5 Top College Trends on LMS Use by Universities

5 Top College Trends on LMS Use by Universities
Imed Bouchrika by Imed Bouchrika
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

This article will present various trends in education technology and how they will impact college education in the United States and key regions worldwide. It will cover the importance and usage of learning management systems (LMS), including their role in data analytics, mobile learning, and online education. Moreover, this article grants students, educators, and school administrators a clear view of how LMS is helping to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

Top College Trends on LMS Use by Universities

  1. Wider Acceptance of Learning Management Systems
  2. Higher Adoption Rate of Mobile Learning
  3. Heavier Use of Data and Data Analytics
  4. Online Education Will Thrive
  5. Ed Tech to Grow Further Post-Pandemic

Wider Acceptance of Learning Management Systems

LMS was developed to administer, document, and generate reports on educational programs. When used to leverage data, its capabilities extend to making accurate assessments of student skill profiles, which allow the platform to perform complex operations, such as recommending the components of curricula (Ellis, 2009). While it was mainly used for reporting attendance records, computing grades, and developing courses (McKinsey, 2018), recent developments in technology has seen its capacity grow to take in more functionalities (Educause, 2020).

Source: Valuates Reports 2019

Reasons Why Schools are Adopting Learning Management Systems

More and more students are developing a fondness for online education, which is normally conducted through learning management systems. Learning management systems are actually the most widely used technology in the academe and are currently the most popular method for supporting online learning (Zanjani et al., 2017, cited in Binyamin et al., 2020).

In fact, 85% of them think that learning online is just as effective as learning in the classroom (Magda & Aslanian, 2018). Likewise, schools have begun to see the advantages of having an LMS not just for online classes, but also to enhance the learning experience in classrooms. Here are five of the platform’s benefits:

  • Better access to information. With LMS tapping on a school’s network and internet search engines, both students and teachers have access to more information compared to just basing lessons on one textbook or a premade lesson plan (CAE, n.d.).
  • Portability. Lessons do not need to be confined within a classroom. With an LMS, classes can be conducted online, with students and teachers having the ability to simulate classroom education from the comfort of their homes.  Lessons can be viewed while exercises can be performed using computers and mobile devices (Laithangbam, 2020).
  • Lower costs. On the students’ end, the tuition fees are cheaper and they don’t have to deal with expenses on transportation, uniforms, dormitories, and books. The same goes for teachers. Schools, on the other hand, would not need to build a lot of buildings and classrooms to accommodate all of the learners and faculty members (CAE, n.d.).
  • Innovative lessons. The modes of teaching applied aren’t confined to rigid plans. With all of the functionalities that learning systems feature, educators can innovate the manner by which they conduct their classes. For instance, they can gamify some of the more complex topics while applying concepts like blended learning and flipped learning (Laithangbam, 2020). Flipped learning offers the novel approach of allowing students to reverse how they go about their studies, such as by exchanging their time doing their homework at home and studying/listening to lectures at school (Adi Sucipto et al., 2017).
  • Optimum efficiency. LMS that leverage data ease the burden off of educators in a lot of ways, which include student assessments, creation of curricula, communication with students and among faculty members, and attendance monitoring, among many others (Laithangbam, 2020; CAE, n.d.).

More benefits for universities will be added in the foreseeable future, given the rapid pace of LMS development being performed by schools and tech companies. New functions were recently added by some universities that could potentially change some aspects of education.

Contemporary Advancements in Learning Management Systems

Even though the very first LMS working model was developed as far back as 1990 (Sharma, n.d.), the assimilation of contemporary technology with learning systems for schools is still in its infancy stage. In the past few years, colleges and universities have been developing new ways to make life easier for both students and educators. This year and the succeeding years won’t be any different.

In 2019, chatbots were integrated with the LMS of colleges like Northwestern University and the University of Oklahoma, which answer the repeated queries of students and members of the faculty and serve as a tool for student recruitment, respectively (Educause, 2020). Developed by the universities themselves, the platforms tap into massive knowledge bases like Google and school libraries in providing answers.

In Australia, Griffith University deployed a chatbot that combines then expands the features of the aforementioned bots by providing information on every aspect of college life, such as class information, the most ideal food options, and registration schedules (McNeil, 2018). Remarkably, this creation precedes the previous bots by a year.

