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4 Learning Management System Design Tips For Better eLearning

What makes a good Learning Management System?

Creating a custom system can be a daunting task, and without the right planning, a simple project can turn into a big headache. Having helped a number of schools design and build custom systems, here are the four things I recommend considering when designing or adopting a Learning Management System.

4 Learning Management System Design Tips For Better eLearning

1. Focus on data–for both instructors and students 

We’re obsessed with data these days, and for good reason: it’s relatively easy to get if you know what you’re looking for. While you won’t be able to identify everything that’s useful upfront, take a step back, and evaluate what you’d hope to learn. Come up with a list of the information you need and a list of things you’d like to have. For example, do you need to know the average test score for students in History? What about attendance rates during the month of December?

Knowing what you’re looking for upfront helps you determine what specific information you’ll need to capture from your users.

2. Design for usability–make it ‘pleasurable’ to use

Once you know what you need users to tell you, you should make it easy for them to do so. Design each component of your LMS with usability in mind. Create a hierarchy of actions you need users to take, ranking them in order from essential to nonessential, and use prominent buttons, obvious links, and clean copy to direct people to them.

Also, take advantage of what’s out there. Things like social logins, video streaming, shared calendars, message boards, and forms are all commonplace on the web, and users know immediately what to do with them. Take inspiration from Google, Facebook, Microsoft Word, and others to learn the common themes of web interfaces and copy them. Your users will thank you.

For a great reference on designing easy-to-use interfaces, I recommend Stephen Krug’s book “Don’t Make Me Think.”

3. Plan for mobile from the very beginning

As of 2020, there are more than 14 billion mobile devices in use worldwide, a number that’s expected to grow to nearly 17 billion by 2023.

Further, more than half of all web traffic is mobile–which means that the likelihood that students, parents, faculty, and staff will need to use the LMS on a mobile device is relatively high. To optimize their experience, adopt a mobile-first design approach. Rather than building a full, standard website and then cutting features or scaling back functionality for a mobile version, start by focusing solely on how your LMS looks and works on mobile.

Ask yourself, what are the core tasks teachers, students, parents, administrators need to perform? What information and tasks need to be accessible at all times? How does information look on small screens? How do you interact with information?

It’s always easier to layer complexity for a desktop experience, but designing for mobile-first ensures a seamless experience for users—wherever they are.

4. Design curriculum and instruction with the strengths of your specific LMS in mind

Every platform is different and no single approach to LMS creation is perfect. Some work well as assessment software while others handle video better. Some or visual while others load quickly, are text-based, and use frequent lesson and page loading to move the student through material.

Whatever your approach, design what and how the students learn in cooperation with the strengths and abilities of the LMS rather than designing digital lessons and units and then shoe-horning them into whatever the LMS is able to do.

While the options for customization can be exciting, taking the time to consider these four things will help you build the system that meets your needs so that you can focus on the thing that matters most—providing a great education to students.

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The Challenge Of Global Learning In Public Education

For every person reading this quick preview, probably 18 more skimmed right past, busy trying to survive right here, right now. This makes sense.

Even when it does get attention, it is often bursting with rhetoric and emotion—discussed in tones of enthusiasm (we should do it—the students deserve it!) and grey stereotypes (we Zoom’d with a classroom in Peru last week—if that’s not global, I don’t know what is).

In high-stakes testing environments prevalent in many formal learning institutions, the focus is on standards and standard-mastery. ‘Globalization’ is a haughty kind of ‘pie in the sky’ idea thought about only when watching one of the “Shift Happens” videos on YouTube, or daydreaming on the drive home from a challenging day in the classroom where there is time to honestly reflect on—in solitude—the kind of education teachers can only dream they could provide students.

Now over a decade into the 21st century, there is tremendous pressure for education to ‘globalize.’ What this means exactly isn’t universally agreed upon.

Does Globalization Play A Role In Learning?

For education, globalization is the natural macro consequence of meaningful micro placement.

Globalizing a curriculum isn’t (initially) what it might seem. To globalize, start small—with the self.

Now over a decade into the 21st century, there is tremendous pressure for education to ‘globalize.’ What this means exactly isn’t universally agreed upon. In major world markets, the business world globalized decades ago, expanding beyond domestic markets in pursuit of more diverse audiences and stronger profits.

And while major players in business continue to experiment and find their way in markets whose culture and buying practices diverge from those domestic, the ‘field’ of education has been slow to follow suit.

