By the end of this lesson, you should:
Understand the factors to consider when choosing your Learning Management System.
Understand how to utilize discussions and synchronous meetings, and how to create opportunities for collaboration.
To get started on this lesson, watch the following video which explains the difference between blended learning and technology integration.
A learning management system (LMS) is one that allows you to administer educational courses online. They incorporate a document repository with automated systems to help deliver course content, and are designed to track, assess and report on the interactions of students.
The decision on which LMS to use may be something beyond the scope of your role. However, if you are in a position to influence the decision-making process or have some autonomy, you should consider the following questions before selecting an LMS.
What do you want the LMS for? Consider the audience.
What are their roles within your organization?
How old are they?
How many students and staff are there?
What is the current technical ability of the audience?
Where will the audience study, etc.?
What key features do you want the LMS to have? Determine your learning goals as a starting point. Then consider your ‘must-have’ requirements and your potential ‘wants’ for the future.
What is your budget? With so many LMS available, there is a huge range in costs. Once you have determined whether or not you have a budget and what that budget is, you can explore LMS that fall within the limits of the finance available.
Do you want/are you permitted to use a cloud-based LMS or do you need/want to use an open-source one? A cloud-based LMS is hosted on the web while an open-source or hosted LMS needs to be installed on your organization’s server. Cloud-based LMS can be more expensive than hosted LMS. However, there is no installation required, they can be tailored to your needs more easily, and are more robust if you want to deliver lessons to multiple locations.
Have you considered data protection? Some educational establishments and authorities do not allow student data to be stored in the ‘cloud’.
Is your school network capable of supporting the LMS? If you select an open-source or hosted LMS, you need to know whether or not your network is capable of storing and running the platform. However, if you choose a cloud-based system, you need to know whether the network can support the volume of users accessing the internet at the same time.
Do you have access to any local organizations/individuals using an LMS that you could explore? Being able to interact with colleagues beyond your organization who have an LMS can be an excellent way of evaluating the quality and usability of an LMS.
Does the LMS vendor have a free trial or demonstration that you could review? Many cloud-based LMS providers offer free trials. Accessing these can be a good way to review the LMS but you need to be mindful of how realistic these are with regard to your budget. The trial and demo examples often show the ‘top of the range’ features which may make the LMS unrecognizable from the one you would be running.
Can you evaluate the vendors? Most LMS vendors have websites that you can explore and reviews are available, both through these websites and through independent platforms. However, it is worth considering that the most highly rated LMS may not be ‘fit for purpose’ in terms of your unique setting. Many LMS users are commercial businesses rather than educational establishments, so the reviews may reflect this demographic.
One of the main benefits of using a blended model is that you allow students to interact with their learning through a wider variety of methods. In a traditional classroom, it can be difficult for some students to find their voice, especially if they are shy or anxious, are not learning in their first language or have a cognitive impairment.
There are many tools that you can use in a blended learning environment to combine traditional and online education, but in this lesson, we will focus on three:
collaboration and group work
Image: Balye, Sam. Unspalsh, 2018.
Image: Hume, Christin. Unsplash. 2018
In a traditional face-to-face learning environment, discussions can be difficult to organize and manage, especially with large groups of students. The sorts of issues educators often face include: the constraints of the physical environment to facilitate a discussion; the class time it takes to organize students in the discussion; specific students dominating discussions; the quality, relevance and suitability of discussion comments; student engagement in the discussion; and multiple students expressing opinions simultaneously.
When well planned, the use of an online discussion forum can help overcome many of these issues. Within most LMS, there is a discussion function which allows students to post written comments, images, mind maps, audio and video files and links to resources. However, before these are opened for comment, it is essential that the teacher determines a set of discussion conventions that students are expected to follow.
The following questions will help you prepare for an online discussion.
What do I need to teach students before they participate in this discussion forum? Remember that you will need to explicitly teach students what your expectations are and how to access any discussion forums if you have not used them previously. There will be content that students need to have interacted with before they can make valid discussion posts, and you may want to model what you want from students by making contributions to the discussion yourself.