Utah State University, on the other hand, developed a voice-powered virtual assistant for disabled educators, so that they can leverage the teaching devices in classrooms (USU, 2017). Similarly, Arizona State University, with the help of Amazon, came up with a system that helps students and teachers control electronic devices within certain areas of the campus and receive school-related information (Arizona State University, 2017).

Meanwhile, Penn State University opted to focus on accelerating the functionality of its learning systems by leveraging machine learning technology (Educause, 2020). The platform is used to collate student grades and provide reliable insights on how well they will perform even before the school year begins. With over 8.5 million student records at its disposal, it has more than enough data to influence the structures of curricula and lesson plans, and its predictive capabilities will get even better over time.

Another notable project is the University of Oklahoma’s Projects in Artificial Intelligence Registry (PAIR). This online platform acts as a global directory of all artificial intelligence (AI) projects, promoting collaborations within the worldwide community of tech researchers as well as supporting grants (PAIR, n.d.). With this information, the school and the portal’s users gain a bird’s eye view of how technologies can further be leveraged to boost their LMS.

This is just a tiny list of how universities have improved their learning systems in the past few years. As technology continues to advance, the forthcoming systems will continue to incorporate innovative functions for a variety of applications. Furthermore, other universities would likely adopt the modern systems developed by the aforesaid schools or devote resources to create their own innovative systems. Still, despite the established benefits of technology-based learning systems, school administrators, teachers, and other stakeholders should understand that the efficiency of these e-learning tools also rely on the quality of user adoption and continued utilization (Tai et al., 2012 cited in Findik-Coşkunçay et al., 2018).

Possible Improvements in Learning Management Systems

Given that new solutions on learning, teaching, and analyzing records are continually being developed, many of the available systems are a work in progress. The learning systems right now could be outdated by the turn of the decade with the concerted effort on innovation undertaken by universities, as demonstrated by the platforms released in the past few years. Of course, with progress comes larger investments.

To further this point, market researchers expect the LMS industry to have a massive increase in value in the next few years, from $9.46 billion in 2019 to $20.9 billion in 2025 (Valuates, 2019). Educational institutions have also conceived a digital learning ecosystem built to reinforce or expand the functionalities of LMS called next-generation digital learning environment (NGDLE) (Educause, 2015; Kim, 2018).

With this, the current crop of LMS stands to improve by assimilating new functions or adding new practices.

  • Dedicate time to train users. Any software, no matter how user-friendly its interface is, carries a learning curve. Doing so for learning systems will eliminate confusion and allow the faculty and students to maximize their capabilities (Pappas, C., Zaharias, P., 2018).
  • Include the students in the discussion. If students are to use an LMS, it would be wise to include their opinions and suggestions in creating or upgrading a system (Pappas & Zaharias, 2018). After all, they would know how to increase their engagement in classes.
  • Consolidated functions. As demonstrated by Griffith University’s chatbot, it is possible to turn LMS into a tool that accounts for nearly every aspect of student life in providing pertinent information (McNeil, 2018). Other universities can follow suit.
  • Leverage AI and machine learning further. Besides assessments and curriculum building, an LMS that utilizes AI and machine learning can inject order into expansive digital libraries as powerful research tools, translate languages, and improve the school’s customer service through chatbots (Educause, 2020). The possibilities are endless.
  • Incorporation of Extended Reality. For technical courses, an LMS linked to a virtual/augmented reality platform can carve out fun and safe learning experiences for students (Educause, 2020). This helps them retain concepts and practices through blended, gamified, and interactive learning.

Higher Adoption Rate of Mobile Learning 

As the use of smartphones and other mobile devices has pervaded every avenue of human life, colleges and universities would likely take advantage of the pull of electronic devices on learners to foster learning. After all, according to the 2017 Digital Study Trends Survey by McGraw Hill, 86% of college students consider the laptop as the most important device for studying, more so than print materials (72%) (Hanover Research, 2017).