This is made all the more strange by the relationship between education and economic systems. If one goal of education is to prepare a ‘workforce,’ the more parallel the system of education is with the workforce, the less ‘waste’ there might be. While industrialism, commercialism, religion, and technology all reach out across political and geographical borders, education lags awkwardly behind.

The most startling reality here might be the jarring power of juxtaposition: stakeholders in education everywhere struggle for change—meaningful, sustained movement in a new direction–yet within education overall, there is relatively little progress compared to tangent fields, including science, technology, entertainment, and business.

For education, somewhere there is a tether, likely rooted in sentimentality and disconnection. The learning process has become so culturally detached from the communities it is designed to serve that families are no longer sure what quality education looks like, resulting in blind trust of an education system that struggles itself to plan, measure, and remediate learning, all the while families stand aside unsure of their role.

Defining Global Learning

Globalization is less a singular initiative than it is the effect of a thousand initiatives, many of which are currently under-developed. When defining a ‘global curriculum,’ one issue that must be confronted is the issue of perspective: Do we all have the same definition of ‘global,’ and do we understand the word “curriculum” on common ground?

In brief, let’s agree that in this context, ‘global’ is a word that describes anything that is truly worldwide in its awareness, interdependence, and application. Right away, the scale of any such endeavor should appear, at best, intimidating, and, at worst, impossible with any degree of intimacy. Beyond that which is geologic and atmospheric, few things can truly maintain wholeness while being ‘global.’ Global implies a scale that’s not just ambitious and comprehensive, but truly inclusive by definition. Things can’t be ‘partially global’ any more than the lights can be partially turned on.

So if ‘global’ is fully interdependent and inclusive, what about the curriculum part? For the purpose of this piece, we’ll say that a curriculum is intentionally designed of learning content and experiences. It may be more or less planned and scripted, created backward from a sort of curriculum map into units, lessons, and activities, or far more open as ‘learning pathways,’  each a different style of curriculum. To clarify, learning standards such as the Common Core are not curriculum, but are rather ingredients with which you can create your own.

So what then does a ‘global curriculum’ require and imply? And how do we get there from here?

The term ‘global’ tends toward business, marketing, and technological connotation, which is always dangerous. The ambition of business leaders, technology inventors, and scientists alike shows less respect for the practical than the possible. While exciting in theory, it flaunts a hubris that should serve as a warning for fields with much more to lose than money or shareholders.

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Exactly How Technology Can Make Reading Better

Reading is just the communication of ideas through alphanumeric symbols. I’m not sure what this represents such hallowed ground for teachers, but it does. Personally I’d be more concerned with reading habits, reasons for reading, the quality of reading materials, etc. Symbols change, forms change, media change. See the gif and memes and language and acronyms that become words and words that become metaphors again. This is your audience, and these are the symbols they gravitate towards.

With more personalization, more access, and more connectivity, we should be creating a generation of close-readers that can’t get enough. So if we’re not, the question is, why isn’t that happening? The pieces are there.

Technology Makes Reading Better. Here’s Exactly How.

1. Social readers are connected readers

Through apps with social components, readers can be connected through texts. Reading groups, reading contests, reasons for reading, book suggestions, building social credibility for the process of reading, and more are possible when reading is, at least on some level, a social act.

No, we don’t always ‘need to be connected.’ This isn’t an either/or circumstance, however. We can be alone with our book and then socialize our reaction to the book. We can get an idea for a book and then be alone to read, then socialize again after. We can ‘socialize’ an idea and gain background knowledge for a certain chapter in a book, then read alone and not ‘socialize’ at all after. The point is, we can choose who we don’t and don’t socialize with, when, and how.

We have the choice.

2. Adaptive learning algorithms can lead to personalization

With adaptive learning algorithms, readers can have the pace, diversity, complexity, and form of their reading materials personalized instantly.

3. Increased access & choice

Through digital storefronts, free eBooks, RSS feeds, social magazines, and more, there has never been a time where students had more content at their fingertips. Like this book using an eReader like Kindle or iBooks? Here are 25 just like it.

Also, here are 10 other authors that those who liked this book also liked.

And here are 750 reviews that you can sift through to get a feel for what other people think. And please, download a free sample of any book you’d like.

And it’s easier than ever to publish, so while that means there’s more garbage out there, there’s also more variety. Fanfiction has exploded. If you can’t find something you like, you’re not trying.

4. Technology can distract, technology can focus

Technology can allow readers to annotate texts and share notes, which is physically interactive and ‘social.’ There are also apps–white noise apps, for example–that can block out class distractions, and more. Before you blame technology for ‘distracting’ students, make sure you’re honest with yourself about how focused they were without the tech.

