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Selection of a Learner Management System for a University

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Training and Education Diploma Assignment: Selection of a Learner Management System for a University in Spain


Part 1 – Introduction
1.1 Background
The subject matter I have chosen for my Assignment is the selection and planning of a Learning Management System for a University in Spain.

1.2 Objectives of the Project
I have identified that a LMS could provide a number of potential advantages for our college, including the following:    Improvement in the quality of learning outcomes, Improvement in customer service quality, Efficiencies and cost savings.

The specific objectives of the project is as follows:   To identify the particular benefits to learners and the college from such a system To prioritise functionality which will be of most benefit to the college and its learners. To identify implementation considerations which help ensure success.


What is a Learning Management System?
Wikipedia defines a LMS as “a set of software tools designed to manage user learning interventions”. 1 SearchCIO define it as “a software application or Web-based technology used to plan, implement, and assess a specific learning process.”2 Typically, a Learning Management System is a computer based system which facilitates creation and delivery of content, communication between stakeholders in the training process, monitoring of student participation, and assessment of student performance. A learning management system may also provide students with the ability to use interactive features such as course resources, assignment resources, and discussion forums. Learning Management can also allow for a wide range of interactions including College-Learner, College-Tutor, Tutor-Student, Student-Student.

1.4 Methodology for Assignment
I held two Focus Groups to review all aspect of LMS and prioritise functionality. The overall aim was to identify the potential usefulness of each component. The first Focus Group was held with internal staff. The second group was a group of learners who are participating on a variety of courses. Secondary research sources I used were primarily website of major providers and studies completed by Professional and Educational organisations on LMS in Europe and the US.

1 2

Wikipedia, 2008. SearchCIO, 2008


Part 2 - Findings
2.1 Potential Applications/Uses of a LMS
Following a review of secondary research, a number of potential applications were identified and outlined below. Applications have been categorised into four categories. Administration A LMS could be used to provide a means for communication between the Administration Staff and individual learners. This could include a range of administrative functions such as: (1) post-enrolment registration, (2) online payments, (3) assessment registration, (4) completing forms online, (5) College notices/information, which are currently be made by email or post to students, and (6) generation of reports. Staff-Staff Interactions A LMS could also be used as a form of intranet, or a means of communication between Tutors, or between Admin Staff and Tutors. This could be useful for in terms of: (1) communicating College QA and HR policies, (2) communicating accreditation processes, (3) providing information about staff training and development, and (4) for sharing resources (e.g. documents, reports etc) between staff. Tutor-Student Interactions A LMS could be used to perform a range of interactions between Tutors and Student, in particular: (1) delivering course content in a wide variety of formats, (2) providing assessment materials online, (3) providing online resources, (4) enabling students to upload assignments or complete them online, (4) allowing Tutors to provide feedback online for students, (5) providing a controlled environment for pre- and post-testing, and (6) providing a course calendar. Student-Student Interactions A LMS can be used to provide a facility for student to interact with each other. This can be through messaging or through discussion groups, which can be moderated by a Tutor.

2.2 Potential Benefits of a LMS
Focus groups with both Staff and Students reviewed each feature and evaluated each one in terms of whether they contributed to the following benefits:      Improved learning outcome Improved customer service to students Improved overall efficiencies Reduces costs Other benefits such as improved reporting/MIS or improved staff communications

It was found that Tutor-Student interactions provide a wide range of benefits including both efficiency improvements and in delivering overall improvement in learning outcomes. Administration areas provide opportunities to improve customer service and generate efficiencies.


Summary of Potential LMS Benefits
Improves Learning Outcome/ Effectiveness Improves Customer Service to Students Improves Efficiencies Reduces Costs Other

Administrative Functions Post-enrolment registration Linking to online payments Assessment registration Completing forms online College notices/information Generate reports Staff-Staff Interactions Communicating College QA and HR policies Accreditation processes Information about staff training and development Sharing resources Tutor-Student Interactions Delivering courses online Providing assessment materials online Providing online resources Enabling students to upload assignments or complete them online Allowing Tutors to provide feedback online for students Providing a controlled environment for pre- and post-testing Exam System with Results Providing a course calendar Whiteboards Chat (synchronous) Student-Student interactions Discussion groups Chat (synchronous)

   

         

 * § * § §

           

   

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* Refers to management information benefits. Communications Benefits

2.3 Prioritisation of Requirements
Four areas were identified as adding the most value overall: (1) ability to provide interaction between Tutors and Students – especially in relation to assignment and assignment feedback, (2) ability to provide course content and assessments online, (3) ability to communicate with students quickly about general notices, etc, and (4) ability to share resources (files, documents, etc) between and with Tutors.

Group 1: College Requirements (Tutors and Admin Staff) Staff were asked to consider all the overall benefits and prioritise each. Three areas were identified as providing the most important benefits overall: (in order of importance)  Ability to provide interaction between Tutors and Students – especially in relation to assignment and assignment feedback. Ability to communicate with students quickly about general notices, etc. Ability to share resources (files, documents, etc) between and with Tutors.

 


Group 2: Student Requirements Students were asked to consider all the overall benefits and prioritise each. Three areas were identified as providing the most important benefits overall: (in order of importance)    Ability to provide interaction between Tutors and Students – especially in relation to assignment and assignment feedback. Ability to upload assignments online. Student Discussion Groups were identified by a significant number of students as being quite important.

