In my conversations lately with people in the teaching world (teachers, consultants, e-Learning Contacts, etc.), I am hearing the word 'container' used very often. The context is that teachers are embracing technology in all subject areas and are now using video, audio, presentations, images, etc., as part of all that they do. The number of ‘presentations’ alone, being created by students, has skyrocketed recently because of access to online presentation tools and the ease of incorporating multimedia from the internet. Teachers need a 'container' to hold all of this stuff.
Pragmatically speaking, a learning management system (LMS) is needed to simply manage all of the digital content that is a large part of the learning in today’s classrooms. From a pedagogical perspective, the access to multimedia must be leveraged to promote critical thinking surrounding the abundant content available at our fingertips. Ideally, an LMS needs to provide the platform for teachers to make class announcements and post course content, as well as the ability to receive, assess, and provide descriptive feedback about student work. Also, a truly robust LMS would give teachers the ability to display exemplary student work, differentiate instruction and assessment, and inspire meaningful communication and collaboration, while seamlessly incorporating multimedia. All of this needs to be in a safe, secure, private environment that is available across all digital devices.
An LMS may be as simple as a classroom blog, online calendar, or a website. These tools are mainly used for pushing out content, but fall short in terms of two-way communication. Further, blogs, calendars, and websites are generally ‘public on the web’, so they may not address the unique needs of an individual classroom. Many teachers have embraced Google Apps for Education and are using the sharing capabilities to create their own learning management system. There are two major reasons I suggest not using Google Apps for Education as an LMS. First, teachers themselves need to do the back end work every semester or school year, with each of their classes, in terms of creating shared folders and creating contacts. Second, the sheer volume of files that will accumulate rapidly may become unmanageable and monitoring individual files will be very tedious, at best. There are numerous free learning management systems available to educators, and most offer key features that support curriculum delivery and assessment opportunities. Further, most of these virtual learning environments have developed a welcoming, engaging infrastructure for meaningful communication, collaboration, and social networking. One of the most inviting features of an LMS, from a pedagogical lens, is the use of release conditions to differentiate instruction and assessment. Teachers may release certain items to individuals, or groups of students, and establish different timelines for assessment items.
In summary, as students and teachers integrate increasingly more digital content into their learning, the need grows for learning environments that leverage the power of multimedia and seemingly unlimited access to knowledge. This environment must meet the unique needs of all key stakeholders in education. Teachers can use an LMS to supplement and enhance the learning in their face-to-face classroom environments. Students may access engaging course content anywhere, anytime. This just-in-time learning model empowers students to take charge of their own learning, equipping them with tools for meaningful communication and collaboration, ultimately improving student achievement. Finally, the safety, security, and privacy inherent in a learning management system is essential to increase confidence in publicy-funded education, both in parents and school Board Administrators.