Top nine reasons to use a learning management system (LMS)

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Top nine reasons to use an LMS

Installing a Learning Management System (LMS), creating online learning resources, and training your tutors and administrative staff to use it is a big commitment for any learning and teaching organisation. So why do it? What are the benefits? Here is a quick run down of what I think are the top nine reasons to use an LMS. Please note that they are in no particular order of importance.

Reduces photocopying and can increase classroom learning time

Learners can see homework assignments and homework resources online so there’s no need for tutors to photocopy and hand them out. Tutors can quickly and easily create and upload resources and activities that are appropriate for a particular cohort of learners, and then inform learners via email and/or the LMS’ internal messaging system. Giving learners progress tests online, out of class time, not only reduces photocopying further but also reserves precious classroom time for more productive learning activities; as part of a strategy often referred to as blended learning or flipped classrooms. In addition, if learners can submit homework, assignments, and projects online before the next class, tutors have the opportunity to review the submissions and plan the next class accordingly, and so the turn-around time between setting, doing, and submitting work can be greatly reduced.

Tutors spend less time on admin and more time teaching

Needless to say with the amount of photocopying substantially reduced, tutors spend less time at the photocopier. Also, tutors typically spend a lot of their preparation time manually marking/correcting standardised tests, practice tests, and workbook exercises that can easily be marked automatically, thereby saving yet more time. Additionally, progress tests that are done online are self-marking and can give learners their results immediately. It’s also possible to allow learners to review their tests with the correct answers to see where they went wrong, providing yet more learning opportunities. What’s more, some LMS testing/exam systems have more sophisticated tools that allow tutors to quickly selecting test items/tasks from or to draw test/exam questions at random from libraries of categories and lists of items/tasks, thereby giving each learner a different test/exam each time. This can at least reduce copying and other forms of academic malpractice.

Learners can catch up with missed classes much more quickly and easily

An added benefit of learners having easily accessible resources online is that if they miss a class, they can find out what they missed immediately or even in advance. They also have more opportunities to contact their classmates and tutors online, via email and/or the LMS’ internal messaging system and ask questions. To speed things up, frequently asked questions can be recorded and their answers made conveniently available to learners.

Tutors can use multimedia as learning resources far more easily and cheaply

For some schools and organisations, language laboratories, interactive whiteboards, video projectors, computers in every classroom, etc. are beyond their budgets or they cannot justify the investment based on projected or perceived learning benefits. Deploying multimedia online is relatively cheap and easy and it gives learners a central, consolidated repository of a wide range of resources including texts, images, audio, and video that they can access at any time. An LMS can present all learners with the same resources easily and effectively and can also allow learners to contribute their own media, e.g. uploading photos, audio and video recordings.

It makes continuous, formative assessment a real, practical option

When learners do a significant quantity of their work online, it opens up more opportunities for tutors to assess their activities and give formative feedback on their contributions, rather than having summative tests as the only feasible assessment option is many cases. Learners are then free to spend more time on productive, helpful learning activities and less time on formal/standardised tests. It’s also possible to allow learners to submit audio or video recordings where they can demonstrate their abilities, which is ideal for assessing, for example, their presentation, negotiating, and persuading skills.

Learners always have access to their grades, attendance, and participation

An LMS is a central repository not only for learning resources and activities but also for records of learners’ activities, attendance, communications, and grades. Learners can login at any time and access their personal records to check their progress and participation in any courses that they are enrolled on. Many LMS’ also have options to display learners’ data as graphs and charts thereby giving learners a very clear view of their grades and assessments. This can help to promote learners’ metacognitive awareness and encourage more strategic learning activities, i.e. a learner can look at his/her strengths and weaknesses and decide where to prioritise their efforts and if, how, and when to seek additional help.

Learners develop better communication skills

An LMS is an ideal platform to promote learner to learner collaboration and communication. Learners who have questions or doubts about topics or assignments can ask their classmates and tutors about it. It’s also possible to promote and encourage collaborative learning with the use of group projects and group note-taking with activities such as wikis, glossaries, and forums. Such open and learner-centred strategies also give vital feedback to tutors about where learners are succeeding and failing and, unlike summative tests/assessments, they also often indicate why they’re succeeding or failing, providing opportunities for additional support/remediation.

It encourages learner independence and better problem solving skills

With less of an emphasis on formal testing and more opportunities for learners to demonstrate their abilities through their studies, it is easy for tutors to reward learners for being curious, developing problem solving skills, developing teamwork and collaborative skills and becoming more self-motivated, independent learners. Their final grades, assessments, and feedback can reflect this making them far more meaningful and valuable.

