Nontraditional Learning Management Systems in Higher Education

Classroom logoWhen I interviewed for an instructional designer position with Google a few years ago, I was convinced that they were looking to take their Classroom product wider and deeper. I thought that they were ready to take on Blackboard, Canvas et al and start to integrate their free LMS with student information systems, add a gradebook etc.  Mixed in with all their existing tools for video streaming (YouTube) and conferencing (Hangouts) plus Docs and the rest, I really expected them to offer a free LMS that colleges would use. It would be very tempting. Look at how many colleges switched over to Gmail as the official institutional mail system. 

"Nontraditional" learning management systems (I'm thinking of both paid and free ones) have increased in online courses. Much of that movement has come from MOOC use and also from companies who have created their own systems to promote training and course offerings.

A new article from EDUCAUSE looks at graduate student use of Google Classroom. If you were using Classroom for your course a few years ago, you were more likely to be teaching in K-12 than at the undergraduate or graduate levels.

The study looks at many of the areas that have been studied before: improving effectiveness, increasing students' interactions with each other and their instructors and building community online. The difference is the audience of grad students.

The earliest MOOCs were using nontraditional web applications like Facebook and Twitter for higher education. But their use has been more limited - perhaps for an assignment - and few educators would call any one of them or a combination to be the equivalent of an LMS.

The study also points out that products like Schoology have borrowed a lot of UI and design from sites like Facebook. 

This study is small - "When asked if they would use Google Classroom again, five of the seven participants said, "yes." I would consider using Google Classroom again as well, but only for a small course."  But it is a study worth conducting at other institutions and with larger classes, even MOOC-sized ones. 

The author, Stephanie Blackmon, feels "the stream can be a bit daunting for some students" and she is hesitant to rely on it for larger classes. I would be less hesitant, but I don't think Classroom is ready to be the nontraditional LMS for a traditional college-credit course.

But some company, perhaps Google, is going to offer that free LMS and that's when things will really get interesting.

 

 

An overview of Google Classroom features:

Does Education Have a 'Next Billion?'

next billion"Next Billion" is a term you will find used in talking about the future of the internet. It refers to not only the exponential growth in connectivity in emerging markets, such as India, but also the growth of next-level technology in more mature markets. 

One thing that is evident is that the next billion internet users are much more likely to be using mobile phones than a computer.  Globally, half of all internet users got online in February 2017 using mobile devices. It is still a close race with 45% accessing the web on laptops or desktop computers, but break out the number for emerging markets, like India, and the mobile wins easily. In India and other countries that did not have wired infrastructure in place for Net connectivity, and did not have a population able to purchase computers, mobile and wireless are the only choice. Indians accessed the internet through their mobiles nearly 80% of the time. 

This is also changing the way providers, carriers, phone manufacturers and related companies (such as Google/Alphabet) design.

For example, the emerging next billion tends not to type searches, emails, or even text messages. These newcomers avoid text and use voice activation and communicating with images. Part of this is due to their unfamiliarity with the devices, and partly it is due to a less educated and literate population. They are using low-end smartphones (Android dominates) and cheap data plans along with the most intuitive apps that let them navigate easily.

What does this have to do with education?

My first thought is that even if your students are part of the "first billion" population, delivery of learning online needs to very seriously address mobile use, and the user interfaces need to be intuitive and less text-based.

My second thought is that educational providers, especially post-secondary, need to be prepared for the next billion learners who will not be coming to them in the same ways, or with the same goals, or with the same devices. When I say "educational providers," I am thinking of much more than schools and universities.

No doubt some of this has already been taking place through online learning and especially with the rise of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) and Open Educational Resources (OER), but the pathways are not even well established for the first billion, and certainly not for the next billion.