The Battle of the Learning Management Systems


D & G


David and Goliath in a detail from Michelangelo



Yesterday, I wrote about Google's continuing movement into the  learning management (LMS) world, and a reader sent me an opinion piece that says that the "Goliaths" of the LMS world are losing ground to the "Davids." The author of that piece, Carol Leaman, does not tell us who these "Davids" are by name. Are they the more open systems like Moodle and Sakai? Is Google Classroom one? It's hard to think of Google as a David when we know it is a Goliath.

But the real takeaway from the essay is that after about two decades of LMS use advancements have not kept pace with expectations for both academic classroom use and for the training of employees.

The author gives numbers (from Ambient Insight) that show global revenues of $46.6 billion in 2016 declining to $33.4 billion by 2021 with the U.S. corporate segment having a negative 33.9 percent growth rate.

What are schools and companies looking for? The wish list includes platforms that are mobile-first, cloud based, drive voluntary learner engagement and use what we are learning from cognitive science about mapping knowledge to how learners best acquire it.

In my seventeen years of using various LMS and doing instructional design for both higher education and corporate training, I noticed a gap between those two markets. Much to my initial surprise, organizations outside academia were much more concerned with being able to measure knowledge, mastery and growth by learners and correlate it to business results.

It shouldn't have surprised me that companies wanted a return on their investment (ROI) in an LMS and in training costs and employee time. Surely, we have these concerns in education too, but our "assessment" follows different models. Education has several centuries of precedents for measuring learning. Some of them work in the modern classroom. Some do not. Even fewer work in an online environment.

The LMS field is still young.  Many people consider FirstClass by SoftArc (which the United Kingdom's Open University used in the 1990s) as the first modern LMS. Blackboard, WebCT and others appeared at the turn of this century. But learning management systems were preceded by computer-managed instruction (CMI), and integrated learning systems (ILS) which offered a way to manage instructional content and also manage student data. When I started in online learning at NJIT in 2000, we used the term CMS (Course Management System). If you consider in this history the terms ILS (coined by Jostens Learning) and CMI (originally used to describe the PLATO Learning Management system), then we can go back to the 1970s and find systems for computer-based instruction being offered that were content-free and a separate product from the course content.

About ten years ago, mergers in the learning industry brought the LMS into the same house as publishers of content. This was a meetup that I have always seen as dangerous for education, but probably good for corporate clients. I don't want to see curriculum coming from a vendor, even though I have to concede that textbooks have unfortunately driven course design for a very long time.

Will Goliath(s) fall and if so, who and what will bring it down? 



I received an email letting me know that Carol Leaman is the CEO of Axonify, so the David in this story is Axonify. 


Following the Expansion of the Google Classroom

Google Classroom is now used by more than 20 million educators and students. It is used by teachers in schools as a limited but free learning management system (LMS), and I am sure Google is using it for their own developers who are building educational technology.

This academic year, Classroom updates show some of the direction this project may take. There were changes to allow more individualized work for differentiated learning. Google saw that teachers were creating "workarounds" to differentiate their instruction. Now, when creating an assignment, post or question, teachers can choose whether to share it with the entire class or just with a subset of students. Designers using full-featured LMS (Canvas, Moodle, Blackboard et al) have been doing that for at least ten years.

animation

There are also updates that are more for the teacher, such as notifications to manage student work. Teachers now receive two new types of Classroom notifications—one when students submit work after the due date, and one for when students re-submit work. Again, these are features that have been offered in other LMS for quite awhile.

It seems that Google is moving towards creating a fully-featured LMS. Will that expanded product remain free, or are they moving towards a competing commercial product?

Updates that are more for developers, such as new capabilities to the Classroom API to make integrations with Classroom more seamless, also seem to indicate future expansion, Integrated applications can now programmatically add materials to coursework or student submissions and can modify existing coursework they’ve created. For K-12 schools the demands to integrate arelessthan those in higher education, but grading and student information systems (SIS) become criticl when any LMS is used in an "enterprise" manner. Other educational applications have been integrated with Classroom since the launch of the API, including tools like Flat.IO, Classcraft and Little SIS. I'm sure Google is monitoring these uses with an eye to future development of their Classroom platform.


Social Media Research Tools

Social media can be viewed as a distraction. Some people rely on it as a news source. Companies use it for marketing purposes. And some of us study it in a more academic way.

In higher education, we at least touch on all four approaches. Some teachers find it all a useless annoyance. In communications and journalism courses, it is studied as another medium. In business school, it has moved into marketing and advertising courses and conversations. Beyond the theories of social media use, there is learning about the design and analysis of social media.

Studying online communities and social networks is leading to developing new tools and methods for analyzing and visualizing social media data. One of the better compilations of social media research tools has been curated by researchers at the Social Media Lab at Ted Rogers School of Management, Ryerson University.  Their site has more than fifty tools that they have reviewed academically. Many are free tools to use and are fairly simple to implement and use to collect data for analysis, while others require some programming experience.    

http://socialmediadata.org/social-media-research-toolkit/


Fantastic Augmented Reality and Where to Find It

pokemon

Pokémon Go was big last summer, but it was a flash in the tech pan. It couldn't scale. But it was a big augmented reality (AR) game that was mobile and required no additional hardware - especially the odd-looking goggles we currently associate with virtual reality. The game was platform agnostic. It used location services to geo-locate players with a virtual world. It worked.

I never played Pokémon Go, but I did observe others playing. For those of you who also didn't participate, here's what it is all about.

Your avatar is displayed on a map using the player's current geographical location. There are PokéStops that provide players with items, such as eggs, Poké Balls, berries, potions and lure modules which attract additional wild, and sometimes rare, Pokémon. These stops and battle locations (gyms) are re-purposed portals from Ingress, developer Niantic's previous augmented reality game. 

In AR mode the game uses the camera and gyroscope on the player's mobile device to display an image of a Pokémon as though it were in the real world.

beasts

I can certainly see more game applications for AR. I would pursue the rights to the Harry Potter world's latest franchise whose name itself suggests an AR game: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.  

But is this all we can expect from augmented reality? 

Its use in education has been limited, but it has been used to superimpose text, graphics, video and audio into a student’s real time environment. As a kind of supercharged QR code, in textbooks and in real spaces, such as museums and physical displays, material can be embedded using “markers” that trigger when scanned by an AR device and supply supplementary multimedia materials.

NASA

Using AR for more serious purposes is not that new. In 2000, NASA's X38 display (shown here) had a video map with overlays including runways and obstacles for use during flight tests. 

The applications for AR are numerous. For architects and builders, AR can aid in visualizing building projects. Computer-generated images of a structure can be superimposed into a real life local view of a property before the physical building is constructed there. It can be used before any construction begins while architects are rendering into their view animated 3D visualizations of their 2D drawings. 

Similarly, AR allows industrial designers to experience a product's design and operation before completion. Volkswagen used AR for comparing calculated and actual crash test imagery and to visualize and modify car body structure and engine layout. AR was also be used to compare digital mock-ups with physical mock-ups for finding discrepancies between them.

3D

We are not there yet, but in education AR should become more common and more interactive. Computer-generated simulations of existing places and historical events. In higher education, applications such as Construct3D, are used to help learn mechanical engineering concepts, math or geometry. 

Primary school children using interactive AR experiences will probably end up in high schools and colleges using AR and VR in ways we can't quite imagine today. AR technology in the classroom will be integrated, rather than a novelty, and mixing real life and virtual elements will feel more natural.