You’ve probably never heard of a Learning Management System (LMS), but if you’ve taken any college classes in the last 5 years, you’ve almost certainly used one. From the student’s perspective, an LMS is the online component of a college course. It’s often used to communicate with the professor and other students and as a central repository for course materials and submission of assignments. As we’ll see, these student-facing functions are only a small part of what LMS’s have evolved to do, however.
First, what need are the companies that create and market these software products trying to fill? Think about this: The Sloan Consortium found that in 2009 nearly 30 percent of all higher education students took at least one class online. The number of students involved in online and distance education is increasing dramatically in all areas, including Pre K – 12. With current economic trends causing many prospective students to search for more inexpensive educational options, this trend will continue.
The increased number of college students working increased hours as they put themselves through school makes many seek online education for the convenience. And schools have responded by offering online sections open to all students, including those enrolled in local on-campus classes.
Clearly, there is a need and a speedily growing market for Learning Management Systems, so what can, or should, such a system do? Ultimately, the goal of an LMS is to enhance the learning experience while reducing inefficiencies and costs. A system that successfully does this helps students, educators, administrators, and the public and private entities that fund education.
As you would probably expect, a good LMS must be a web-based solution capable of connecting students with their schools from anywhere in the world. Students need features like communication with professors and classmates, access to classroom resources in all forms, and a variety of administrative tasks including registration, tuition payment, grade reports, and many more.
Instructors need the same functionality as students, because using an LMS can reduce the time required to complete their own administrative duties, thereby allowing more time for one-on-one interaction with students. Course management features including calendars, team assignment groups, and even grading, can also be accomplished with LMS’s.
LMS’s can be extremely effective at the administrative level as well. They may provide solutions that allow for online tuition payment, course registration, dispute resolution, instructor rating, and a variety of support and communication functions. Also important for administrators are reporting functions that identify key metrics and trends among different student groups.
Administrators are looking for ways to provide a more competitive education for students while reducing the costs associated with running an expensive an expensive operation like a university. If an LMS can reduce costs by streamlining and automating processes that were previously very labor intensive, that’s a huge win. And theoretically, this could allow them to stave off the tuition increases that are every student’s nightmare.
Learning Management Systems are sort of an extension of the web 2.0 revolution that has transformed our world over the last decade. Without them, educational institutions would be woefully out of touch with their stakeholders and would no longer be able to adequately serve them. Some detractors have proposed that the increase in online education lowers the quality of instruction; however, various studies over the past 10 years have actually shown the opposite. The majority of students actually perform better in online classes than in on-campus sections. This has been attributed to greater potential for individualized attention from the professor, and because many students are more comfortable expressing confusion in a private setting rather than in front of their peers.
As social media and wireless connectivity continue to evolve and shape our society, Learning Management Systems will need to evolve as well. A few have begun to incorporate some of the community elements of social media, or to directly interface with existing SM centers. The ability to send text alerts and connect directly with Twitter and Facebook, for example, are functions that would make any LMS instantly relevant and convenient for students, and therefore instructors and administrators.