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1 Learning Management Systems and the Efficiency of Online Learning 1 Learning Management Systems and the Efficiency of Online Learning Lexie Williams EDCI-513 Purdue University

2 Learning Management Systems and the Efficiency of Online Learning 2 Abstract Online students exist in every part of the world, everywhere perhaps, except Antarctica. According to a report from the Babson Survey Research Group, published by the Online Learning Consortium (OLC), as of 2014, there were approximately 5.8 million students, nationally, enrolled in at least one online course (OLC, 2016). Over a span of 15 undergraduate years, I've had my share of online courses. In my experience, I began to specifically choose courses and programs that were heavily, if not completely available online. There s something to be said for educational convenience. But does convenience translate into efficiency? Is there a disconnect between the in-class experience, and the online experience? Are online learners at a disadvantage? Is their learning inferior? I have found research that supports online learning, and what s necessary for a successful online learning program. Keywords: online learning, efficiency, learning management systems, learning platforms

3 Learning Management Systems and the Efficiency of Online Learning 3 Problem The problem with online learning is not singular. However, my question stems from a matter of efficacy. Are all methods of online learning effective? There are a great variety of platforms from which to choose. How does an educational institution choose the best online platform that provides the best learning experience for online learners? Is there one platform that is found more efficient than the others? Despite the great variety of platforms, my experience has allowed me to experience only two of those platforms. Within those platforms, there have been diverse methods of instructional technology presentation. Lecture videos, discussion boards, live lecture hybrid, real-time Q&A, and so on. Each instructor uses their online platform however much or little they feel, which is also subject to specific variables. Purpose There are many more online learning platforms available for use than I ever imagined. I ve been an online learner for over 10 years. I am aware of being exposed to only two online learning platforms over that course of time: Blackboard, and Canvas. The purpose of this paper is to filter through some of the top learning management systems to see if there is one comprehensive program that is the overall most efficient for online learners. If not, how does one determine what program is best to use? Are there better programs available than the ones we use? What are the variables that determine satisfactory online learning experiences? Should we look to streamline how online learning is presented? Research is extensive and in part inconclusive. There are pieces we can put together; from those pieces, what can we gather?

4 Learning Management Systems and the Efficiency of Online Learning 4 Synthesis of Research Online learning has steadily increased over the years. The infographic below entitled A Brief History of Online Learning (Dumbauld, 2014) entails just that. It catalogues the first occurrence of online education, going through time until The research finding of 5.8 million students is a number from 2014 findings (OLC, 2016). Assuming the growth trend has continued since then, that number is undoubtedly higher today. Every school year there are more classes, and more programs offered online. Some programs are online exclusive, while others offer classes towards a degree or certificate. You also have hybrid classes, which are classes that are a mixture of both online and in-person participation. In his article Higher Education in the Digital Age, William Bowen (2013) makes this point regarding online learning platforms: Instead of just making a comparison between traditional and online formats of learning, different modes of online learning should also be compared (Bowen, 2013, 175-6). In considering these methods of e-learning, it seems clear on a preliminary basis, that using every form for one class will be too complicated or confusing.

5 Learning Management Systems and the Efficiency of Online Learning 5 Likewise, one method is not the standard. Bowen (2013) goes on to say, different platforms will be appropriate for different courses. The notion of a single platform is quite unrealistic and ill-suited for all courses (e.g. statistics course has completely different needs than politics course) (Bowen, 2013, 176). My personal experience supports this notion. My Justice course was suited for the video lecture provided. However, my hybrid or blended learning Psychology course was better suited for that particular format. We had the option to tune in to our lecture live, and participate in question and answer sessions as the class was going on. The definition of blended learning has evolved over the years, and continues to evolve as technology advances and offers us more choices. For some corporations and institutes of higher learning, blended learning programs have become the favored option over methods done by single delivery (Singh, 2003). This is because blended learning lends itself to versatility. It s not linear. Blended learning programs may include several forms of learning tools, such as real-time Table 1: Information from World Wide Learn virtual/ collaboration software, selfpaced Web-based courses, electronic E-Learning Modes Purely online - no face-to-face performance support systems (EPSS) meetings Blended Learning - combination of embedded within the job-task (Singh, online and face-to-face 2003, 2-3). Synchronous Asynchronous Instructor-led group Self-study Learning Platforms Self-study with subject matter expert Web-based I was a bit confused at first. There are Computer-based (CD-ROM) Video/audio tape many different names to categorize the online learning platforms. E-learning platforms

