So your school has decided to use an LMS. The big question now is – what is the primary focus…the assumption that underpins the system?
Is it primarily a teaching resource or a learning resource? Are the courses and materials primarily there for teachers or for students? Of course, an LMS or Online Learning Environment (OLE) can and should be both, but one should take priority.
My premise is that it should be student centric, and that this decision will then positively influence everything else, from design and structure to the type and nature of the resources that populate the environment.
Hopefully, the leadership of your organisation has made this decision and has clarified its implications rather than expecting teachers to work it out as they go.
Let’s consider some implications of a student centric OLE experience, with a major one first and some more obvious (but not always implemented) ones later.
Learning resources Vs teaching resources
Resources in the OLE can be either teaching or learning resources.
Learning resources are fully self-contained ‘buckets’ of explanation. They are understandable and do not need external explanation or clarification.
Teaching resources are learning objects that are a teaching aid but require explanation by the teacher for full understanding to occur.
For example, a teaching object is something like a PowerPoint presentation that has been placed online. This can be handy for a student, but it is essentially designed for the teacher to better teach a topic. However, it can become a learning object by doing something as simple as narrating the presentation. Providing audio explanation allows the student to learn or revise independently. The resource becomes even more useful to the student.
In the Maths/Science areas, providing an answer or a copy of a written solution to a problem is good, but it may still be just a bunch of symbols to a student who doesn’t understand the concepts being taught. It is more than a basic teaching resource, but it could be much better as a learning resource. Providing a narrated explanation in a format made famous by the Khan Academy is better. Going further and posting a LightBoard explanation is even better.
‘Context’ is vital. If a student is absent from school for an extended period, or if a parent accesses a course, they should be able to easily follow and understand the learning materials. Thus, there needs to be enough ‘context’ – explanation of the purpose and nature of everything. It should be concise, while also being easy to understand and complete. A conversational approach can be useful. I have seen online courses that are basically a repository of resources with minimal explanation. They are confusing for students.
Everything should be explained. For example, if a link is provided to an external web site, explain clearly which part of the site is appropriate. I have seen courses where a student is directed to an external site with thousands of words and there has been no clear indication which part is required to be studied. I have seen links to external reference sites with no indication that it is a reference site to be noted but doesn’t have to be read at the student’s current stage of study. Clearly differentiate between core material that is essential and extra material to provide support or additional understanding.
Not a ‘wall of text’
Creating good online learning materials takes time. The temptation can be to write (or copy/paste) lots of text. Resist the urge to do this. Online learning is much more than providing the equivalent of text from a book. I have seen online units of study with a large amount of text ‘hidden’ within various learning design ‘features’, such as drop-down menus, multiple tabs and concertinas…click on the ‘design feature’ and suddenly large amounts of text are revealed. While these can provide benefits, they should not be used to make large amounts of text less obvious to students.
Students like variety and learn in a variety of ways. Textbook authors know this and most use images and diagrams liberally. The online learning environment allows this and more. Video, interactive activities, 360-degree scenes, 3D objects and more can be embedded into online courses. Do your courses leverage these types of resources, or are they effectively an online textbook?
Online materials, whether for a full online course or for blended/flipped learning, should have consistent structure and order, with initial, foundational concepts at the start that lead to more complex concepts, or that evolve in a natural order. Pages in an LMS should be much more that a repository of educational materials. (This is the topic of the next article in this series.)
Online Learning Environments can be amazing learning and teaching resources. Ensuring that students and learning are the primary areas of focus can positively impact many facets of the educational experience.