Learning Management Systems can add dramatic value to your classes. Or they can be a roadblock. It all depends on how you implement them in your class. Use of Learning Management Systems in education has not matured yet and we are still learning how they integrate. The following are not so much tips as attitudes and values.
They are the result of my experiences with learning management systems from the three main perspectives:
- As a learner
- As an educator
- As an administrator
Embracing the following will dramatically increase the effectiveness of your learning management system. They seem simple and obvious however my experience suggests many people overlook them. You have to develop habits around these.
Quality really is much better than quantity. The temptation is to put heaps of content up there for your students because, hey, you can. What this does is overwhelm them and turn them off. Also, your message needs to be concise. Many people create their on-line courses as a stream of consciousness exercise. As a result, all the content is there but it is not simple and clear. Think of the size of the screen your students will be using and think about how much they can see at once. This is an area where LMS’s could improve as there is currently very little in the way of incorporated planning tools. This means you will have to plan your course externally before creating it.
Content in a Learning Management System is easily changed and updated. This is very powerful yet many are lazy and don’t bother. Every year you should be looking at what areas students are performing poorly in or where they are asking questions and using this to refine the course. Over time you will polish the course to near perfection. Doing this is an easy way to achieve point 1.
Keep everything as consistent as possible in the way it looks, feels and operates. Students quickly become comfortable and confident with such systems. This has three advantages:
- It looks more professional and as a result they will have more confidence in the system, in the material and in you.
- They will spend less time and effort trying to figure out the delivery and as such have more to spend on the material which is primarily what you want them to be spending it on.
- As they become more confident and have more energy they will be more inclined to explore and experiment and these are qualities we definitely want to encourage in students.
This applies ideally not just in your class but across all classes students are using the system for. It’s hard to implement and enforce but you should encourage all educators on the system to adhere to certain standards, styles and templates.
4. Build exercises not notes
If all you use your Learning Management System for is delivering Notes then it really is not a Learning Management System so much as a Content Management System. Make use of all the interaction and creation possibilities these systems provide to get your students engaged. Yes it does require work and creativity but what it gives back in value is immense. This blog provides many examples of ways you can do this to help get you started.
5. Allow Exploration
Make your work as open as possible. Many activities in Learning Management Systems provide lots of options to restrict what, when and where students can do things. People don’t like being controlled. Applying technology restrictions is really a band-aid solution. We should instead be seeking to guide students by other, more human means. It seems a bit odd to be telling you that a good way to improve your system is to not use it’s features but this is one of those instances where it is true. Allow your students to explore and be creative. You learn through your experiences. If we create too many walls so they don’t think but blindly follow the only path then they aren’t learning as well as they could be.
6. Create jump points
Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. (William Butler Yeats)
Learning Management Systems, by their nature of being on-line, offer many opportunities to inspire students to go further. Don’t just cater to the lowest common denominator. Make sure you include links for students to explore further when they encounter areas they are interested in.
7. Encourage reflection
Reflection is important to crystalise and deepen your understanding of what you have learnt. Learning Management Systems provide many opportunities such as blogs and wiki’s and forums to encourage students to reflect on what they have been doing. Many students don’t reflect at the moment. Use these tools to get them doing so.
8. Make it fun
This relates to point 1 in that people don’t plan out their on-line courses as much as they should. As a result the material does tend to be dry and bland. Spice it up and stop sending the students to sleep. Unfortunately I can’t really explain how to do this as it is quite relative to your specific material but a good place to start is creativitygames.net
9. Style is important
This one is really important. More important than most people realise. I can’t stress this enough. By style I don’t just mean making it look suave but making it follow basic rules of user interface design. The human mind is wired to process data in certain ways. You can’t change this. You can either work with it, or against it. If you work against it your students will have to spend more attention on interpreting the material and as a consequence will have less with which to work with the material. The reverse happens when you work with the mind and you end up way ahead.
I’m sorry to say this but you probably have next to no experience or knowledge on this, even if you think you do. Start learning or talk to a skilled designer (make sure they have an understanding of this area, sadly many don’t). Here are a few links to get you started:
- Gestalt theories of perception
- Colour theory – look at the articles on how colour affects us
- How we read words
- Page tracking and more page tracking
10. Teach Thinking
Sadly, a lot of classes are taught in a remember and regurgitate style. We need to get students actively thinking, creating and interacting. We need to go even further however. Edward DeBono has shown how teaching how to think and how to think creatively can increase students performance by between 30 and 100%. Thinking is the foundation that virtually everything else we teach relies upon. Strengthen this and you will have dramatic improvements. Learning Management Systems provide many opportunities to explore this. Edward DeBono’s books are a good place to start but there are many others. You can find some word games you can use in your classes here.
Print these points out and put them somewhere prominent. Make sure everyone is aware of them. Make them part of your work with Learning Management Systems and your students will thank you.