6 Learning Management Systems and the Efficiency of Online Learning 6 and online learning platforms were two names that I knew of through my personal online experiences. I became aware of another name. Learning Management Systems. My initial task was to find out if these names all carried the same or different meaning. After searching out definitions, I was able to ascertain that they all carry quite the same meaning. I was unfamiliar with the phrase Learning Management Systems or LMS, and this seemed to be the most frequently used technical term. A general working definition for LMS reads as such: A learning management system (LMS) is a software application for the administration, documentation, tracking, reporting and delivery of educational courses or training programs. According to Mindflash (article) this tracking can be done anywhere, on any device you have use of. Essentially, this is the standard vehicle of use for online courses. In theory, one system would comprehensively cover all bases. In reality, that has not yet been possible, as there are well over 30 well-known platforms to choose from. Beyond that, there are close to 600 varieties of LMS available for purchase today (Mindflash). Critical Analyses How do we begin to answer the questions presented? Is there one platform more suitable than others? What is a determining factor of success? Bowen (2013) states, For successful implementation of online learning, perhaps the most obvious requirement is customizable, sustainable platform (Bowen, 2013, 176). This seems to be both a necessary and challenging part of the LMS process. (insert source here) Sustainability doesn t seem as big a problem as the customization factor. It can be tricky to tailor the program to fit the exact needs of use. Course delivery platforms need to provide more

7 Learning Management Systems and the Efficiency of Online Learning 7 stable and consistent delivery of their content. It would also help if these platforms were more flexible in allowing the instructor to tailor them to meet class requirements (Rivera and Rice, 2002, 9). Aside from customization, there are arguments that online learning takes away from the in-class experience. There are advocates of face-to-face interactions that are not available through online learning. Bowen is one of those advocates. Person-to-person and studentteacher communication can serve as inspirational, life-changing experiences. After-class or late-night student exchange can have a profound influence on one s career and worldview (Bowen, 2013, 177). While this is certainly a valid point, there can be great interactional experiences through online learning. This would largely come from healthy discussion sessions with fellow peers. There is also the possibility of video meetings, or live audio chat sessions. The biggest factor missing from online discussions, without audio or video, is the ability to ascertain body language, and vocal tone cues. What is valuable in its stead is the ability to work on clear communication through written dialogue. This practice can lead to healthy interactions with peers that you may not get otherwise. There are many times where students will come to class, get through the lesson and leave without speaking to anyone. Required online discussions ensure our interactions with each other. Bowen s (2013) discussion with Daphne Koller produced this thought: New formats of online learning are much more interactive than full auditorium of students and one teacher and can be used to further enhance software packages and learning platforms (Bowen, 2013, 180-1). What makes this better is the ability to find a way to

8 Learning Management Systems and the Efficiency of Online Learning 8 customize and maximize so that nothing goes to waste, or gets in the way, regarding the learning platforms. Efficiency (I m sifting through sources to find the best, most relevant information to develop this section more, as it is a big focus of the paper) Is online learning efficient? Yes, online learning has proven to be more efficient than not. (source) That doesn t mean all aspects are efficient, or that it doesn t have its challenges. According to research by Bersin and Associates, Learning Management System users have ranked their top six challenges to successfully implementing a Learning Management System. 1. System Customization 2. Content Integration 3. Integration 4. Ongoing Administration 5. IT Issues 6. System Performance One aspect of efficiency deals with what s available to the student. Clear and specific specifications for the student s computer hardware, software, and telecommunications must be published prior to course registration so that enrolling students can be ready to participate (Rivera and Rice, 2002, 9). It s challenging when a student does not have a comparable browser, or available basic software framework on their computer to appropriately complete coursework. Another aspect of efficiency concerns customization issues. (source) When you have to much program, it may seem to get in the way of other things. Finding a way to get just what you need, without having to get everything else you don t need remains a challenge.

