Learning Management Systems: Current Trends and Challenges in Higher Education

LeRoy Butler, Ph.D., PgMP, PMP, Chief Information Officer, Lewis University

LeRoy Butler, Ph.D., PgMP, PMP, Chief Information Officer, Lewis University

Learning management systems are an important part of higher education. Even before the recently heightened use brought on by the ongoing pandemic, there has been significant growth in learning management system (LMS) use over the past decade.  Moreover, as students’ expectations for how and when they access educational opportunities evolves, LMS will become a more integral resource in how institutions provide these opportunities.

In its most basic form, a LMS is any system for developing, administering, and delivering educational opportunities in a digital and/or online environment. LMSs have been a part of higher education for decades, and they have provided educational opportunities to numerous students that may not otherwise have access to a college education in a traditional in-person classroom setting.

Use of LMSs continues to evolve in higher education.  Here are four major trends that higher education leaders need to consider in exploring the possibilities for a LMS

Rapid expansion of available LMS technologies–Twenty years ago, the enterprise LMSs commonly found in higher education were limited to only a handful of technologies.  These technologies were based on a server/client model that limited access and flexibility in how they were used.  Today, there are dozens of enterprise learning management systems on the market that have the potential to enhance the educational experiences of students.  Moreover, many contemporary LMSs are cloud-based, which provide greater access and flexibility in how they are used.

"LMSs have been a part of higher education for decades, and they have provided educational opportunities to numerous students that may not otherwise have access to a college education in a traditional in-person classroom setting"

Convergence of technologies– Convergence (the integration of multiple technologies into one unified solution) has been a trend in many systems used in higher education, and learning management systems are no exception to this trend. Today, many of the more widely-used LMSs incorporate video, voice, and data communications(along with collaboration tools) seamlessly into their platforms. In addition, many LMS companies have formed strategic partnerships with other technology companies and education companies to provide comprehensive teaching and learning solutions.

Personalized experiences – Personalized educational experiences are a growing need in higher education.  Having varied opportunities and modalities for students to consume their educational are essential in recruiting and retaining them.  The learning management system industry is aware of this trend, and many LMS companies are working to develop solutions to address the need for personalized learning.

Expanding experiential learning opportunities – Experiential learning is a growing trend that has forced institutions to update their instructional methodologies.  As a critical component in many institutions’ platforms for instruction, LMSs are evolving to provide students with more opportunities for virtual hands-on experiences that are essential in experiential learning.

Leveraging the current trends in LMS technologies has allowed institutions to provide more and varied educational opportunities to students.  However, these opportunities do not come without challenges.  Here are some common challenges associated with LMSs:

Expectations vs. reality of platform – A common mistake made in leveraging LMS technologies is that it allows you to recreate the in-person experience in a virtual environment.  This is not true.  While LMSs can provide access to the same content provided in person, it cannot recreate the delivery of this content by the instructor (and how the content is consumed by students).

Another misconception of LMSs is that they are an easier means of delivering and consuming instruction.Although they may provide more convenience and flexibility, developing and delivering quality instruction via LMS technologies takes considerable effort.Both faculty and students must have the technology proficiency needed to use the LMS effectively.Also, instructors often spend more time on pedogeological issues (such as instructional design, vetting electronic materials, and content delivery issues) than in the in-person environment, which leaves less time to focus on the subject matter.

Sustainability- Institutions must have a sustained commitment in making LMSs an integral part of their educational model.  This includes providing the technical support needed to maintain the system and the functional support needed by their communities in using LMS technologies.  Colleges and universities must also provide the professional development/training required by faculty to maintain high quality materials and instructional practices.  This includes staying current with evolving LMS technologies that may impact the institution’s LMS, which also influences how the LMS is used in the courses they teach.

Security – LMSs house vast amounts of academic data.  As such, security should be considered in all aspects of LMS use.  Security items to consider include the following:

- Implementing appropriate security technologies to protect the LMS and its users

- Developing policies that govern access, use, and retention of the data stored in the system(s)

- Creating a culture of security awareness institution that is understood and embraced by the campus community

LMSs will continue to be an important resource in higher education.  As LMS technologies evolve, learning management system will become more instrumental in providing more options (and hopefully more quality) for students.

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