Moreover, even though they are widely known as some of modern society’s biggest distractions, smartphones can be used as effective study tools according to a third of college students (Hanover Research, 2017). There is a multitude of mobile applications that students can use, from knowledge repositories to task lists and note-taking tools to email and file-sharing apps, to enhance their learning experience.

Source: McGraw-Hill Education

A Wide Range of Applications for Studying and Research

With the growing role of mobile devices in education today, more applications would be used by students either in class or while studying. Educators, on the other hand, can communicate with students outside of the classroom, send/receive assignments, and evaluate papers using their mobile devices. Besides the tools incorporated by LMS for communication and file sharing, here are the types of mobile applications that figure in education:

  • Email. Samples include Gmail, Outlook, ProtonMail, and BlueMail
  • Instant messaging. Samples include Slack, Whatsapp, Viber, and Telegram.
  • Video conferencing (for online lectures). Samples include Zoom, Facetime, Skype, and GoToMeeting.
  • File sharing. Samples include Dropbox, SHAREit, Xender, and Portal.
  • Note Taking. Samples include Evernote, OneNote, Google Keep, and Apple Notes
  • Digital libraries for research. Samples include Scribd, OverDrive, Researcher: 16,000 Academic Publications, iTunes U, and EasyBib.
  • Task management. Samples include Asana, Any.do, Todoist, Trello, and Google Tasks.
  • Student planner. Samples include Studious, Timetable, Class Timetable, and My Class Schedule.
  • Exam preparation.  Samples include BenchPrep, Pocket Aptitude, TCY Exam Prep, Gradeup
  • Revision. Samples include StudyBlue, GoConqr, EdPlace, and GCSEPod.
  • Lecture capture. Samples include SoundNote, Office Lens, Notes Plus, and Audio Memos Free.

Besides the listed applications, students can also leverage dictionary apps, video streaming apps, and apps that inhibit them from opening distracting sites and applications.

Applications Developed by Colleges and Universities

Even though there is a multitude of productivity apps on the market, colleges and universities have developed their own mobile applications to enhance their learning programs or at least add convenience to the daily routines of students. A clear advantage of these school-made apps is that they address the exact needs of users, from interactive campus maps for freshmen to contact information registries, to digital forums where class discussions can be conducted (Brendan, 2017). They come as ideal supplements to the functionalities of learning management systems.

  • Ashford University app. Giving students and learners another avenue for discussions, the Ashford University app features a forum where users can post class-related topics and discuss them in detail. Students can also see class updates, get updated on upcoming school events, and find the contact details of school departments and important school staff (Brendan, 2017).
  • Maine Maritime Academy app. The Maine Maritime Academy app is most notable for streamlining the school’s admission process and providing a ton of useful information for new students. It also presents schedules for classes and orientations (Walsh, 2019).
  • ECU Mobile. Developed by East Carolina University, this application is loaded with features, which include a library catalog, a course information portal that indicates the user’s payment status, and a school-exclusive social networking platform, among others (Brendan, 2017).
  • Northern Arizona University app. This application is tailored to maximize student engagement by organizing its functions into stylish boards. Beyond aesthetics, the app lets students view their academic calendar, book meetings with their academic advisors, and join clubs and school activities. It also provides users with access to the school’s vast digital library (Walsh, 2019).
  • UH Go Mobile. University of Houston’s mobile app does not only account for academics and event listings, it actually consolidates the entire student lifecycle into one platform. The staggering amount of information it provides includes various interactive maps, the ideal places to eat, health and wellness programs, a campus life module, and safety and emergency procedures. It also has comprehensive modules for academics, admissions, and finance (Walsh, 2019).
  • Mobile UW. Designed for students, faculty members, and school alumni, University 0f Wisconsin-Madison’s mobile app takes the extensive route to presenting information. Aside from providing solutions for academics and constantly providing event updates, it offers suggestions on the best parking spots, the fastest routes in and around campus, and which nearby libraries to visit (Brendan, 2017).
  • Arizona Mobile. The University of Arizona’s mobile application offers a wide range of information that benefits both students and educators. It has educational videos, course catalogs, the contact information of relevant departments and individuals, and a listing of nearby restaurants, along with a user’s meal plan balance. The app also gives users direct access to the University of Arizona’s knowledge base on iTunes U (Brendan, 2017).