Prioritisation of Perceived LMS Benefits MUST HAVE Administrative Functions Post-enrolment registration Linking to online payments Assessment registration Completing forms online College notices/information Generate reports Staff-Staff Interactions Communicating College QA and HR policies Accreditation processes Information about staff training and development Sharing resources Tutor-Student Interactions Delivering courses online Providing assessment materials online Providing online resources Enabling students to upload assignments or complete them online Allowing Tutors to provide feedback online for students Providing a controlled environment for pre- and post-testing Exam System with Results Providing a course calendar Whiteboards Chat (synchronous) Student-Student interactions Discussion groups Chat (synchronous) Technical Web-based Low-bandwidth Easy to use IP Tracking Secure Login SHOULD HAVE COULD HAVE              

   

      


2.4 Potential Difficulties with a LMS
Focus Group and Secondary research has shown that there are some significant difficulties in implementing such systems. 1. There appears to be low demand for providing e-learning course content online. This is appears to be substantiated by other studies, the University of Murcia found that Students of their Virtual Campus “are not prepared to use new media effectively to learn, and they prefer plain text in order to work”. 3 This is further substantiated by Aarhus University: 4 “Modern e-learning solutions now recognise the importance of learning as a social process and offer possibilities for collaboration with other learners, for interaction with the learning content and for guidance from teachers, trainers and tutors. (…) Teachers and trainers once more play a central role, using virtual and traditional face-to-face interaction with their students in a “blended” approach. An approach in which they are no longer seen simply as consumers of pre-determined e-learning content, but as contributors to a contextualised learning scenario”. 2. The difficulties faced by many of the e-learning and online learning initiatives mentioned above have been caused by viewing learning, and especially e-learning, as a process of knowledge transfer instead of knowledge construction.5 3. It was clear from the Focus Group Research that the LMS would appeal to computer-literate students. However, such a system could be “a complete turn off” 6 for those who are not IT-literate. This was voiced by Tutors and Students. 4. The application of the LMS would be highly suitable to IT courses and courses where students are IT literate. 5. A LMS should fit around and improve the existing successful model of delivery. It is important that it does not dictate the mode of delivery. In some cases, the LMS determines what an instructor could do. It should be the other way around - instructor needs must come first, and tool selection, second. Many LMS are too feature-rich and students are overwhelmed by complexity.7 6. Many learners are confused by the interface of LMS systems. In some cases, LMS interface designs rely too heavily on "what the system designers want it to do" rather than what is meaningful for learners and tutors. 7. The American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) reported in 2006 that only 50% were satisfied with their LMS.8 8. Properly trained staff must also be hired to work with students on-line. These staff members must be able to understand the content area, and must also be highly trained in the use of the computers and Internet.9
3 4 5

Linda J. Castañeda, Lecturer, Educational Technology Research Group (GITE). University of Murcia, Spain. Joergen Bang, Head of department for Information and Media Studies, Aarhus University

eBOLOGNA – Creating a European Learning Space. A Step Towards the Knowledge Society, IN: UNESCO between Two Phases of the World Summit on the Information Society. 6 Psychology Student in Student Focus Group, July 2008. 7 8 American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), Annual Survey, 2006.


2.5 Review of Systems
I identified two leading systems to review – Moodle and Blackboard. Between them, they have 80% share of the worldwide LMS market. Both systems are capable of delivering the above “Must have” and “Should have” functionality. Additional criteria were identified to assist in the decision, this included:1. Easy to deploy and maintain. 2. Established and reliable Organisation. 3. Must be built to SCORM Standards: The Advanced Distributed Learning group, sponsored by the United States Department of Defense, has created a set of specifications called Shareable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM)10 to encourage the standardization of learning management systems globally. 4. Cost Effective Solution. MyCourse Moodle is a free open-source LMS with over 50% market share world-wide it is used by Universities, Colleges and private companies. It’s advantages over Schoolware are:    It is free of charge Is simple to deploy and maintain Flexible and comprehensive system

Schoolware Blackboard is a private company with over 30% market share worldwide.. Its advantages over Moodle are:    Suitable for very large organisations Highly flexible and extendible system Company technical support provided


Nagy, A. (2005). The Impact of E-Learning, in: Bruck, P.A.; Buchholz, A.; Karssen, Z.; Zerfass, A. (Eds). EContent: Technologies and Perspectives for the European Market. Berlin: Springer-Verlag. 10 Advanced Distributed Learning Group, United States Department of Defense.


Part 3 - Recommendations
3.1 Key Conclusions
The success of a LMS will be dependent upon a number of key factor including: (1) the profile of the learner – particularly their level of computer literacy, (2) the level of complexity of the system, (3) the usefulness of the functionality provided, (4) the culture of the organisation (and the role that an LMS can play in the context of its existing processes), and (5) buy-in from staff and Tutors.

3.2 Overall Recommendation
The system would work well by providing the means to enhance tutor-student interaction and provide access to course resources – rather than replace tutor interaction and deliver courses via e-learning. (see 3.3). Particular attention will be placed on providing the system only to certain course where there is a fit with student needs and where high levels of computer literacy exist (see 3.4). The system should be piloted, and tested, with learner input, prior to widespread provision to students (see 3.5). A LMS provides very strong benefits to an organisation; development of an LMS is now a strategic goal for the organisation for the next 12 months (see 3.6).

3.3 Choice of System
Schoolware is clearly the most suitable system for a small organisation. It is free of charge and meets all of the “must have” and “should have” functionality. Importantly, Schoolware provides the ability to enhance our existing processes, rather than dictate processes. The system will be targeted at IT courses (e.g. Microsoft Word, ECDL) and courses where there is a very high degree of computer literate students completing the course (e.g. project management).


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