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