Moving Beyond the LMS: What Lies Ahead?

Because of how ubiquitous Learning Management System (LMS) platforms like Canvas and Moodle have become, one might expect educators to be overwhelmingly comfortable with such solutions. However, a recent study by Educause Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR) has revealed that this isn’t necessarily the case; both faculty and student engagement are surprisingly low, particularly the former. Only about 75% of faculty even post grades online, and far fewer use discussion boards or committee work. Satisfaction levels and engagement have both remained stagnant for some time, forcing researchers to take a step back and analyze the issue. 

Notably, engagement doesn’t seem to particularly depend on the feature set of the LMS, nor does satisfaction. Regardless of which platform the university provides, educators tend to perform the same actions with the same resulting outcomes. Satisfaction comes from ease-of-use and polish, not versatility. In this regard, learning solutions have become something of a means to an end. Special features, by and large, go unnoticed; instead, users simply ask that their LMS provide the basics and provide them well, while any more goes unused. 

To tackle this issue would require significant reforms in the space of academic technology. Researchers at ECAR have proposed “next generation digital learning environments,” or NGDLEs, as the next iteration of digital learning solutions. These learning solutions offer an increased focus on personalization, interoperability, and social aspects while carrying over what worked from traditional systems. Yet, the transfer to such software isn’t as simple as buy-and-unbox; for most universities, switching would require a complete overhaul of their backend technology. Otherwise, the most innovative features offered by NGDLEs would be locked behind hardware and network limitations. 

For now, the switch to NGDLEs will likely remain a pie in the sky rather than an attainable reality. The investments in both time and money are simply too high for most universities. Rather than pouring money into prospective technology or expensive training programs, institutions are best served by investing in a reliable and intuitive LMS, at least until NGDLEs become more mainstream and feasible. 

Authors: Dr. Martha Henckell, Academic Technologies and Grey Ruessler, IT User Services