An Example Why LMS Should Not Be Only Part of Learning Ecosystem

In Michael’s initial post on the Post-LMS, he built on this central theme:

Reading Phil’s multiple reviews of Competency-Based Education (CBE) “LMSs”, one of the implications that jumps out at me is that we see a much more rapid and coherent progression of learning platform designs if you start with a particular pedagogical approach in mind.

The idea here is not that the traditional LMS has no value (it can be critical infrastructure, particularly for mainstream faculty adoption), but rather that in the future we both see more learning platform designs being tied to specific pedagogies. This idea is quite relevant given the ongoing LMS users’ conferences (InstructureCon last week, D2L Fusion this week, BbWorld next month, Apereo / Sakai as well as iMoot in the past two months).

Later in the post Michael mentions ASU’s Habitable Worlds as an example of assessing the quality of students’ participation instead of direct grading.

A good example of this is ASU’s Habitable Worlds, which I have blogged about in the past and which will be featured in an episode of the aforementioned e-Literate TV series. Habitable Worlds is roughly in the pedagogical family of CBE and mastery learning. It’s also a PBL [problem-based learning] course. Students are given a randomly generated star field and are given a semester-long project to determine the likelihood that intelligent life exists in that star field. There are a number of self-paced adaptive lessons built on the Smart Sparrow platform. Students learn competencies through those lessons, but they are competencies that are necessary to complete the larger project, rather than simply a set of hoops that students need to jump through. In other words, the competency lessons are resources for the students.

In our recent case study on ASU, Lev Horodyskyj shared his experiences helping to design the course. He specifically called out the difficulties they faced when initially attempting this pedagogical approach with a traditional LMS.

Phil Hill: But the team initially found that the traditional technologies on campus were not suited to support this new personalized learning approach.

Lev Horodyskyj: Within a traditional system it was fairly difficult. Traditional learning management systems aren’t really set up to allow a lot of interactivity. They’re more designed to let you do things that you would normally do in a traditional classroom: multiple choice tests; quizzes; turning in papers; uploading, downloading things.

Especially when you’re teaching science, a range of possibilities are viable answers, and oftentimes when we teach science, we’re more interested in what you’re not allowed to do rather than what you’re allowed to do.

Traditional LMS’s don’t allow you to really program in huge parameter spaces that you can work with. They’re basically looking for, “What are the exact correct answers you are allowed to accept?”

I was brought into the picture once Ariel decided that this could be an interesting way to go, and I started playing around with the system. I instantly fell in love with it because it was basically like PowerPoint. I could drop whatever I wanted wherever I wanted, and then wire it up to behave the way I wanted it to behave.

Now, instead of painstakingly programming all the 60 possible answers that a student might write that are acceptable, I can all of sudden set up a page to take any answer I want and evaluate it in real time. I no longer have to program those 60 answers; I could just say, “Here are the range of answer that are acceptable,” and it would work with that.

Phil Hill: And this was the Smart Sparrow system?

Lev Horodyskyj: This was the Smart Sparrow system, correct. It was really eye-opening because it allowed so many more possibilities. It was literally a blank canvas where I could put whatever I wanted.

This pedagogical approach, supported by appropriate learning platform design, seems to lead to conceptual understanding.

Eric Berkebile: My experiences were very similar. What amazed me the most about it was more how the course was centered upon building concept. It wasn’t about hammering in detail. They weren’t trying to test you on, “How much can you remember out of what we’re feeding you?” It wasn’t about hammering in detail. They weren’t trying to test you on ‘How much can you remember?’

You go through the slides, you go through the different sections, and you are building conceptual knowledge while you are doing it. Once you’ve demonstrated that you can actually apply the concept that they are teaching you, then you can move forward. Until that happens, you’re going to be stuck exactly where you are, and you’re going to have to ask help from other students in the class; you’re going to have to use the resources available.

They want you to learn how to solve problems, they want you to learn how to apply the concepts, and they want you to do it in a way that’s going to work best for you.

Phil Hill: So, it’s multidisciplinary for various disciplines but all held together by project problem-solving around Drake’s equation?

Todd Gilbert: Yeah. One concept really ties it all together, and if you want to answer those questions around that kind of problem, like, “Is there life out there? Are we alone?” you can’t do that with just astronomy, you can’t do that with just biology. It touches everything, from sociology down to physics. Those are very, very different disciplines, so you have to be adaptable.

But I mean if you rise to that kind of a challenge—I can honestly say, this is not hyperbole or anything. It is my favorite class I’ve taken at this college, and it’s a half-semester online course. It is my favorite class I’ve taken at this college.

Eric Berkebile: By far the best course I’ve taken, and I’ve recommended it to everybody I’ve talked to since.

This approach is not mainstream in the sense that the vast majority of courses are not designed as problem-based learning, so I am not arguing that all LMSs should change accordingly or that Smart Sparrow is a superior product. I do, however, think that this episode gives a concrete example of how the traditional LMS should not be the only platform available in a learning ecosystem and how we will likely see more development of platforms tied to specific pedagogical approaches.

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About Phil Hill

Phil is a consultant and industry analyst covering the educational technology market primarily for higher education. He has written for e-Literate since Aug 2011. For a more complete biography, view his profile page.
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2 Responses to An Example Why LMS Should Not Be Only Part of Learning Ecosystem

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  2. gmc014 says:

    agree with the spirit of this post. platforms for specific use will continue to emerge, and continue to bump up against the LMS. two areas where institutions might struggle to adapt to this more disaggregated model are risk management of new tools and learning analytics. Like IRB (in some places, not all), risk management offices are relatively conservative organizations that move carefully and slowly. this does not align well with a “plug in” pedagogical approach. For learning analytics, it’s an issue of capturing student activity in divergent places. courses that are LMS-intense are easier to collect data from. courses that have tentacles in multiple platforms present more of a challenge.

    ed tech has a long history of running headlong into the existing culture and systems of higher education. I think there is tremendous potential for a flex platform model, and I hope the larger structures around us adjust to allow for meaningful exploration.

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