Online: Trending Now

Unique biweekly insights and news review
from Ray Schroeder, Director of the National Council for Online Education

Can an LMS Be Designed for Humans First, Tech Second?

Despite the evolution of learning management systems over the past two decades, LMSs seem to remain tech-oriented rather than learner oriented – is this likely to change? 

Online: Trending Now #138

Learning management systems have been around since the last century.  The World Wide Web, of course, provided great impetus to the LMS through the point-and-click interactivity. Arguably, the first broadly deployed LMS was WebCT, developed at the University of British Columbia by Professor Murray Goldberg in 1995. When I first opened WebCT in 1996, it was a breakthrough in organizing and delivering course materials to students.  But, it was also clear that the design was designed first and foremost to accommodate the technology demands of the task. 

And, so it has continued through the development of the LMS over the intervening two and a half decades. The vast majority of the dozens of following systems have followed a left-hand navigation panel with material appearing in a box on the right. That’s not a bad approach if you are creating an inventory system or a filling in fields of a database. But, if the focus is on the learner, perhaps we are better served with something that is more intimate and personally-responsive to the learner. This becomes especially important as we move to scale online courses, creating the threat that learners will feel more isolated and less engaged.

Amy Ahearn addressed the concerns in a recent EdSurge article:

The majority of online learning environments are no more than video-hosting platforms with quizzes and a discussion forum. These default features force online instructors to use a style of teaching that feels more like shouting to the masses than engaging in meaningful conversations. This presents a challenge and an opportunity: How can we design online learning environments that achieve scale and intimacy? How do we make digital platforms feel as inviting as well-designed physical classrooms? 

The potential of artificial intelligence offers us the promise that we may be able to provide personalized learning opportunities to our students. By giving AI a lead role in engaging the student, the learning management system can become much more flexible and responsive as we have seen in Professor Ashok Goel’s early work with “Jill Watson” at Georgia Tech

A relatively new AI chatbox, Hubert, gives a glimpse of the future. It is designed to solicit student feedback on classes. But, rather than offering a multiple choice or short answer format such as other student evaluations, it opens a chatbox window engaging conversation with the student. Hubert analyzes answers on the fly and follows-up with more probing questions. Finally, the data is compiled and put into an actionable report to the instructor of areas students feel could be improved.

The folks at write “Personalized learning is probably the most common AI application in edtech today and is a sizzling hot topic in the overall educational sector. And for a good reason. For long it’s been known that different individuals learn in a different way and at a different pace, but most schools are still stuck in the same habit of the active, lecturing teacher and the passive, listening students.”

Projecting the advances in AI and machine-learning, the days of the LMS as a tech-first product may be numbered. We will likely see more and more products that assess learner preferences and build an environment that most comfortably meets their needs.  Stay tuned!

Of course, I will continue to track the developments in emerging trends, technologies, pedagogies and practices, Continuing and Online Education Update blog by UPCEA. You can have the updates sent directly to your email each morning – no advertising, no spam!

Ray Schroeder Founding Director
National Council for Online Education


Ray Schroeder 2016 Summit for Online Leadership

Ray Schroeder is Professor Emeritus, Associate Vice Chancellor for Online Learning at the University of Illinois Springfield (UIS) and Senior Fellow at UPCEA. Each year, Ray publishes and presents nationally on emerging topics in online and technology-enhanced learning. Ray’s social media publications daily reach more than 12,000 professionals. He is the inaugural recipient of the A. Frank Mayadas Online Leadership Award, recipient of the University of Illinois Distinguished Service Award, the United States Distance Learning Association Hall of Fame Award, and the American Journal of Distance Education/University of Wisconsin Wedemeyer Excellence in Distance Education Award 2016.

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