The promise of technology to improve the educational experience of students has been discussed many times but there are limited examples of delivering on this promise. In order for technology to fundamentally shift student experience it must be integrated into the core of the mission of the institution. This means that the Learning Management System (LMS), or whatever is the primary means of student and faculty interaction around content, must become the circulatory system of the campus and change how people across the institution work and think about their work. On a campus like Tulane University, that provides the vast majority of its instruction in a face-to-face environment, our LMS functions primarily as a repository of content, a student-to-faculty communication tool and a file storage system. Many institutions in both higher education and K-12 struggle with how to unlock the full potential of the information gathered by these systems to improve the quality of the teaching and learning experience that we are delivering.
At Tulane University we are beginning to offer more of our Master’s Degree programs in an online, hybrid format. Hence the role of the LMS will take on a new importance in how institutions interact with our students and how they interact with our faculty, each other and the content presented to them. As the activity in the LMS environment increases, it is critical that we gather and analyze the information collected, not only to improve the pedagogical approach and the user experience, but also to identify the trends and outcomes across the programs offered. It is the collection and analysis of this data as well as non-academic information that will elevate the importance of these systems in the future of education.
In order for the LMS to become the center of the learning experience it must evolve beyond student-to-instructor, student-to-student and student-to-content interaction and become the central hub of all interactions that an institution has with its users. The LMS has to operate more like a customer relationship management (CRM) system. This means that tools like live chat, student portfolios, the ticketing system for tech issues and peer-to-peer tutoring should be integrated and subject to the same rigorous analytics found in a traditional LMS that will help inform the user experience.
There are several examples of this already taking place. Southern New Hampshire University has customized a well know CRM- Salesforce- so that it serves as a competency-based LMS – now referred to as a learning relationship management (LRM) system. This new approach to managing student learning is a significant leap forward in envisioning the student as the primary customer in the consumption of their education and allows work experience and other non-traditional demonstration of competency to be factored into their education. Additionally, in the K-12 space a small company called K12 Insights has a tool that is at its core a customer service portal for school districts. This tool allows various groups within a particular school district to ask questions, file complaints and receive timely feedback on operational issues. If this tool was applied to a learning environment and leveraged to allow students to create tickets that identified issues (positive or negative) in their courses and also allowed leaders to gather and analyze that data, it would provide valuable information. This information, while not directly related to content, would improve the overall user experience. It is innovations like these that need to be integrated into the future LMS in order to provide a more comprehensive picture of a student and their experiences with the educational content provided by institutions such as ours.