5. Technology makes learning easier

Let’s breaking reading up into three separate categories: Before Reading, During Reading, and After Reading.

During each of these times, readers have different needs.

Before Reading: A young reader starting a story set in a different culture may benefit from watching a YouTube video about that culture, or reading a quick Wikipedia overview about it.

During Reading: A high school student reading a poem may want to Google the literary allusions in that poem to make better sense of what they’re reading.

After Reading: A PhD student may want to check previous studies by that study’s authors to evaluate some claim being made–or to follow up on some other data point found in the study to learn more.

The point is, technology (used well) improves ‘sensemaking.’ No, it’s not absolutely necessary in the same way that I don’t need to drive a car to drive to Henry County, Kentucky. I could walk if I wanted–and there are benefits to walking. Cars aren’t ‘superior.’ But because of that technology, I have the opportunity.

6. Analytics can personalize the mechanics of reading

Analytics can be, well, analyzed for the practice of reading—time spent reading, how often readers clicked on certain words, etc. I know this is vague. I’m not a reading specialist or an app developer. The point is that data can be used to keep all readers in their ‘literacy sweet spot,’ supporting struggling readers, challenging advanced readers, and offering choice to grade-level readers.

7. Texts can have their levels adjusted instantly

Take the data from #6, and you’ve got a powerful combination. This means less or more complex sentence structure, syntax, vocab, etc. Platforms like Epic reader and news-o-matic make it easier to match a reader to a text level, as do a variety of apps and desktop programs.

And using eReader apps, students can touch a word and get its definition instantly. Not that they necessarily will, mind you–close reading is still a matter of will. But they can.

8. Reading speed is more ‘visible’

With apps that allow the practice of sight words, others created expressly to increase reading speed, and others that measure time spent reading, words read per minute, and more, more than ever reading speed is visible, and higher reading speeds generally translates to increased comprehension.

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The Benefits Of Using Technology In Learning

While technology opens new horizons for education at home, adapting to this is more challenging. What are the pros and cons of remote teaching technology?

Education is one of the sectors hardest hit by the COVID-19 lockdown with social distancing measures meaning schools could be closed for the foreseeable future.

However, thanks to technology, teachers are still able to continue teaching and students don’t lag behind. And while this is good news, many educators face new challenges due to this switch to remote learning, and for some, it takes time to accustom.

Collaborative learning environment regardless of location

Without effective collaboration between learners and teachers, students often lose motivation due to the perceived lack of community and sense of shared learning. This is why it is critical to use various forms of online interaction, from text messages and video conferencing to collaborative interactive projects and the latest online platforms, to support students and keep them engaged. 

Encouraging active participation

Remote teaching gives learners flexibility you won’t find in the traditional classroom setting. Instead of having all students participate simultaneously, teachers can schedule separate group or individual lessons, give personalized content, and always stay in touch.

Jerry Blumengarten, a connected educator with more than 30 years of experience, suggests“To make distant learning work, you should prepare tutorials on the use of the tech tools you will be using for your instructors and students. This should be done in a step-by-step simple way to avoid any confusion and mistakes. Provide a contact number where you can be reached to answer any questions and offer further help to your students.”

Engaging Students In New Ways

Online distance learning allows you to move from static learning materials to more dynamic interactive media content. Another benefit of technology in learning is that students often learn faster when they are not only listening to the teacher and reading textbooks but also participating in engaging academic activity. That’s why it’s a great idea to encourage learning using short quizzes, exercises with elements of gamification, interactive apps, and more.

Easier Plagiarism Detection

Technology is your friend when it comes to academic integrity, and is the bestway to effectively check works for plagiarism. Text similarity detection tools like Unicheck thoroughly scan students’ texts for plagiarism and help teachers see where students have relied too heavily on other sources. There are dozens of reasons why students cheat, but it’s the teacher’s role to teach them to realise that this won’t help  – either in school or in life.

Assessment And Grading Automation

You can use various interactive tests and multiple-choice quizzes to quickly and easily check student knowledge. Utilize online grading tools to organize your grade book, see overall marks for every student, and empower them to follow their success. 

Changing Roles For Student And Teacher

With information easily available on the internet, the teacher’s role as a subject expert becomes less critical. It’s the ability to guide students through these volumes of information that really matters in modern education.

At the same time, finding the most effective ways of learning from different sources together with students makes teachers co-learners rather than the sole source of knowledge. And this is exactly the behavior that can inspire students and encourage them to study beyond the curriculum. It might look like teachers are losing control, but in fact, these new approaches build real trust and respect within the class.