9 Learning Management Systems and the Efficiency of Online Learning 9 The Best Programs The latter part of my undergraduate program through Harvard University utilized Canvas. It was not fully online, as there were on-campus requirements for all degree candidate students. We also had the option to choose hybrid classes, if they were offered for a particular course. Additionally, if our class was not online, our instructor may still use Canvas as a way for students to turn in coursework. Our fully online, degreed program through Purdue University utilizes Blackboard Learn. Below is one listing of platforms comparable to Blackboard. Program 1. PEARSON ECOLLEGE: Offers Various services, including Pearson LearningStudio, which offers a learning management system and cloud computing for educators. 2. MOODLE: Open source software for online courses and websites. It was originally an acronym for Modular Object- Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment. 3. SAKAI: Two software products: The Collaboration and Learning Environment and the Open Academic Environment. These products support online communities of shared education and research. 4. LORE: An online platform for school courses allowing teachers and students to manage their work and share information. For Whom Higher education and K-12 schools internationally. Teachers and institutions with the ability to host their own installation of the service. Academic institutions and individuals. Primarily teachers and students but open to professional use as well. Selling Points Customization options, social learning and options for distance learning. Free and customizable. Moodle has attracted its own ecosystem of developers, users and Moodle-based services. Emphasis on personalization and connectivity. Over 350 educational institutions worldwide use the Collaboration and Learning Environment for managing education and research. Table 1 (split) 7 Blackboard competitors with online learning solutions (Nabi, 2012) Ease of use and further student engagement with the course material.

10 Learning Management Systems and the Efficiency of Online Learning 10 Program 5. MYEDU: 6. GOINGON.COM: 7. INSTRUCTURE CANVAS: Offers Web applications for educational purposes. These applications include class schedules, a GPA calculator and a degree timeline among many other things. An online academic interface to support teacher-student networks. Provides services such as online classrooms, forums and research sharing. Canvas is a learning management system that provides many services to track student progress within one interface. Examples of these services include SpeedGrader, online quizzes and assignment submission. For Whom College students. Anyone in the sphere of education. Selling Points A free service that integrates The simple interface allows many educational services easy engagement and into a single connectivity with school system. Myedu helps students resources and peers. plan out their academic career and is available at 800 colleges. Mainly for teachers and administrators but open to students. Free for teachers. Canvas provides a time saving way to keep classrooms organized. Obstacles (develop this also) Though online learning has made absolute strides into becoming a method of mainstream education, its value is not always admired. There are educators and students alike, who challenge whether online learning is a legitimate path for the student learner. There remain views that online education is somehow a lesser form of knowledge. Conclusion (add to this) So what have we found? Baepler, Walker, and Driessen (2014) believes creating designed interaction treatments or assignments that intentionally draw students into collaborative situations in an online environment have a positive effect on student learning outcomes [Baepler, et al, 2014 (Borokhovski, Tamim, Bernard, Abrami, & Sokolovskaya, 2012)] This suggests that the online learner should not be left alone. Every

11 Learning Management Systems and the Efficiency of Online Learning 11 assignment should not be done in isolation. Interaction should be encourage, designed, and at times mandated to encourage learner success. The demand for elearning is at an all-time high (Mindflash). As it appears the online learning is not going away, especially with the advancement of technology, there have been suggestions to find way to balance the mixture of learning delivery styles. Bowen (2013) considers hybrid course learning a combination of both online and face-to-facemeetings to be among the most promising methods (Bowen, 2013, 182).

12 Learning Management Systems and the Efficiency of Online Learning 12 References Baepler, P., Walker, J. D., Driessen. M It's not about seat time: Blending, flipping, and efficiency in active learning classrooms. Computers in Education (78) Bowen, W. G., Higher education in the digital age. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, pp Dumbauld, B A brief history of online learning [infographic]. StraighterLine Blog. Retreived from: Nabi, S Blackboard competitors with online learning solutions Retrieved from: Rivera, J. C., Rice, M. L A comparison of student outcomes & satisfaction between traditional & web based course offerings. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, Volume V, NumberIII, pp Singh, H Building Effective Blended Learning Programs. Educational Technology, Volume 43, Number 6, Pages What is an lms? Retrieved from: Online Learning Consortium Report: one in four students enrolled in online courses. Retrieved from:

13 Learning Management Systems and the Efficiency of Online Learning 13 World Wide Learn. Types of e-learning Retrieved from:

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