT, faculty were trying to use basic html files and were often frustrated with how difficult it was to update the course website, while students were frustrated that more faculty weren’t putting course materials online. Fast forward a little over twenty years, and it is hard to find an educational technology that has been adopted more ubiquitously in a shorter period of time than the LMS, with estimates approaching 99% of universities having a LMS.

"Campuses should look at the Next Generation Digital Learning Environment as a roadmap for how they should be utilizing the LMS in advancing student learning and student success."

Other than grumbling about the cost, most IT organizations seem content to accept the status quo with regards to the LMS and not rock the boat. We assume that faculty don’t want new features or better analytics with the LMS and only look at alternatives when the price increases.

In 2014, I participated in focus groups on the future of the LMS run by EDUCAUSE. The major finding was redefining the role of the LMS:

“Over time, the LMS needs to be supplemented (and perhaps later replaced) by a new digital architecture and components for learning that contribute to and enable the transitions that higher education is currently experiencing. The challenge is to build on the value of the LMS as an administrative tool by retaining what works but not be bound to an outgoing model of teaching and learning. Another challenge is to make targeted investments that will bring about the next generation environment more quickly and coherently.”

That work, led by Malcolm Brown of EDUCAUSE, ultimately resulted in the white paper titled The Next Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE). The paper identified five dimensions to be addressed as we move forward, these are:

● Interoperability and Integration - the ability to integrate tools and exchange content and learning data will enable everything else.

● Personalization - allowing students and faculty to customize and configure the learning environment and the ability to easily use adaptive learning techniques to support individualized learning.

● Analytics, Advising, and Learning Assessment - the NGDLE should be integrated into other systems supporting student success and provide students and advisors information to improve decision making and time to degree.

● Collaboration - the NGDLE should move beyond a course-centric view of information and learning and easily integrate public and private resources into the course; and

● Accessibility and Universal Design - we need tools that use universal design principles to build accessibility into what we do at the start, not as an afterthought.

Any institution interested in student success, should be paying attention to the LMS. In research reported by Civitas Learning, when classes make effective use of the LMS, LMS activity is one of the most important predictors of persistence in a class and to the next semester. However, very few institutions I am aware of have any meaningful learning analytics efforts in place to measure student learning analytics.

In addition, to reduce the cost of textbooks, we are seeing many publishers and institutions move to electronic textbooks or open educational resources. These efforts afford an opportunity for IT organizations to partner with academic departments and better integrate electronic textbooks into the LMS so that homework, practice exams, and usage can be easily integrated into the LMS for faculty to use. In many courses, the electronic textbook is the primary tool used by students. Integrating student usage and learning analytics from the electronic textbook into the LMS provides an opportunity for faculty to get quick feedback on what students are having trouble learning and can be important in providing pedagogical feedback to faculty. Using new tools such as the IMSglobal LTI Advantage program helps ensure that this integration of electronic content and the LMS will work without problems.

Adaptive learning has been shown to be a very effective approach in courses where the course material builds on the prior material each week. We know that in courses such as math or science, not understanding a key concept will potentially have significant consequences later in the course. Using tools such as McGraw Hill’s Aleks in our entry level math courses is providing students the ability to identify and relearn math skills they might have forgotten or not acquired in high school. Linking these tools to the LMS and pulling in learning analytics data is an important indicator of student effort and persistence and provides important feedback on pedagogy.

In closing, for CIO’s wishing to support student success efforts on campus, re-engaging with the LMS is important. One way that CIO’s can do this is by following the IMSglobal higher education playbook and requiring all their educational technology suppliers to adhere to these standards. Second, it is important that IT leaders are working with faculty and deans to use learning analytics to give instructors more insight on student learning. Last but not least, by emphasizing the LMS for instruction, it is easier for CIOs to work with academic leaders to make certain that instructional materials are accessible.