Adopting Progressive Educational Technologies

Information technology in education provides a large variety of new methods for teachers. Mobile educational apps, collaborative platforms, learning analytics, and so many more innovative tools and approaches make the learning process much more appealing for both student and teacher.

Access To The Latest Information 

It takes a long time to update academic textbooks and other printed materials, so they often contain obsolete knowledge, especially when it comes to modern science or contemporary history. But online information is dynamic and always updated. On the internet, new information is spread instantly, and can be instantly integrated into the learning process making this one of the most powerful benefits of technology in learning.

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Are You Prepared For The Future Of Social Learning?

Social Learning: A Way of Life

With the Internet exploding with information resources and tools for learning, teachers can be facilitators of information with a greater emphasis on explanation and critical thinking as opposed to the dissemination source. Formal learning systems have in some cases been slower to adopt this model, rightfully concerned with the accuracy of material and consistency; yet with ever-increasing numbers of individuals accessing information in learning environments, the necessity of these formal systems to adopt technological change is very clear.

Where once a rote chapter on the Renaissance movement devolved into students losing interest and ultimately forgetting the lesson, now augmented reality technology enables learners to have an immersive ‘experience’ of the Renaissance era. For the current generation of ‘digital natives’ who start using tablets and smartphones even before they can talk, social learning is not an alternative but an inherent way of life. The challenge becomes how to ingrain the knowledge of the teacher, their skills, and efficacy in explanation into the almost infinite expanse of knowledge that students get through shared Facebook posts, Twitter links, YouTube videos, Quora threads, or any number of constantly emerging and growing online resources.

Considered from this angle the challenge is really an opportunity to merge the ubiquity and deep capacity of information present in these platforms with the inspiration and commitment of teachers to students constantly improving and dedicated to advanced learning. Social learning is already proving to be not just an alternative system, but the growing norm and tool that will shape the education of tomorrow.

Is your Learning Management System (‘LMS’) Social Learning Friendly?

Due to the multiple access points of information, students need less direction to find a particular piece of knowledge. What students do need is a secure and structured environment where they can use the resources of their choice (including text, audio, and/or video) to discuss, communicate, and collaborate. Learning can then be more engaging and interactive. While learning platforms have long been integral to school and college education, in some cases existing tools and systems have not kept pace with the rapidity of technological and innovative change to deliver a truly collaborative learning experience. In many cases Learning Management Systems (LMS) are either restricted to automating formal learning or only add in a few social media tools to round off their delivery model.

An LMS is fundamentally a framework by which students and teachers can integrate their learning on a unified system. Because of the diversity of source material, educators and students need a secure platform that allows them to work on shared documents, make and exchange notes, start live chats and conference calls, or start a discussion thread with fellow students. The differentiators from a traditional approach include flexibility, reach, scope, and scale that allows students and instructors the freedom to engage and explore the material on their terms. With the vast amount of content available, coupled with the diversity of platform delivery options, the importance of a structured system to provide seamless integration offers a knowledge advantage.

This single-point secure encrypted environment prevents any possibility of the content getting leaked or any copyright violations. Additionally, from a learning perspective, benefits to the students and teacher include multiple device access, remote learning, testing, and assessment fluidity and comprehension advancement leading to higher-level offerings.

Technology is increasingly embedded in the work/life equation, now educators and learners need a smart platform, commensurate with intelligent technology, which saves every interaction with the context of the topic, section, notes, and other reference materials along with a date and time stamp, creating a robust content archive, allowing for access at any time.

Tools like Skype, Google Drive, OneNote, OneDrive, Zoom, and others are some of the most widely used channels to share content, communicate, and work together. Integrating these cloud technologies with learning management systems is critical for making a digital education platform truly social, interactive, and value-driven. For students and teachers relying on multiple tools to share and access different forms of content or different channels, difficulties, and complexities arise that can burden the learning process. A unified interface that drives all activities is far superior for making social learning integral to digital education.

Content gamification is yet another vital aspect of social learning. As educators, it is important to have an LMS (here are a few LMS Design Tips) that goes beyond the standard leader boards, point, or level system. Number games, word puzzles, and even inter-team quiz contests after the end of every chapter or section can truly get the ball rolling, leading to more learners participating, working in groups, and getting more engaged.

Students of today are the workforce of tomorrow. Future workplaces are all about using modern tools of communication and collaboration to work in virtual teams spread across locations. Thus, social learning at an early age is now essential to create a future-ready skilled workforce that is adept at self-organized learning, knowledge sharing, and working seamlessly with teams.