LMS’ promote the social constructivist model of learning

Finally and probably most importantly, recent developments in teaching practice and theory strongly indicate that learners demonstrate better acquisition and retention when they learn in collaborative groups when compared to learners who attend lectures or traditional “I teach, you learn” type classroom lessons. According to research, collaborative learning is one of the most effective factors in getting better critical and higher order thinking and learning outcomes from courses.

With an LMS, learners can keep in contact and work with their study groups from anywhere they have an internet connection. They can be organised or organise themselves into groups, informally (to solve a simple problem), formally (for a project or assignment) and into study teams (throughout the duration of a course). In study teams, group members provide each other with support, keep each other up to date with missed classes and help and encourage each other to fully engage in the learning process. LMS’ provide important collaborative tools such as wikis, forums, glossaries, VoIP (internet telephony), chat and interactive whiteboards that are integrated with courses and can be monitored and assessed by tutors.

Useful links

Collaborative Learning: Group Work and Study Teams by Barbara Gross Davis

Dan Meyer: Math class needs a makeover Today’s math curriculum is teaching students to expect and excel at painting-by-numbers classwork, robbing kids of a skill more important than solving problems: formulating them. Dan Meyer shows classroom-tested math exercises that prompt students to stop and think.

Dynamic phonetic chart application

I’ve just completed a new Flash learning application, the International Phonetic Alphabet MILA, aimed at EFL/ESL learners and teachers which I believe is a good solution to many of the problems facing those who want to use phonetics in teaching English as a foreign or second language.

What does it do?

It can display any number of phonetic symbols which appear in groups as coloured buttons (see illustration).  When users click on one of the symbol buttons, a list of example words appears with the phonetic spelling and a play button next to each one so that they can listen to audio recordings of the example words.

The example on my Moodle deploys the symbols in a typical arrangement. They’re in columns of corresponding short and long vowels, dipthongs, corresponding voiced and unvoiced consonants and finally the remaining consonants.  By editing an external XML file, you can arrange and group the set or subsets of the phonetic symbols any way you like. For example, the past simple of regular verbs ending in /-id/, /-d/ and /-t/.

Why is it an advantage to make it dynamic?

Traditional phonetic charts are fixed, static items that you cannot change. In most English courses, learners are presented with a single, very general, one-size-fits-all chart for the entire course. Such charts typically have a small, fixed set of vocabulary for learners to view and listen to and, more often than not, it bears no or little relation to the vocabulary being studied at any particular moment in the course. See this example on Oxford University Press’  New English File site or this example on the British Council’s BBC Teaching English site.

Making any Flash web application dynamic gives one very important advantage. Anyone can edit it without having to buy expensive software. In fact, all you need is a text editor and a little familiarity with XML, which is human readable and relatively easy to learn. Any teacher or course content developer can create any number of vocabulary sets and deploy them in Moodle along with the related course materials, giving learners specific pronunciation support for the target language in a particular module, unit or activity. Did I mention that it’s also very easy to correct any typos that you find?

Secondly (the technical bit), the Flash learning application contains no text or audio itself, all of that is loaded externally, making it only 12Kb in size which is less than half the size of the containing Moodle web page (a similar sized photo would be around 50 – 200Kb). This means that it appears almost instantly. The International Phonetic Alphabet MILA then loads the words and phonetics as an XML file (XML is the de facto standard file format for dynamic elearning content). The audio files are loaded as and when users play them. Typically, audio files tend to be quite large and so only loading them as required means that the application starts faster and only uses the internet bandwidth that is absolutely necessary – ideal for users with slow (mobile) or intermittent connections.

How is using Flash an advantage over normal web page based phonetic charts?

Phonetic symbols have always been a bit of a problem on the internet, well actually, text and fonts in general. In order for a web page to be displayed with the correct font, e.g. Times New Roman, that font must be installed on users’ computers. If it isn’t, a substitute font is found automatically. The trouble is that not all fonts contain phonetic characters, in fact very few do, so what works perfectly well on one computer may be unreadable on another if it hasn’t got the correct font installed.

Flash resolves this issue by allowing developers to embed (include) fonts within their Flash applications. This means that the application carries the required fonts with it and will work on any computer regardless of whether it has any fonts installed or not. This is especially important with phonetic characters since so few fonts contain them. Problem solved!

Try the demo

As always, I’ve deployed a demo of the International Phonetic Alphabet MILA, with 445 example words, on my Moodle MILAs demo course (Login as a guest).