Besides the listed mobile applications, a lot of universities promote app development among students. Some of the apps developed are widely used by the schools’ learners. For instance, the University of California, Berkley’s app was initially developed by students (Walsh, 2019). The school ended up partnering with students in maintaining and further developing the application to create a campus-wide mobile solution.

University of Houston’s official mobile app, UH Go Mobile

Heavier Use of Data and Data Analytics

Accurate information paves the way for realistic solutions, and in the case of higher education, leveraging data can lead to increased efficiency and effectiveness in rolling out lessons and assessing exams and exercises (Marr, 2020). Since data is held in high regard by schools in today’s educational landscape, the task of analyzing data has been incorporated into LMS rather than keeping it siloed within the IT department.

As such, department heads and faculty members can easily receive the insights they need to structure curricula or tailor lessons in accordance with the competencies and learning capacities of students (Kim, 2018).

Personalized Education and Adaptive Learning

Data analytics does much of the heavy lifting in regard to checking exams and grading students based on the results. As a result, educators have more time to focus on personalizing the lessons. Remarkably, analytics also plays a role in that aspect. Data-driven insights can be used to identify teaching methods that are not producing the desired results as well as underscore the ones that yield higher marks from students (Marr, 2020). Similarly, insights can be extrapolated from student grades, with the prevalent trends identified, allowing teachers to make the necessary adjustments in their lesson plans (Spear, n.d.).

The high demand for data analytics has led some universities to also adopt adaptive courseware to facilitate adaptive learning, which further personalizes education (Educause, 2020). By incorporating adaptive learning, teachers have the luxury of uploading lectures on the school’s LMS while focusing on being a coach or mentor to each student (Educause, 2020). This lets educators adapt to the students’ pace of learning and devote more time to those who are having trouble keeping up. Moreover, the teachers themselves can identify the areas in their field of study in which they lack knowledge, thus pushing them to become more knowledgeable educators.

Accurate Teacher Assessments

Instead of manually checking papers online, teachers can run a data-driven LMS to perform the assessment and grading for them. This reduces the time-consuming task to just a few minutes with a reduced likelihood of errors. Furthermore, when a series of test results is run through predictive analytics, the platform will isolate trends surrounding student learning deficits (Rowe, 2019). The resulting insights can influence a significant improvement in the manner by which ideas are conveyed as well as the time spent per topic.

Measured Improvement in Student Outcomes

Combining predictive analytics with adaptive learning has produced remarkable results for some colleges. Arizona State University’s algebra course, for instance, saw the passing rate rise from 54% in 2015 to 81% recently after applying adaptive learning (Educause, 2020). Likewise, in Oregon State University’s algebra course, the pass rate spiked from 65% to 77% in the past two years when they followed a similar strategy (Educause, 2020). Meanwhile, Kennesaw State University was able to observe student engagement and make the necessary adjustments based on their findings, which resulted in a 50% drop in the school’s fail and dropout rates (Rowe, 2019).

Online Education Will Thrive

The COVID-19 pandemic led to the temporary closure of schools until September or the end of the year while much of the global populace is under quarantine. This affects 1,186,127,211 learners globally (UNESCO, 2020), including students in colleges and universities. In light of the pandemic, schools can opt to facilitate education online so that lessons won’t get too delayed. Additionally, online classes open the door for more people to receive education on any school level, regardless of where they are located.

Even though a lot of schools worldwide offer online programs, transitioning from campus-based classes to their online counterparts poses as a challenge (DePietro, 2020), as the lessons are structured differently. The same goes for the spacing for each topic. However, there are solutions to help make the migration possible.

Learning Amid the Pandemic

Colleges and universities can use their LMS to upload lessons and video conferencing apps for lectures. Should they ascribe to open education, colleges and universities can have students view educational videos on YouTube and other video streaming sites (Educause, 2020).  They can also incorporate some of the programs offered by online course providers like Coursera into their curricula, or perhaps partner up with those institutions in crafting tailored online programs.

For instance, the University of Pennsylvania worked with Coursera to create an online master’s degree program in computer and information technology, which is significantly cheaper than its campus-based counterpart and more accessible (Spear, n.d.).

