Traditional LMS or Business Collaboration Software

Paul M Holland, Associate Dean for Student Learning & Experience, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Swansea University And Simon Gibbon, Head of SALT, Swansea University

Paul M Holland, Associate Dean for Student Learning & Experience, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Swansea University

Learning Management Systems (LMS) became widely available and known as the Virtual learning environment (VLE)on UK university campuses from the early 2000s. While critics suggest that their initial use did not progress beyond information repositories to store lecture notes for many courses, they have increasingly enabled teaching innovations such as blended learning and flipped classrooms.

Swansea University embarked on a review of its LMS offering in 2017, culminating in a supplier change in 2020. The review coincided with the adoption of cloud-based business collaboration software used for university operations. Like other universities in a competitive and marketised sector, the thought of potential cost savings and reducing overheads through supporting fewer software systems were appealing. Therefore, one of the options considered during the review was to move away from the typical LMS and use business collaboration systems and associated apps for learning, teaching and assessment(LTA) practices. In addition to the immediate cost saving for the LMS software, there was a range of other potential benefits aligning with educational and sector drivers.

"Moving away from traditional delivery modes such as didactic lectures to authentic small-group digital learning activities requires an uplift in pedagogical knowledge and digital skills"

Despite many institutions investing in their digital estate and acquiring new LMSs, it is not translating into students graduating with the digital capabilities they require in their careers. The 2019 Jisc annual digital insights survey of Higher Education (HE) and Further Education (FE) students in the UK states that only 42 percent of HE students agree that their degree prepares them for the future workplace. With the emergence of Industry 4.0, the fourth industrial revolution worth billions of pounds to the manufacturing sector, there is also concern from industry and commerce about the growing digital skills gap. For example, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) recommends that the UK government map out the digital skills required in school, college and university courses.

Simon Gibbon, Head of SALT, Swansea University

Digital literacy, as defined by Jisc, include capabilities such as digital communication, collaboration, creation, problem solving and innovation – digital literacy or, in more modern parlance, digital fluency is not just about ICT proficiency. The ability to bring a wide range of 21st-century skills to bear in our digital society is of paramount importance for graduate outcomes. If students use business systems daily on degree programmes embedded with digital learning activities and assessments, will the digital skills gap close?

After starting the LMS review and writing a specification for its replacement, it quickly became apparent that while a transition away from the traditional LMS might improve digital skills, it would be complicated, present risks and require work and resources. The following practical realities were significant and included.

• Consistency of Practice

There were two consistency elements to consider during the LMS review. Students are vocal in institutional and sector surveys; they appreciate consistency in the way courses are presented and navigated on the system. Additionally, if the learning design is highly varied across a programme of study, problems with student satisfaction may occur. For example, students who experience small group work using digital tools may perceive that as having more or less value when compared to traditional didactic lectures.

• Staff Skills and Institutional Barriers

There are many time pressures on academic staff in higher education, especially those that are research-led. Moving away from traditional delivery modes such as didactic lectures to authentic small-group digital learning activities requires an uplift in pedagogical knowledge and digital skills. An abrupt change away from the conventional LMS requires buy-in from teaching staff that change is needed, high costs in time and training and possibly a fundamental culture change in the educational model employed by the institution.

• Integrations

Many educational software and tools can integrate seamlessly using Learning Tools Interoperability(LTI) standards, and there are many that (currently) only integrate with an LMS.A strong reason for maintaining a dedicated LMS at Swansea is the many LTI integrations that keep users in a coherent ecosystem. Staff and students are unaware that they have moved from the core LMS to an additional service due to the seamless, secure connection and exchange between the two.

• Solution Maturity

Business systems are developing and expanding their toolset to fit the education sphere. As explained, this is positive as it provides students with the necessary tools for authentic practice opportunities. However, workflows and processes may not match typical operations in the education setting, leading to frustration for both staff and students, especially if regular updates to systems as they are re-purposed require fixes to enable the educational use or necessitate training.

• Support

Swansea University required 24/7 support from the chosen LMS supplier, given the possible necessity for a speedy transition between academic years. The rapid expansion of business systems in this area will rapidly increase their user base. For example, the average UK University has approximately 17,000 users (staff and students). There was a perceived risk of additional strain on business systems support and software development teams to help new users and accommodate feature requests or changes, especially if these only meet educational use.

The review team completed the specification for a system to achieve its requirements for LTA over the next decade and followed a competitive tender process. The result was that a modern, market-leading LMS was successful with its bid. The new LMS was installed and went live in a staggered approach over 2020. A year on the LMS review team concludes that the new LMS introduction also coincided with the need for pedagogical and digital training for online teaching due to Covid-19. Perhaps helped by that element of luck, the new LMS has been overwhelmingly well-received by students and staff and has been instrumental in the University’s response to the pandemic. Staff and students can still choose to use the other new business systems where they decide to do so to improve digital skills. Perhaps listening to the experiences of universities such as Swansea, LMSs and business software vendors are now working in partnership to integrate business systems, thus combining the best of both approaches giving Higher Education Institutes flexibility in their educational models to produce rounded,  high-calibre graduates.

Weekly Brief

Top 10 Innovative School District Tech Director

Read Also

Our New Experts in Telemental Health

Our New Experts in Telemental Health

David G. Stewart, Dean, California School of Professional Psychology
Flexibility and resilience in higher education

Flexibility and resilience in higher education

Leif Nelson, Director of Learning Technology Solutions at Boise State University
3 Practices to Creating Meaningful Learning Experiences for All

3 Practices to Creating Meaningful Learning Experiences for All

Statia Paschel, Director of Social and Emotional Learning and Cultural Proficiency and Inclusiveness, Austin ISD
Educational Technology is Changing Education of Health Professionals

Educational Technology is Changing Education of Health Professionals

Jonathan Daitch, Associate Provost for Online Education, Western University of Health Sciences and Jonathan Labovitz, DPM, FACFAS, CHCQM, Associate Dean, Clinical Education and Graduate Placement Professor, College of Podiatric Medicine at Western University of Health Sciences
Educational Leaders - A Letter to the Seasoned and New Hires

Educational Leaders - A Letter to the Seasoned and New Hires

Marya G. Withers, VP of Academic Affairs, Lincoln Educational Services
The Era of Edtech Efficacy

The Era of Edtech Efficacy

Graham Forman, Managing Director and Founder, Edovate Capital