As technological advances continue to transform the way we connect with each other, so there will be a need for different ways of learning. And in the wake of the lockdown and social distancing regulations brought on by the coronavirus outbreak, many industries had to move from casually considering remote working set-ups to implementing them in a short space of time.
In higher education, though, online learning has long been top of the agenda. For example, Unisa (University of South Africa) is popular for its distance learning methods and integrating a system where students can do work assigned to them in their own environments; submit it via the portal and also view results and feedback. They are also a decent example of blended learning.
Learning Management Systems (LMS) can be defined as web-based software platforms that facilitate the administration, documentation, tracking and reporting, and the delivery of educational courses/content and learner outcomes.
And as you typically would join a webinar or online meeting, you gain access to a learning system through a URL or username and password. And it’s worth noting that the quantity and quality of e-learning platforms for higher education have increased significantly during the past decade.
In terms of choice, the number of available tools and platforms, and the possibilities they offer both students and teachers can be both challenging and rewarding.
How LMSs differ from the (traditional) classroom
The first major difference is the format of the interactions between educators and students. Naturally, using online tools to organise and attend your classes has its obvious advantages and a few drawbacks.
Learning through the use of LMS’s means that there will be a change in the type of human interactions, compared to the traditional classroom setting. Subsequently, there might be a need to adopt an independent learning style.
However, the growth of LMS’s present changes to modern distance learning. Courses now mostly incorporate higher levels of human interaction, with teaching styles that lean toward traditional classroom settings. There’s also a variety of tools and features found on most learning management systems designed to help students with their learning, including communicating with lecturers and other faculty staff. And socializing with other learners within the learning platform helps cultivate a sense of belonging, and inspires a well-rounded learning experience.
A few examples
As with any other market, there are several companies that offer products and services connected to online learning. This makes the platforms available and the features they carry different. There are free or open-sourced alternative products as well. These software tools play an important role in the spread of online education, helping students from all backgrounds to acquire education and qualifications.
With the service owned by a large and well-resourced company, you can easily manipulate and integrate your content across the Google ecosystem. For example, the platform enables teachers to have face-to-face meetings with students using the flagship Google Meet app, which is built into the Classroom.
Moodle is a free and open-source learning management system. The platform is used for blended learning, distance education, flipped classrooms, and other e-learning projects in schools, universities, workplaces, and other sectors.
Amazon says that their LMS is used in more than 200 countries, connecting 2,400 institutions, over 10,000 educators, and hundreds of thousands of students. Part of their mission is to help people discover the necessary skills to begin building careers in the cloud industry. Along the way, learners have opportunities to test their knowledge and obtain credentials for subjects passed on the platform. With the qualifications obtained, they can go on to apply for jobs within the Amazon platforms or at other companies.
Broadly, this means that to successfully complete a Bachelor of Commerce in International Accounting degree (with U.J. or any other institution with an LMS in place), you’ll need to learn the basics of working within a learning management system. Additionally, working with different types of media as part of organizing your education will introduce you to the concept of content management systems.
A content management system (CMS) is a software application used to manage the creation and modification of digital content. Example: a blogging platform such as WordPress is a CMS. By creating a user account, you can write, design, host, or publish a variety of media on the platform.
Advantages of a LMS
- Learning Management Systems support content in different formats: text, video, audio, etc.
- Immediate access to learning material at any time, anywhere.
- Instructors can edit/modify and re-use learning content, and students don’t need to wait to access updated material.
- The evaluation of students is much easier and fair, based on student attendance and online quizzes.
Pitfalls of a LMS
- Teachers and students have to be willing to adapt their courses and ways of working from traditional to online lectures.
- Learning fully through an LMS can feel impersonal and lacking in dialogue provided by in-person training.
- Not all students have access to reliable and always-available Internet connectivity.
Another thing. It’s easy to assume that all students are tech-savvy and will easily embrace technology for their learning. However, for students to get maximum value from using digital learning systems, basic digital and platform training goes a long way to help them interact effectively with coursework.
Navigating the pitfalls
Blended learning as tool
This is a combination of distance learning and the traditional in-classroom learning. Ultimately, you have a less rigid schedule where you attend some of the classes on campus. However, most of the work still remains online, allowing you to complete assignments at your convenience. This ensures that you still get the administrative and archiving benefits of using an LMS and balance out the disadvantages, such as working in isolation for prolonged periods.
Using digital resources to connect to people and knowledge is an incredible feat. However, living within the reality of continuous #Loadshedding power cuts, it’s essential to plan ahead. When possible, get a schedule detailing the load-shedding program in your area. You can use electricity to charge up your devices and attend to your ‘online tasks’ and during the hours with no power, you can push ‘offline tasks’, for example.
Managing information, nurturing creativity
As we’ve established, we live in an interconnected world where the traditional concept of learning (or anything else), is fast becoming irrelevant. And software vendors, open-source developers, and educational institutions, awake to this change, will continue to embrace systems that support the management of courses and communication with students remotely.
The ultimate key to effectively engage with learning management systems is to make a paradigm shift. This means moving into a mindset where the information you consume as a student can be stored, managed, updated and expanded into a useful library of knowledge over time.