Furthermore, the president of the University of California system, which accounts for 10 universities, has given a statement that some, if not all, instructions might be conducted remotely for the 2020-2021 school year (Villasenor, 2020).

Looking at the statistics, the number of students taking online courses grew from 31.1% in 2016 to 34.7% in 2018 (Lederman, 2019). Furthermore, there was a 48% increase in the funds allocated by four-year schools to online programs in 2019. Those figures are expected to spike up dramatically this year and in 2021 since the pandemic forced students to stay home. Even if campus-based classes resume, physical distancing measures will be implemented until the coronavirus has been contained, limiting the capacity of classrooms to accommodate all learners. This potentially forces them to migrate at least some of their classes online.

Knowledge retention with elearning might be a problem, however, considering that teachers aren’t physically present. The truth is, there are conflicting opinions about this matter. An op-ed piece from a UCLA professor asserts that learning through a computer helps improve focus (Villasenor, 2020), while a study by a seasoned online educator stated otherwise (Bawa, 2016).

However, the latter did mention that elearning retention can be improved by “making orientation programs mandatory,” “enhancing faculty training and support,” “using live interaction and transparency in communications,” and “creating classes structured for collaborative learning.” All of those solutions are possible, given the resources of colleges and universities and the experience of their senior staff.

Source: Best Colleges 2020

Lower Costs Compared to Traditional Learning

The statistics suggest that getting an online education is a lot more affordable than going for a campus-based program. On average, a student typically spends somewhere between $100 to $400 per credit hour whereas, in traditional education, tuition fees cost around $30,000-$50,000 (Best Value Schools, n.d.).  The latter figures do not account for the cost of staying in a dormitory, which on average ranges from $10,o00 to $12,000 a year (Heap, 2017), food, transportation, and school supplies, among others.

Wide Range of Courses

Variety is one of the strengths of online education. Besides traditional four-year college courses, students can enroll in short programs that can earn them certificates (Open Education Database, n.d.). Participants can also pick up degrees and even doctorates in going through the online courses (Open Education Database, n.d.). Furthermore, students can complete courses without having to take a multitude of tangentially related academic subjects, thus hastening the process of earning a degree or certificate. They have the luxury of learning at their own pace without worrying about missing classes (Job, 2019).

Ed Tech to Grow Further Post-Pandemic

The prevailing college trends for this year revolve around technology and the solutions it provides to foster efficiency and effectiveness in conducting classes (Educause, 2020) amid a global pandemic. Delving further, the aforementioned tech trends are tied together, with learning management systems acting as data centers that can perform data analytics, incorporate apps for remote and mobile learning, and provide students and educators with a platform for online classes (McKinsey, 2018).

Using LMS comes with a slew of advantages, which include streamlined operations, wider access to information, quicker and more accurate student assessments, and the flexibility to structure and conduct classes at any place with an internet connection (CAE, n.d.; Laithangbam, 2020). Moreover, colleges and universities across the United States have recently pioneered added LMS functionalities (Educause, 2020) that could very well disrupt the education paradigm in the country and potentially the rest of the world.

The higher demand for data-driven solutions carves out a path for schools to upgrade their learning systems, both in the technology and methodologies applied. LMS equipped with the ability to perform predictive analytics can be used for complex operations like building curricula or measuring student engagement (Rowe, 2019). When integrated with adaptive courseware and a focus on personalized education, the platform can also help create an adaptive learning ecosystem for students (Kim, J., 2018; Educause, 2020). And its predictive abilities can only get better over time.

Perhaps the biggest contribution of LMS this year and in 2021, given the class disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, is its capacity to hold online classes. Online education provides colleges and universities with the option to resume classes while minimizing the threat of the coronavirus. It also comes with reduced costs and a wide variety of courses to choose from (Heap, 2017; Open Education Database, n.d.), easing the pain points usually found in traditional education for both students and teachers.

All that said, it is too early to tell if schools’ pursuit of facilitating online education would stick after the threat of the coronavirus has been quelled. But one thing is for certain: The constant innovation in education technology has more than enough staying power to outlast any pandemic. And at the heart of that effort is the learning management system.

 

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