What are the learning objectives for this discussion forum? If you are unclear about the purpose of the discussion, it is unlikely to be as valuable a learning experience. Remember that the purpose may be more about building social or communication skills than about increasing understanding of a topic.
What will be included in the discussion instructions? Consider what the students need to know before they can effectively participate in this discussion. The instructions may include some generic content plus guidance specific to the individual discussion. Include in the instructions what the minimum expectation is in terms of the number of posts.
Will I provide any stimulus material for students to respond to? You can include additional materials, such as an image, for students to reflect on or an article for further reading. Including stimulus material can help to engage students in the topic, as well as giving them a focus to create more relevant posts.
How will I facilitate this discussion? You need to consider your role in the discussion. You might choose to model discussion behavior by making posts of the length, tone, and style you expect from students. Alternatively, you may want to respond to the posts students are making by asking clarifying questions, acknowledging quality posts, and encouraging deeper thinking. However you choose to facilitate a discussion, it is important to give the students the time and space to contribute to the discussion using their own ‘voice’.
What will I do to manage inappropriate posts? You need to decide how you will reduce the possibility of a student posting inappropriate content. This may simply be through the communication of your expectations, the creation of formal discussion standards or through more robust protective methods. Some LMS have the facility for the teacher to ‘approve’ posts before they show in the discussion forum.
What else do I need to consider? There will be many local factors you need to consider when creating and using online discussions, including equity, culture and differentiation. Use the following discussion standards and etiquette to help guide your students.
To find out more, read the following articles.
Synchronous instruction and interactions are extremely advantageous. Benefits include:
questions can be asked in real time
a greater sense of community
improved social and communication skills
increased engagement in learning
increased opportunities for collaboration
immediate feedback can be provided
misconceptions can be identified and corrected
Hosting synchronous meetings allows students to attend ‘live lessons’, participate in webinars, and/or access recorded sessions of previous meetings. These meetings can also be used to expose students to external experts or guest speakers and can also be used by teachers to host ‘virtual office hours’ when students and teachers are not on campus.
Teachers can use the synchronous meetings to host sessions for individuals, small groups, classes, or whole cohorts. Synchronous communication opportunities between students and teachers can be organized by the teacher through a timetable of pre-scheduled meetings, as the need arises, or by student request.
Choosing an LMS that provides the opportunity for synchronous communication with teachers can be beneficial, as it will be embedded in a platform that students can already access. In addition, there is a range of options available that exist outside an LMS which you and your students may already be familiar with. Most of these provide opportunities for participants to contribute verbally and by using a text function, and many allow screens to be shared, provide a virtual whiteboard function, and include the ability for polls or quizzes to be embedded.
Things to consider when selecting how to host synchronous meetings:
Teachers need to ensure that school, local, and national regulations related to student protection and data protection are considered, whatever the platform being used. For example, generally, teachers should not be using personal accounts to communicate with students which would exclude the use of tools, such as Skype or FaceTime.
Most virtual meeting spaces require participants to have a microphone and speakers or a headset to communicate with the instructor. This raises another equity issue, as not all students will have access to these resources, even if they do have a device and internet access.
Participants need to read and follow the instructions to properly configure their device to launch the software.
To find out more, read the following articles.
The benefits of effective collaboration are well known by educators, but there are also pitfalls that need to be considered.
Through the use of discussion forums, wikis, peer reviews and synchronous meetings, we can expose our students to collaboration in many forms. Guiding students to interact in an appropriate manner, follow guidelines, and display netiquette using these tools will help prepare students for group activities that can be hosted online.
Undertaking group work through online learning does not remove all of the issues but means that contributions can be tracked, so there is increased accountability and visibility. All students can have a voice, as contributions can be made through visual, audio or multimedia posts, as well as verbally. Content can be submitted, reflected upon, and edited by any team member and these edits can be tracked and attributed to individual students which helps the teacher to grade and provide feedback to individuals.
To find out more, read the following articles.